Will Monopolies Kill Gaming? Ft. Microsoft And Blizzard
Despite recent well-anticipated releases, such as Cyberpunk 2077, Gotham Knights, and The Callisto Protocol, not turning out to be up to scratch, there are bigger things at play here that are making the future of the gaming industry look not so good.
We’re on about big companies acquiring other big companies and the concerns that arise in the wake of such proceedings. Establishments such as Microsoft and Sony are hard at work trying to increase their fleet of acquired studios, but is that all for the best? Not likely.
Microsoft, Sony, Tencent—all of these major power players seem to be in a race to acquire the most possible game-developing studios. Microsoft, in particular, has quite recently closed the deal for Bethesda and has another major one in the process.
Therefore, the pathway that these higher-ups are treading on doesn’t vary from company to company—all of these giants are working toward a similar goal. In this exclusive eXputer video, we’ll be taking a close, hard look at how substantial studio acquisitions are going to influence the video game industry as we know it.
Prior to proceeding, it’s worth mentioning how monopolies are outright destructive, not just in the domain of gaming but in fields outside of it as well.
If a single player out there is bagging all the exclusivity with no competition whatsoever to their name, that can make certain problems arise, and none of them are easily solvable. Think about unwarranted price hikes by whoever is running the monopoly, because, let’s face it—what is anyone going to do anything about it?
When a handful of companies have taken exclusive possession over something in a fixed setting, the general consumers in that area are due to get affected. You never know when one of these power players will introduce a new, heftier pricing model to one of their products, leaving no choice for the public to proceed with it.
In other scenarios, this form of absolute control can also harm the intellectual capacity of others to come forward with newer innovations. The focus would then diverge and instead emphasize inflated prices and degraded product quality, with the product, in this case being video games.
With that said, this isn’t set in stone, and things could go very well differently. However, to look at one of the trends that have been introduced by a chief constituent of the gaming industry, the $70 pricing model for new AAA games is, indeed, a cause for concern.
Here are some of the main incentives that we’re inclined to shed some light on.
Disney And Its Developing Monopoly
Disney has been somewhat of a controversial company itself in relatively recent times, and animation enthusiasts and fans are seriously worried as to what the future created by this giant of a company holds for art value. We’re basing this thought on the fact that Disney got Blue Sky Studios under its wing in 2021, but things didn’t end well on that front.
In case you’re unaware, Blue Sky Studios were the famed creators of the Ice Age and the Rio franchises, but after getting acquired by the Mouse, the studio got shut down merely 10 months away from releasing a new project. Disney has made it hard for its employees to whip up the talent coming out of their true potential.
A singular, homogenous art style is observed across Disney’s feature films. Although these do well, the capacity to go beyond the regular schema is barred by none other than the higher-ups of the company itself. The problem is: You’re not doing anything about it, and neither are we. Why? Because we just can’t.
That’s what happens when a monopoly takes full flight; as such one that Disney is on its way to exhibiting. It has established itself as one of the biggest players in the animation industry already, but it still can’t seem to get one thing right. Disney’s CEO Bob Chapek is of the opinion that adults have no business watching animated movies.
Excuse me now, sir, but your judgment is askew. Instances such as these make one wonder what the future of the animation art form is shaping up to be like, and how most of the proponents of this realm are subject to Disney’s mercy.
The fact that Disney dropped Blue Sky Studios two years after acquiring it draws a pattern between this story and another one. We’re talking about a video game giant that has managed to pull off its fair share of similar stunts as well.
EA And Its Former Cluelessness
It’s no secret at this point that EA hasn’t exactly been the most loved video game company of all time—far from it, one would say. Just like Disney with its one-time facade, US-based Electronic Arts has been subject to harsh criticism by fans across the spectrum, but not for a single reason.
To talk about the iconic Dead Space franchise, things were going solid for the series until Dead Space 3 dropped and pretty much shocked fans with the standard it was built upon. The game’s development has been documented substantially, and it shows us how different was the original pitch as compared to the final product.
Speaking to Chris Bratt — a Eurogame representative — in an interview, the creative director of Dead Space 3, Ben Wanat, revealed that he intended the game to dish out more of a survival horror experience rather than being action-oriented. This, obviously, as per the game’s commercial performance, wasn’t up to the mark for EA.
The publisher then ensured that Dead Space 3 would turn out to be a regular action game, not to mention loading it to the brim with micro-transactions and instilling the relatively needless element of online multiplayer. Ben Wanat, in the interview, explicitly stated about Dead Space 3,
It was supposed to be a darker chapter in Isaac’s story.”
Frank Gibeau, former EA Labels’ president, had the following opinion at the time when the Dead Space franchise was constantly developing.
Ultimately you need to get to audience sizes of around five million to really continue to invest in an IP like Dead Space. Anything less than that and it becomes quite difficult financially given how expensive it is to make games and market them.”
As an end result, EA outright killed the franchise and made Dead Space 3 feel drastically average as compared to the predecessors in the series. A massive shame, if we’re putting it lightly.
Again, this isn’t it when it comes down to some of the biggest blunders EA has been dishing out. Winding back time to 2007, EA purchased Pandemic Studios as one of the game developers under its wing.
This particular company was responsible for the likes of the original Star Wars Battlefront—the first entry in this sprawling franchise that managed to kick the whole series off. Right alongside Battlefront, the Destroy All Humans IP was one of the creative works of Pandemic Studios as well.
Following the studios’ acquisition in 2007, things came to a close on that front only two years later. Kotaku reported on November 17, 2009, that EA had laid off 200 workers, thereby shutting Pandemic Studios down.
I want to make it clear that the Pandemic brand and franchises will live on. In the months ahead, we will announce plans for new games based on Pandemic franchises,” said Nick Earl, EA Games Label Senior Vice President.
