By now we all know that Microsoft has acquired industry juggernaut, Activision Blizzard. It’s no secret Activision Blizzard has had its share of controversies over the last year. Currently, amid a complete internal shift, Activision Blizzard has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. CEO Bobby Kotick has been in charge of an extremely toxic workplace which led to further investigation by the state. Many employees state that they do not feel safe in their work environment owing to harassment and overwork. Over the last year, there have been several internal shifts within the company to fix this but one held strong, CEO Bobby Kotick.
While I am looking to keep this article positive, I would be remiss if I did not mention the community hopes Bobby Kotick is removed during this transition. Activision Blizzard may have been profitable but they are far from the company many knew and loved in the early 2000s. A change in leadership and reinvestment in the hardworking developers is just what this company needs. As a lifelong World of Warcraft fan, I want to see the developers flourish and have their passion rewarded again. Phil Spencer has proven he can do this by restoring faith in Xbox as a brand. Looking back at Xbox One’s announcement back in 2014, it’s easy to see we are long removed from the TV-focused and exclusive-lacking Xbox One. Phil Spencer stepped in with a plan and seeing the success of Game Pass and their many developer acquisitions, it’s paying off. Microsoft has the tools to elevate Activision Blizzard and restore the communities faith in them. I don’t see a world where Bobby Kotick stays on as CEO and the company restores faith in the community.
With that out of the way! I want to look into all the major changes we might be looking at in Call of Duty, World of Warcraft and even Overwatch.
World of Warcraft
This franchise has been a powerhouse within the industry for the last 20 years. With the release of WoW Classic, The Burning Crusade Classic and Shadowlands it shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. The community has their gripes with the game and would like a lot of quality of life changes. Shadowlands was a step in the right direction but it is far from perfect. Current development seems to be forced on not valuing players time. In its current state Shadowlands has far too many systems in place that are required to access endgame content. While many of these systems might seem casual friendly at first, they aren’t. It’s a transparent inclusion to force players to log in every day/week or risk falling behind. World of Warcraft is a monthly subscription service and a lot of these systems seem to be in place to increase time in-game and thus increase subscription time.
Microsoft has a unique opportunity to combat this, GamePass. GamePass is going to come up a lot in this article and for good reason. Microsoft has created a subscription-based service that oozes value and its competitors are nowhere close. World of Warcraft sits in a very weird spot here, currently charging $18.99/month to play the game seems dated but it’s been a requirement to run smoothly. With GamePass this puts Microsoft in an interesting position. Including a World of Warcraft subscription within GamePass would go a long way to bring new players in, cut down on the developers needing this chore like system to keep players in the game and directly connect a massive franchise to the Xbox Ecosystem.
In addition to including the sub within GamePass, Microsoft could look towards a console port for retail. A console version of a strictly PC game raises a laundry list of issues that would need to be addressed ie. controls, chat, addons etc. However, Final Fantasy 14 seems to accomplish this with a relatively similar gameplay experience. Their unique approach to an MMO Control Scheme makes them stand out from the pack. I imagine this would be for the extremely casual World of Warcraft crowd and anyone seriously interested in End Game content would move to PC eventually. Creating a console port would do wonders to bring new players into the World of Warcraft ecosystem and its obvious inclusion on GamePass would be a no brainer for the company.
Call of Duty
I don’t see much changing in the Call of Duty department. I believe this will stay multiplatform and require unique deals with Sony to keep it that way. The biggest change I see moving forward with this franchise is the removal of yearly iterations. Call of Duty is a staple franchise for Activision Blizzard and one of the true money makers for the company. This requires them to push out games each year to maximize potential profit. Now under the umbrella of Microsoft, Call of Duty will not be under the same pressure to create yearly profit. This could lead to a new Call of Duty every 2 or 3 years instead of yearly and a wider focus on extending the Warzone and Multiplayer life of each title.
Overwatch came onto the scene in 2016 and was quickly touted as the next big thing in eSports. Unfortunately, over the years troubles with character balancing, tournament viewership and an odd move to YouTube exclusivity shut down that competitive scene before it could flourish. The FPS/MOBA inspired title has a lot going for it and under the right direction could do well in the current gaming landscapes. This will be an uphill battle for Microsoft as arena shooters have fallen out of favour lately and adding the complex MOBA gameplay just makes for a poor viewing experience overall. While I don’t agree that a game should be developed to work on Twitch, it still should be a factor within the design. A game that is not easily watched on Twitch can still have a large and dedicated following. However, if we’re looking to stay competitive it needs to have viewability and it can’t just come from passive design.
Overwatch 2 was announced back in 2019 to mixed reception. Overwatch 2 from a casual perspective seemed to be the same game with a few extra modes. The announcement of Overwatch 2 was confusing for a lot of reasons, none of which were particularly good for its reception within the community. The announcement of a sequel meant that competitive players were just wasting time on a game that could be dead in 6 to 12 months. This also stops any new players from wanting to start the game because they might as well wait for Overwatch 2. Microsoft has proven throughout the years that they have a unique ability to take criticism and adjust accordingly.
As it stands the community knows nothing about Overwatch 2 and Activision Blizzard isn’t even committing to a 2023 release date. With a release window this wide it tells me that they are completely reworking what Overwatch 2 is. Xbox GamePass sits in a unique position here, as it can make a big deal about the addition of Blizzard games to the service. Getting new eyes on Overwatch for the first time in a few years. This could be an opportunity to show the community that they have not given up on Overwatch (2016) and start to generate hype for the once-beloved shooter.
Microsoft acquiring Activision Blizzard is the biggest news I’ve had to cover in my time in gaming. It should not be understated how massive this $70 billion buyout is. Activision Blizzard has been going down the wrong path for quite some time. Microsoft stands in a position to right the ship and gets some of our once-loved franchises back on the right path. I have to imagine if Microsoft has a plan. Buying into the disaster Activision Blizzard has created for itself likely wasn’t made lightly. I understand these changes won’t happen overnight, however, I hope Microsoft takes this transition seriously. Restoring faith with the community starts with Microsoft supporting their developers. It’s a long road ahead but I am optimistic that we’ll see positive change in the years to come.