The Irrelevance of the Activision Blizzard Acquisition

Much ado is made about the Microsoft Activision-Blizzard merger and acquisition. That includes various noise made by yours truly. But the fact of the matter is that while it is a newsworthy headline in the here and now, by next console generation it will have been forgotten. One of the truisms that are a result of not only our society, but of the gaming community in particular in their inability to recall (or be bothered to do research on) the history of the gaming industry.

Nine years ago, Apple first went to jury trial, accusing Samsung of violating several US patents for the iPhone. I would spend months trying to find a person with both a smartphone in their hand and the ability to remember the name Lucy Koh, the presiding judge over the first trial. Or who could recall that that case went all the way to the Supreme Court, Chief Justice John Roberts presiding. Gamers can barely be bothered to recall even current events, as evidenced by the XBox fans that cried out that their first-party games were going to PC…oblivious of the well-known and advertised fact that both XBox games and PC games share the DirectX APIs to address hardware. The same people who were of limited awareness then are no more enlightened today.

The biggest games of 10 years ago have at least lost their shine, if not faded from modern gamer mindshare. The studios that were revered then are often slagged and dragged now. Bioware is known much more so for the failure of Anthem than the brilliance of Mass Effect.

We’re going on the second year of people calling Arkane’s Death Loop less impressive in play than it was in its 2019 E3 showing and after its three delays; memories of Dishonored and Dishonored 2 are no bulwark against that. And of course much of the hardware that typified our gameplay in 2012 is gone, rarely given much thought to, and hardly considered relevant: the Vita. The 3DS XL. The Wii U. And I don’t even remember the Neo Geo X. The point being that gamers are a fickle crowd. With short memories.

Gamer Twitter would like to convince itself otherwise, however, like it always does. There are maybe 57 million Twitter users in the US. Of those, maybe 37 million at most are gamers, running a range from uber-casual to mainstream and a smaller wedge, still, of hardcore (hardcore meaning “those who usually buy more than ten games a year and play more than 20 hours [a week]”). Of the ~215 million gamers in the US, that’s 17%. And yet every week, Gamer Twitter lathers itself up, telling itself that it is representative of the mainstream gaming market.

Gamer Twitter is also in the throws of arguing the anti-trust case on a daily basis. A case that will likely not be heard until August 2023. These arguments are occasionally based on actual events that occur in the legal proceedings in the US or the other ongoing regulatory reviews globally.

But they are also often argued because someone voiced an opinion on the topic. Unfortunately, legal opinions are like opinions on the Bible. Many will voice them; voicing them does not make them right. In this country we allow the law to be interpreted. And one person’s view of the law can vary widely from the next. Especially when those people are judges, or corporate executives, or people with skin in the game on how the court case is decided. Which is the textbook definition of bias. Or those opinions are formulated by their own past experiences, which is anecdotal. And so regardless of domain expertise or position, every legal opinion rendered on this matter is just that…an opinion. And opinions are not fact. Name-dropping whose opinion it is does not change that. Only one opinion will have judicial weight and the ruling of law. That of the judge assigned to the case.

Every company is doing what it needs to do to influence the outcome that best serves its own needs. The notion that any corporate entity is on some altruistic crusade, trying to protect the hearts and minds of gamers everywhere, is laughable. Or that they are religiously charged to protect the rights of the small percentage of gaming industry employees who want to unionize. These companies pay millions of dollars every year to lobbyists, while incrementally increasing how much they charge consumers for product. Their intentions are math-based. Capitalist. And Game Pass is no different. It’s availability for cheap is to obtain one goal and that is market share. It’s not because Spencer was visited by three ghosts one Christmas and decided to change Microsoft’s ways.

Formal group photograph of the Supreme Court as it was been comprised on June 30, 2022 after Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson joined the Court. The Justices are posed in front of red velvet drapes and arranged by seniority, with five seated and four standing. Seated from left are Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., and Justices Samuel A. Alito and Elena Kagan. Standing from left are Justices Amy Coney Barrett, Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh, and Ketanji Brown Jackson. Credit: Fred Schilling, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

The reality is that, given the ridiculous things that are happening, the Supreme Court is likely to have to get involved again. Microsoft’s argument that an agency that is 107 years old, and has been charged with participating and leading anti-competitive regulation in this country since inception, is now holding unconstitutional proceedings is a bit of a reach. A union-busting executive vomiting a Twitter thread in support of the merger is cringe. And 10 gamers who either struck it rich in crypto or convinced an ambulance chaser to work pro bono filing a lawsuit against Microsoft to stop the merger is just weirdo AF.

While this case has been interesting to follow, just as Apple-Samsung was, COMCAST-NBC-Universal, Disney-Fox, Oracle v Google, and Epic versus the world (yes, some of those were mergers, some of those were patents, some were anti-trust; point being…court…judge…legal), just like all the others, the nitpicking over the dry-bones and minutiae by the general public has gotten as droll as it always does. The case is going to a judge and is in the US legal system and however it comes out, I think that, in and of itself, is the best thing. That way, the gamers who have their egos symbiotically entwined with plastic boxes will have no recourse for their tears. In the meantime, gamers should still be playing games. And Microsoft and Sony both have work to do that should not be on pause. The former to get its production pipeline up to a velocity commensurate with the number of studios it already owns. The latter to round out a portfolio that has to-date almost solely been characterized by cinematic, narrative-driven near-linear wide-path game-design and architecture. 2023 should include work efforts by both beyond myopic focus on this one issue. And gamers should do the same.

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