Everyone has been talking first party games since the delay of Halo Infinite. The consensus is that despite the numerous game studios that Microsoft has acquired in recent years such as Obsidian, Double Fine, Ninja Theory and inXile Entertainment, that Microsoft still needs to add some more studios dedicated to publishing more AAA games. I think that general feel aligns very well with what Microsoft is likely thinking as well.
Microsoft has an enormous opportunity to continue building out Xbox Gamepass and will need to continue to produce content. In general, they are trying to become what Netflix is for video streaming but for video gaming. As such they are very likely to look at what has made Netflix successful. One thing is accessability and ease of use, which Microsoft has certainly been working on by bring Xbox Gamepass to PC and soon to your mobile device. The other items that jump out are diversity of content, availability of big name content and original high quality content not available anywhere else.
The two portions that Microsoft appears to have the most work to do is continuing to add to the diversity of the content while also adding to the original content. With those things in mind, lets take a look at the potential fits for a number of studios that may be available to be acquired.
Asobo Studios has been a partner with Microsoft on a large number of titles this geneation and as their studio has grown in size and ambition they have managed to grow their games in terms of quality and execution. This is a studio that is ready to take that step into larger AAA titles after their latest hit A Plagues Tales and then absolutely hitting a home run with Microsoft Flight Simulator. With their relationship with Microsoft, their growing ambition and need for funding for a larger game, this acquisition makes sense for both sides.
When reviewing this studio, what impressed me most was the wide variety of games that they have made over the past decade, just check it out for yourself below:
- Toy Story 3
- Kinect Rush
- The Crew
- Monopoly Plus
- Disneyland Adventures
- Zoo Tycoon
- The Crew 2
- A Plagues Tale: Innocence
- Microsoft Flight Simulator
It would be a major acquisition likely in the 100-200 million dollar range as they have their own impressive graphics engines and a talented team with a great history of delivery.
There have been talks of discussions ongoing between Microsoft and IO Interactive for the past two years. IO Interactive is a studio that separated from Square Enix roughly three years ago and is best known for their development of the Hitman series, of which they fully own the IP. Hitman would be a great asset for Gamepass and IO Interactive is entering later stage production of their next installment. That would leave room for Microsoft to pick up a great IP, put a hit on Gamepass soon and leave the team able to start on a new project shortly after fully integrating into Microsoft.
The bottom line is this is a studio that has proven they can develop a great action game, good story and excellent graphics and Xbox could use that in its lineup. If Microsoft does indeed have an interest this could happen quickly because the timing couldn’t be better for Microsoft to acquire this studio.
Warner Brothers (WB)
Warner Brothers is definitely available to be acquired as the parent company AT&T is looking to unload some assets to pay down on billions in debt left over from the DirecTV acquisition a few years back. There are a number of things that make any possible acquisition either more expensive or tricky to iron out.
- WB is currently profitable and does not lack for funding unlike most of Microsofts previous acquisitions.
- WB is comprised of 11 studios, listed below that cover a wide-range of titles and platforms. Several of the studios thought have almost exclusively been developing mobile games, so how that fits into Microsofts endeavors would be a big unknown.
- AAA studios: Avalanche, Monolith, NetherRealm Studios, Rocksteady Studios, TT Games and WB Montreal
- The mobile focused studios are really in a couple teirs, Portkey Games and WB Games Boston have developed some very popular and highly successful titles and would likely be the focus of any decisions to invest into that space or keep talent and redirect it towards apps/features to compliment xbox and gamepass. The other studios, WB Games New York, WB San Diego and WB Games San Francisco do not appear to add much value for Microsoft.
- It appears that the preference for AT&T is not to sell the Intellectual Properties (IP) that they own, but instead move towards a licensing model to continue an influx of cash. This may present a challenge for Microsoft as that would mean a high risk situation where if they do not have the licenses, they would be developing new IP or rebooting their own IP with every studio.
- If the above were to hold, Microsoft may push for a licensing arrangement for a time period for some or all of their IP or current licensing arrangements, which include Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Batman, Suicide Squad, Mortal Kombat and Lego.
- WB has their own publishing arm that publishes all of these games, that does not inherently add value as Microsoft already has their own publishing arm. However, that does mean that Microsoft could determine what platforms to release the games on and what times they release on any platforms, this could help immediately with a limited first party lineup in the first year of the Xbox Series X (as far as we know).
With all of that being said, any acquisition would be quite involved, significantly grow their teams and require a ton of decision making and consolidation of assets. This would take a large effort to pull together, but has the potential to add more than any other studio that we know of open to acquisition and would cement Xbox Gamepass as a force now and in the future.