#96: Come and get me
Two fiercely independent game-makers now say they're open to acquisitions, as the game industry's consolidation obsession rumbles on.
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I’m in a bit of a rush today, I’m afraid. As overseas readers may have heard, and UK pals are doubtless already aware, we are currently in the grip of the worst storm in decades. (Supposedly, anyway. We appear to have swerved the worst of it.) The kids’ school and nursery are closed, so there’s a strong Lockdown v1 vibe chez Hit Points today — the normal peace and quiet disrupted by primary-school Teams classes and an indefatigable three-year-old. I’ve finally got them both to sit down, so let’s rattle out a newsletter.
We all knew, didn’t we, that Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard would change the industry. This week, we’ve had one of the first indications of what that change might look like.
Over the past few days, a couple of companies whose independence has always seemed a core part of their DNA have made it publicly clear that they would, at the very least, consider a buyout offer. First up is Ubisoft, whose under-pressure CEO Yves Guillemot spoke to investors this week, was asked about a potential acquisition, and sounded pretty up for it.
“Ubisoft can remain independent,” he said. “Our IPs are sought after by the biggest global players in entertainment and tech. Having said that, if there were an offer to buy us, the board of directors would of course review it in the interest of all stakeholders.” While that’s non-committal by design, and clearly a well-prepared response, it is quite the reversal of position from a man who fought to protect Ubisoft from a hostile takeover by Vivendi a few short years ago.
And now we go over to PlatinumGames, formed in 2007 by the core creative group at Capcom’s Clover Studio, who felt their employer was too focused on sequels and proven hits, so decided to set up on their own. Yes, over the years Platinum has had publishing deals with the likes of Sega, Activision and Square Enix, and like approximately half the industry it has taken a substantial investment from Tencent. But it has never shown much interest in being hoovered up by a bigger company. Creative control has always been the focus.
Newly appointed company president and CEO Atsushi Inaba, however, has signalled a change of thinking at the studio — driven primarily, it seems, by Microsoft’s promised hands-off approach to the running of Activision after the acquisition completes. “I think there’s going to be a lot of mutual respect there, and I think Activision will be able to continue doing what they do best,” he told VGC. “That’s also what’s important for us at the end of the day, whatever form that takes for us and our company. So I would not turn anything down, as long as our freedom was respected.”
Both these statements reflect a growing recognition of the way the wind is blowing, a metaphor I am suddenly quite uncomfortable with (just gotta check the garden fence a moment, brb). The Activision deal means that no company is too big, too rich, or too strong-willed to be acquired. Evidently that message has been heard loud and clear in boardrooms across the industry, all around the world. This week, the consolidation has continued apace — the most notable deal being Nacon’s $60m acquisition of German adventure-game maker Daedelic. We are not done yet, by a long shot.
Yet I must admit that, in the current context, acquisitions wouldn’t necessarily be the worst thing to happen to Ubisoft and Platinum. A buyout might help get the Osaka studio off the development treadmill that has categorised its 15 years in business, where the stone-cold banger is followed by the tossed-off licensed or smartphone project that keeps the lights on. An understanding parent could support the studio to focus on games of the calibre of Bayonetta and Nier Automata, consigning the likes of Legend Of Korra, and that disastrous TMNT game I reviewed and still have nightmares about, to the dustbin of history. As for Ubisoft, obviously it is struggling on multiple fronts. As with Activision, a buyout would likely be the cleanest way of bringing about the cultural change it so badly needs, and perhaps even the creative one too.
Still a bit grim though, isn’t it. Everyone is for sale, and so are their principles. Ah well. I’d better go check the roof’s still intact.
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Bobby Kotick has a secret company — well, it was secret, until yesterday — through which he donated half a million dollars to Republican political campaigns in the 2020 election. This is not particularly surprising, nor do we need another reason to dislike the man. Nice to have one’s opinions validated though, isn’t it.
Meanwhile, both the SEC and DFEH investigations of Activision Blizzard’s misconduct scandal have broadened in scope. Additional subpoenas were filed soon after Microsoft announced its intent to buy the company.
Ubisoft may not be the creative force it once was, but that does not mean it is no longer successful. This week it announced that Assassin’s Creed Valhalla has brought in $1bn in revenue.
The Video Game History Foundation has hit out at what it calls the “actively destructive” lobbying efforts of the Entertainment Software Association to thwart preservation efforts under the cover of copyright law, following Nintendo’s announcement it is to close the Wii U and 3DS eShops next year.
In better preservation-related news, a treasure trove of sealed retro games has been unearthed in a Nebraska storage facility. The collection, which includes the valuable likes of Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy III, had been in storage since the closure of an Omaha game store in around 1995. Behold.
Happy Horizon Forbidden West day to those of you that celebrate it. It sounds like a treat, albeit with the standard caveats associated with big open worlds. It’s downloading as I type this but I am too busy with… well, childcare and stuff right now, but also various Secret Things I cannot yet discuss. But I look forward to giving it a spin when life quietens down a bit (at this rate, somewhere around 2040).
Right! I’m off to stare nervously out of the window for a bit, then see if I can cheese a nap out of the three-year-old. Might sneak a cheeky one in too. Have an excellent weekend, stay safe wherever you are, and I’ll see you next week.