Just the other day, I gone done a little rant about the whole “Freemium” games whatsit, and why it could, potentially, mean really bad news for actual, proper games and gamers. Today it was announced that Activision Blizzard (the publishers behind Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, and Guitar Hero) are buying King Digital (the guys behind Candy Crush Saga) so, even allowing for confirmation bias, I’ma go right ahead and put that news in the ‘worrying signs’ column.
Indeed, given that the former haven’t exactly been shy about pushing in-game purchases already (in proper, Triple A games we’ve already paid a shedload of money for), and given the latter have raked in gajillions from their own take on the “Freemium” model, one could quite easily make the case that this news is akin to The Empire announcing they’ll be joining forces with the Armies of Sauron – at least in this particular context anyway.
Of course, the reasons one company might choose to buy another are many and varied, but often they include getting an established foothold in a particular market, bringing the expertise from that particular market into your own particular market, or sometimes, exactly to “bridge” those two markets. In practice, sometimes that means that one company may’ve tried something – not been quite as successful as they’d hoped – and just decided they’d have more success if they acquired all the expertise, knowledge and intellectual property of another company – who were successful with that particular som’thin’, som’thin’. Crucially, some financial types will have done some maths-ey type stuff, crunched the numbers, and figured out that the cost of acquiring all of that will pay off in the future. Here it’s worth mentioning that Activision are buying King for the (not insignificant) sum of 5.9 BILLION Dollars. Yeah, you read that right; 5.9 Billion Dollars!
Now, let’s say that some of the aforementioned reasons for paying a stupid amount of money for another company are applicable here, and taking the ‘pay off in the long run’ equation stuff into consideration too, it wouldn’t be overly pessimistic to conclude that this could very well mean that Activision have got at least one eye on increasing the degree to which they include “Freemium” type-shenanigans in their proper (already paid North of 50 quid for) games. If that includes – in any way, shape or form – any of Candy Crush’s distinct ‘pay-to-win’ bullshit, then that is, indisputably, a really, really bad thing.
In the interests of balance however, it’s worth pointing out that the ‘Blizzard’ bit of Activision Blizzard are already firmly ensconced in the Freemium Android/IoS market (Hearthstone and variants, for example), so it could just be a ring-fenced decision relating to that, but even this has worrying implications, I feel. Again – and as I said the other day – one of the potential outcomes of the rise in both mobile gaming, and the Freemium model – is the opportunity for (what I call) “cash-cowing” – i.e. spinning off popular console games for the Mobile/Tablet market, thus ensuring an existing and established fanbase, and then milking it for everything you can get – and then some. Once more, that’s a grim prospect, and the grimness factor rises exponentially if your console/PC game experience is in any way dependent upon, or impacted by, any in-app purchases on the Mobile/Tablet version.
Of course, I’m speculating a lot here, and the exact motivations of the acquisition aren’t necessarily knowable at this point, but coming so soon after the Nintendo/Titanfall announcements last week, I think it’s entirely possible to begin to see this as a definite trend, and certainly one to keep an eye on. I get that large Gaming Companies are likely to be interested in the already mahoosive (and rapidly growing) Mobile/Tablet Market, and I get that loads of business-ey terms are applicable here – Synergy, Convergence, Diversification, etc, etc, – and that there might, ultimately, be little-to-no-impact on actual, proper games, but still, I’m not overly optimistic about where this could all be heading.
In all honesty, I’d love to read this back in a year or two, and realise how hilariously I over-reacted, perhaps even laugh at how completely and utterly stupid I was being (and going on precedent there’s considerably more chance of that happening than, like, being right about anything, ever) but – holy shitballs – if I am right, this could be really, reeeeeaaaallly bad for Games, and Gamers.