Tristan GreeneEditor, Neural by TNW
Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: He/him
Rumors are swirling of another massive Microsoft acquisition on par with the recent Bethesda purchase. As there’s only a handful of companies big enough to warrant that kind of buzz, the internet’s going wild with speculation.
Will it be Take-Two Interactive, whose catalog includes the 2K sports games and such notable franchises as Grand Theft Auto, Civilization, Bioshock, and Mafia?
Perhaps it’ll be Square-Enix, the makers of Final Fantasy and Marvel’s Avengers. Or maybe it’ll be Warner Bros so Xbox can add the DC roster of superhero games to its holdings.
And, if we’re going to make wild guesses that include the likes of Warner, why not toss Sony into the mix? Anything’s possible.
Better yet, let’s break down the possibilities into three simple categories: pragmatic, curve-ball, and ridiculous.
The heavy-hitters on deck are Electronic Arts and Activision-Blizzard. Next up are Take-Two and Ubisoft. Let’s start with these.
EA and Activision are intriguing, but ultimately a long shot. Microsoft’s got enough money to buy almost any company on the planet (allowing for some legal merger-wrangling and tax maneuvering). But the company being purchased usually has to want to sell. And it’s hard to justify giving up the reins to a massively successful company when things are going fine financially.
I’d rate the likelihood of an EA purchase at about 10% and an Activision purchase at 0.01% – I’m saying there’s a chance, but it’s a very small one. Both are highly profitable and there’s no reason to believe that’s going to change anytime soon. And, in Activison-Blizzard’s case, there’s nothing but yucky press coverage out there right now as the company finds itself in hot water over a sexual harassment lawsuit from the state of California.
It’s possible that Activision’s legal problems could be making its board feel shaky and a Microsoft buyout could look tasty to scared billionaires. But there’s almost no conceivable reason MS would buyout the company while it’s smack in the middle of the suit, unless the price was ridiculously low.
That leaves Take-Two and Ubisoft. We can potentially count Ubisoft out for the exact same reason as Activision-Blizzard as it’s currently embroiled in its own harassment investigations. But Ubisoft’s worth about 10 times less than Activision-Blizzard (Ubi’s cap: about $8B, AB’s cap: about $75B).
Microsoft could could conceivably gobble up Ubisoft for somewhere around what it paid for Bethesda.
Take-Two, on the other hand, would likely cost a lot more.
Bethesda’s worth about $3 billion right now and MS paid 7.5 for it. If we extrapolate that for Take-Two, which is worth a bit over $20 billion, we could see it going for as much as $50 billion. That’s not beyond the scope of reality, but it sure is pushing it.
I doubt we’ll see Microsoft double or triple the amount it spent on Bethesda for any company, but stranger things have happened.
Here’s a few curve-balls though
Square-Enix looks like a juicy fruit that’s ripe for the picking. With Dying Light 2 pushed back and who knows what going on with Final Fantasy XVI, it’s possible Square-Enix could be looking for some big arms to fold itself into. Sony’s the obvious choice, but Microsoft’s war chest is bigger.
But you know what feels even more likely? A CD Projekt Red buyout.
Of all the gaming companies worth anywhere near what Bethesda is, CD Projekt is probably the one who needs a giant cash injection most. CyberPunk 2077 cost the company’s founders over a billion when it launched broken. CD Projekt’s starting to see some profit from the game now, but who knows what the temperature really is in the company’s back offices.
And then there’s Sega. The former console maker’s struggled to find a foothold in the modern gaming era. This means Microsoft could conceivably pick up the studio for around $5 billion or so – not quite what it paid for Bethesda, but pretty close. Considering the glut of Sega games currently on Game Pass, this doesn’t seem too far-fetched.
Now, some ridiculousness
Let’s just say it okay? Sony. Nintendo. Epic.
No matter what company Microsoft ultimately acquires next, if any, there’ll be accusations the Redmond company’s become a monopoly. So why not really go for it and gobble up a direct competitor such as Sony or Nintendo. Or go even bigger: grab the makers of Fortnite and the Epic gaming engine.
All three scenarios are wild, wacky, and just out-there enough to make sense.
Conspiracy theory number one: Microsoft buys Sony and offloads console-making duties to the Japanese company so it can focus on streaming games. The console wars are officially over in 2028 when the Microsoft PlayStation 6 hits the markets.
Conspiracy theory number two: Microsoft buys Nintendo, corners the handheld market, and Masterchief becomes an over-powered addition to Smash Bros.
Conspiracy theory number three: Microsoft buys Epic… something, something… profit? I can’t imagine a scenario where Epic would sell, so this one makes the least sense to me. And it’s beyond the scope of this short article to discuss the industry-shattering ramifications of this deal – just based on what it would mean for MS to own the engine.
Our best guesses
Ubisoft feels like a dark horse and both Sega and CD Projekt Red are tantalizing bets. But the chances are probably better we’ll see a smaller studio get snatched up. It’s getting harder to find popular studios that aren’t already owned by Microsoft or Sony, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still some whales out there.
Paradox Interactive’s had a bit of a tough time as of late with Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines 2 getting delayed indefinitely. The company’s been acquiring smaller studios at a decent clip since 2018, which makes it even more attractive as a purchase. And its CEO recently stepped down over “differing views on company strategy.” Add to this the fact that Paradox is heavily-invested in the Game Pass platform already and it starts to feel like I should prep an article announcing the buyout just in case.
Finally, the one company we haven’t talked about yet, but that would make the most out of Reddit rumors that “internet lawyers” are going to have a field day discussing the potential monopoly, is Valve.
An acquisition that gave Microsoft control over the Steam platform would certainly shake the industry up. It doesn’t seem likely, but neither did the Bethesda acquisition until it happened.
What do you think? Will this turn out to be small potatoes, a nothing-burger, or the biggest gaming story of the year?
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