A guide to Microsoft’s Xbox game studios empire

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With the impending purchase of Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion dollars, Microsoft is now the third-largest video game publisher in the world by revenue. It owns several of the biggest gaming franchises of all time, including Minecraft, The Elder Scrolls, and now Call of Duty and World of Warcraft. Since the early 2000s, Microsoft has slowly but steadily expanded its holdings, adding to its stable of first-party developers. An explosion of acquisitions in the late teens combined with the purchase of Bethesda last year made Microsoft a many-armed behemoth in the gaming industry, surpassed only by Sony and Tencent. Here’s a breakdown of the studios and games Microsoft could own if the deal goes through.

Though formally established as Xbox Game Studios Publishing in 2000, Microsoft has published a wealth of games dating back to the ’70s, including PC standards like Solitaire and Minesweeper. Throughout the aughts, Microsoft created several first-party studios to handle the development of its flagship series. In 2001, Microsoft founded Turn 10 studios for Forza Motorsport. Halo Infinite developer 343 Industries was created in 2007. The Coalition was born in 2010 after Microsoft bought the Gears of War series from Epic Games. In 2018, The Initiative became Microsoft’s first Santa Monica-based developer that is working on a new Perfect Dark game, and in 2019, World’s Edge was established to oversee the Age of Empires franchise.

Microsoft’s first big acquisition was when it bought British-based developer Rare in 2002. Throughout the ’90s and into the early aughts, Rare became emblematic of the mascot platformer genre with the release of Battletoads in 1991, continuing with the Donkey Kong Country series, Banjo-Kazooie, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, and Donkey Kong 64. Rare’s first Xbox exclusive was the mediocre action-adventure game Grabbed by the Ghoulies. Its second, Viva Piñata, enjoyed a much warmer reception. Rare developed several games for Xbox’s now-defunct Kinect peripheral and currently maintains the popular pirate co-op game Sea of Thieves. In 2019, Rare announced it was working on a new action-adventure game titled Everwild.

In 2014, Mojang became Microsoft’s largest acquisition to date, adding the wildly successful sandbox game Minecraft to the Xbox family for $2.5 billion.

2018 was a major year for Xbox, acquiring six studios:

  • Compulsion Games, creator of We Happy Few and currently working on an unannounced third-person narrative game
  • Ninja Theory, creator of the critically acclaimed Hellblade series
  • RPG-centric inXile Entertainment, developer of Wasteland 3
  • Obsidian Entertainment, maker of The Outer Worlds and the forthcoming first-person RPG Avowed
  • Playground Games, developer of the Forza Horizon series
  • Undead Labs, developer of the State of Decay series

The buying spree continued in 2019 with the purchase of Psychonauts 2 developer Double Fine Productions.

In 2021, Microsoft acquired ZeniMax Media / Bethesda Softworks, seemingly dispensing with the strategy of buying single companies in favor of absorbing one giant publisher and all its studios at once. Microsoft bought Bethesda for $7.5 billion, acquiring its eight subsidiaries:

  • Mobile developer Alpha Dog Games
  • French-based Dishonored and Deathloop developer Arkane Studios
  • Starfield, Fallout, and The Elder Scrolls developer Bethesda Game Studios
  • Wolfenstein series developer MachineGames
  • Id Software, the celebrated creators of Doom and Quake
  • Tango Gameworks, the Japanese developer of horror series The Evil Within and the forthcoming Ghostwire: Tokyo
  • Roundhouse Studios, formerly known as Human Head Studios, developer of 2006’s Prey
  • ZeniMax Online Studios, which oversees MMO The Elder Scrolls Online

Provided the deal goes through, Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard King will add nine new studios, bringing the total number of developers owned to 32. The biggest studios in the deal are Call of Duty developer Treyarch Games and Infinity Ward, as well as Overwatch, Diablo, and World of Warcraft developer Blizzard Entertainment. Activision’s previous purchases and mergers will grant Microsoft ownership of former PlayStation exclusives Spyro the Dragon and Crash Bandicoot, as well as the Tony Hawk series. The deal also incorporates a number of smaller studios that work as co-developers or support for Activision Blizzard’s bigger games, including Beenox, Toys for Bob, High Moon Studios, Sledgehammer Games, and the embattled Raven Software, whose employees are entering their fifth week of striking. Microsoft will also gain a major player in the mobile gaming scene with Candy Crush creator King.

Microsoft’s purchase of Activision Blizzard presents an immense opportunity to grow Xbox’s Game Pass library, and the titles mentioned here are by no means a comprehensive list of all the games it will soon have access to. Microsoft will also have to reckon with Activision Blizzard’s history of permitting abuse and discrimination in its workplace, the CEO who allegedly enabled and buried those practices, as well as burgeoning efforts to unionize the various studios under ABK’s ownership. The acquisition is still subject to an approval process and isn’t expected to close until 2023.

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