The strong man at the head of the Xbox brand has been prolific in recent days: chaining interview after interview with various media, he speaks about Microsoft’s vision at the heart of the video game industry. The recent takeover offer from Activision Blizzard asking countless questions, he wants to clarify the position of Xbox and no longer sees its rivals as competitors. A change of era in sight?
An industry on the move
Xbox hit hard by announcing its intention to redeem the Activision Blizzard group (Call of Duty, Crash Bandicoot, Warcraft, etc.). Once the transaction is recorded and validated by the regulatory authorities, it would immediately make Microsoft one of the biggest players in the industry dedicated to video games. To the point of raising a worrying question: is Microsoft building an empire for a monopoly?
For the arguments in favor of this question, one would be tempted to say that bringing together more than thirty of the most talented development studios of the past decade would ensure a substantial and almost unequaled creative baggage. In comparison, Sony has half as many. Admittedly, the Japanese group has prestigious licenses such as God of War or The Last of Us, but will the repeated episodes hold the comparison over time against Microsoft?
Representatives of the Redmond firm, for their part, have been striving for days to explain that this unique transaction in the industry should not be seen as a hindrance for players. Phil Spencer having even been able to converse with the leaders of Sony and the reassure as to the fact that the Call of Duty license, in particular, would be available on PlayStation. At least regarding current contracts.
The need for union?
In one interview at the Washington Post, Phil Spencer returned to Microsoft’s place in an industry that it has led for twenty years as a consoler, and almost twice as long as a game publisher. The boss of Xbox holds a speech of union to which he has accustomed us since taking office and again reaches out to his rivals Sony, Nintendo and Valve, which he no longer sees as competitors:
They have a long history in video games. Nintendo isn’t going to do anything that hurts the game in the long run because that’s the industry they’re in. It’s the same for Sony and I trust them… It’s the same for Valve.
An astonishing speech insofar as Microsoft reshuffles the cards by offering one of the largest publishers in the history of the industry, whose games are sold by the millions each year. And yet, we can see an answer to our previous question: Phil Spencer does not want to monopolize the game for the benefit of users of the Xbox ecosystem. And if, on the contrary, Microsoft made these maneuvers with a view to preservation?
This other question would not be incongruous as the industry evolves, driven by technology and the progressive deployment of the cloud. Nintendo and Sony are respectable companies in the video game sector, but would they be able to face the “new wave” of players in the game that is beginning to surge? And if Microsoft wanted to be the driving force behind the “traditional players” in video games to counter the threat?
The Empire Strikes Back
To possess is to preserve, one might say. A way of maintaining control over existing and future assets. It is also a way to weaken competition, but not the one we think embodied by Sony, Nintendo or Valve. No, that of new players who want their share of the cake like Google, Amazon, Facebook… Technology giants for whom gaming is not a goal, but a means. This is in any case the vision of Phil Spencer:
When you look at the other big tech competitors for Microsoft: Google has search and Chrome, Amazon has shopping, Facebook has social media. All of these big consumer companies… The discussion we’ve had internally, where all of these things are important for these tech companies and for the number of consumers they reach, gaming can be for us.
We could be a bit mocking when we talk about companies such as Stadia, Luna or Oculus experiencing relative success, saying that their presence is only due to opportunism. And yet, the parent companies of these companies represent a bottomless pit in terms of budget and development. This, the Microsoft teams have probably understood and prefer to see these trembling newcomers as the competitors of tomorrow. Hence the need to counter them, as long as Microsoft is in a position of strength. The Xbox ecosystem is certainly the most advanced in terms of cloud gaming, deploying it massively and integrating as many games as possible into the Xbox catalog.Xbox Game Pass it is therefore to ensure that the players remain in the bosom of the traditional players.
I think we have a single point of view, the opposite of how everything should work on a single device or a single platform. This was decisive for us who see gaming as an opportunity and which could have an impact on Microsoft similar to what other businesses do for these big technological competitors. And it’s been great to see the support we’ve had from the company and the board.
Clearly, the message that Phil Spencer wishes to convey is that of a company that is dedicated to gaming in its traditional form while taking it to new horizons. Activision Blizzard’s proposed takeover shouldn’t be seen as punitive to the big Japanese players who have shaped the industry as we know it, but as a call to get on the bandwagon of what it will be. tomorrow, together. Such seems to be the vision of one man, Phil Spencer. Will this vision still be relevant if the strong man at Xbox were to leave his post? Nothing says it and the situation of monopoly would then be possible. The answer is in the hands of Nintendo, Sony and Valve.