Be that as it was, the Pandemic Studios’ brand and relevant franchises did not live on too well. The Star Wars Battlefront series lasted for as many as two games. All titles that were supposed to come out afterward got canceled, thereby receding the franchise to a mark of mockery.
We will admit that EA has satisfied fans to a certain extent—talking about the state of the company in 2023, but the fact that it, too, has had symptoms imposed that pertain to running a monopoly only goes on to support the case.
Microsoft And Its Prospective Future
We are all well aware of the impact that Microsoft has made in the far-stretching industry, but there’s due diligence that needs to be exhibited here as far as the prospective future of the US-based company is concerned.
For starters, Microsoft is on its way to becoming the third-largest gaming company in the world after acquiring Activision Blizzard—primarily in the wake of this $70 billion deal. Microsoft ought to be right behind Sony and Tencent in this regard.
While the industry has varying opinions of the merger at hand, fans of the Halo franchise are particularly dismayed. The company isn’t slowing down in terms of acquiring studios left and right all the while leaving the latest iteration in the once-iconic Halo series in the dust—Halo Infinite.
At one point, the situation got so bad, the developers of the game had no clue when they’d be fixing the online issues of the game. The title, despite a tremendous amount of hype at the time of its announcement, has gradually adopted an image of sheer disappointment, leaving its gigantic fan base utterly shaken up.
But if you think Halo is where Microsoft has drawn the line for not paying attention to its beloved IP, let Gears of War fall into the equation as well, not to mention the epic Fable series, whose last rendition was outed about 12 years back.
Quite the lackluster interest in pursuing more of what the fans love as far as some of Microsoft’s flagship franchises are concerned.
On the flip side, though, Microsoft’s Gaming CEO Phil Spencer and Xbox head has stated that acquired studios will be allowed to keep their creative freedom, and multiple studios’ executives have corroborated this.
In an interview conducted by Eurogamer at the time when Microsoft freshly acquired InXile Entertainment—the famed developed behind The Bard of Tale and the Wasteland series—things seemed pretty nicely organized on that front.
The studio founder — Brian Fargo — has this to say when asked whether Microsoft would orient the studio in a certain way to develop specific kinds of games.
Ultimately we get to decide what we’re going to make – they’ve been very clear on that. They’ve not once said ‘we’d really love you to do more of this or less of that’ – that’s never been a conversation. Really it’s going to be up to us, and very much us talking to our fans about the things they’d like to see.”
So, that’s that, and we’re glad to see that Microsoft isn’t going down the EA road, but the monopoly in question still leaves us with problems, bigger ones.
The route that Microsoft is on at the moment, it’s extremely unlikely for this tycoon of a company to impose new standards and norms that would ultimately come across as hefty for us gamers.
Take a look at Sony, for instance, establishing the $70 standard for new PlayStation 5 video games that is essentially here to stay.
Microsoft, too has followed suit, therefore, and hiked the prices for some of its biggest upcoming games, such as Starfield, to that figure. Sony, however, is a smaller company than Microsoft, with the latter acquiring 23 studios to date, namely ZeniMax Media, The Coalition, Rare, Mojang, Ninja Theory, and several others.
With that said, Microsoft’s star boy in the realm of gaming is the Xbox Game Pass subscription service that seemingly unlocks a whole catalog of games for those who are a part of it.
Game Pass, at the start of 2022, was said to have accumulated more than 25 million subscribers, and with such a colossal user base comes widespread power that easily grants the service owner to do as they please while staying within certain boundaries.
As Game Pass reserves a spot in every home across the spectrum, it’s only apparent however valuable this subscription model is becoming. On top of that is the constant acquisitions that Microsoft is doling out, ultimately leading the company to become a major powerhouse in the space of video game subscription service.
It won’t be long before Xbox Game Pass sees an increase in its pricing, as Xbox CEO Phil Spencer has stated this explicitly already.
Phil Spencer hints at future Xbox Game Pass or console price increases at WSJ Live
“I do think at some point we’ll have to raise the prices on certain things, but going into this holiday we thought it was important to maintain the prices.”
— Tom Warren (@tomwarren) October 26, 2022
The fact of the matter is that AAA-grade video game titles are likely to be reduced in quality as the monopoly of certain companies grows. Things will ultimately come to a point where artistic value and craftsmanship will be cheapened in the hopes of pursuing profit and appealing more to the general masses in the idea of selling more.
When you think about it, the Hellena Taylor drama ties into all of this fittingly as well. As she called for fans to boycott Bayonetta 3, several other voice actors and actresses jumped in to offer their support.
Not because they believed that whatever happened to the ex-Bayonetta voice actress was true, but only due to how they faced similar treatment on their side of things as well.
Even though Hellena’s claims didn’t turn out to be majorly true and her shortcomings started to come to light, the sudden influx of VAs rushing in to describe their own accounts proves how common this scenario is in the gaming industry. Companies underpay talents, thereby exploiting them just for the sake of money.
If one particular figure’s monopoly doesn’t dominate a certain market, consumers have the liberty to purchase from competitors from time to time in cases where they find other candidates offering a more polished product or just because the average consumer wishes to opt for a different route.
When matters are monopolized, however, a single player will come down to coercive measures for the purpose of making its user base conform to its tactics and game plan.
With the way things are going at this moment in time, the future of the gaming industry hangs in the balance. We might as well be at the mercy of a handful of companies in the video gaming space, who can choose to do whatever at will, anytime they’d want.
From underpaying workers to restraining the talented from living up to their full potential, a monopoly isn’t frowned upon for no good reason. As we approach the inevitable future, there’s a lot that will be coming out of the gates of the best gaming-oriented companies in this business.
However, one can only hope for the better regarding what the future has in store for the gaming industry.
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