Five Things: January 20, 2022

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“The deal that will change the industry forever”: Analysts on Microsoft’s Activision acquisition | James Batchelor

“GlobalData principal analyst Rupantar Guha goes further in declaring it the ‘biggest tech merger and acquisition’ in history. As many have observed, it’s only a few billion dollars shy of Disney’s $71.3 billion acquisition of Fox, making the Microsoft-Activision deal one of the biggest in entertainment, not just gaming.”

Anyone who still thinks gaming is a niche business was probably shocked to hear Microsoft was acquiring a video game publisher for nearly $70B, but that just means they don’t understand the full scope of the media business. For context, Penguin Random House’s proposed acquisition of Simon & Shuster is only for $2.2B, whichattracted DOJ attention for its potentially outsized impact on the trade publishing business.

Some observers have suggested the Microsoft-Activision deal will garner similar scrutiny, but I doubt it since it would only push Microsoft into the #3 spot in gaming, behind Tencent and Sony, neither of which are American companies. As Batchelor’s excellent overview notes, there are numerous ripple effects beyond gaming that aren’t getting as much attention in early media coverage, but almost all of them stem from Microsoft’s underrated bet on gaming 20 years ago.

As a gamer and longtime Xbox owner, I’m impressed and excited by the ambition Microsoft has shown over the past couple of years, and a little worried about my already significant game backlog as the already amazing Game Pass is about to turn it up to 11. As an industry observer, I’m intrigued to see how the rest of the gaming industry responds, and curious how non-gaming media covers it all.

[insert popcorn gif]


Bobby Kotick interview: Why Activision Blizzard did the deal with Microsoft | Dean Takahashi

“I think the thing that is obvious to me is that when you look at the competition, whether it’s Tencent and NetEase, and Alibaba or Sony, or Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, Netflix, then you start looking at like, the second part of competition and content, and you realize whether it’s Roblox or Minecraft, or the variety of other sort of platforms that are becoming available for content creators, I think there’s more competition than we’ve ever seen for games.”

By most accounts, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick is not a good guy, which in my admittedly cynical opinion, means he’s a typical big company CEO—the rule, rather than the exception. That said, he’s been in the gaming business for a long time running one of its biggest and most successful companies, and his insights here are worth reading to get a better understanding of the most likely factors driving the Microsoft deal, beyond just its convenient timing.

Kotick isn’t going anywhere until the deal closes some time next year, and the acquisition is large enough that it’ll likely keep any lawsuits or additional dirt from affecting him or Activision Blizzard until then, at which point Microsoft will make a few public gestures towards rectifying things and move forward as quickly as possible. I suspect Kotick is out within a year after the deal closes, if not much sooner, most likely with a really nice parachute, because that’s how capitalism works.


Video game preservation is complicated, both legally and technically | Noah Smith

“‘Game history is part of general culture as well as intellectual and media history,’ said Henry Lowood, curator for film and media collections as well as science and technology collections in the Stanford University Libraries. Lowood is one of the academics pushing for increased access to games for the purposes of study. ‘It’s not possible to include a full history of any of those topics without including games from the 1970s forward.'”

I’m deeply immersed in the often-frustrating library ebook world via the day job, so seeing video games get tied up in similar nonsense is a real downer, especially when it’s related to preservation and research rather than equitable access for all. It’s definitely a lot more complex than simply making a traditional ebook available with fewer restrictions, though, and Smith does a good job unpacking the various challenges, including [inadvertent?] academic overreach and the moving target that is online gaming.


I usually link to tweets of mine as easter eggs related to something in a featured article, but I’m putting this one from 2013 in the spotlight instead because it’s the first public commentary of mine I could find about bingeing TV shows, the topic of discussion in this Vulture article that made the rounds last week. I’m old enough to remember when bingeing was a lazy weekend thing you did, watching a scheduled marathon of some random show a 2nd-tier cable channel had rights to, and weekly releases were the norm for all new shows.

I was thrilled when Disney+ announced they’d be releasing their shows on a weekly schedule rather than dumping full seasons at once, and appreciated Amazon’s releasing The Expanse that way, too. HBO’s success was built on that model, and appointment viewing remains one of their greatest strengths—Game of Thrones, Watchmen, Lovecraft Country.

As a viewer, I like having the option to binge, but for shows where there’s any potential for a cultural conversation, I still prefer the weekly drop—even if my schedule means I can’t watch it right away, or I have no intention of participating in the conversation. One of the biggest problems with binge drops remains the limited time it gives a new show to capture attention and build an audience through word of mouth, while savvy marketing can briefly make bad shows seem like they’ve captured the zeitgeist.

As the content arms race has gotten out of control over the past few years and Netflix, in particular, is releasing more shows than they can possibly market well, I’m hoping scheduled releases become the default again, and binge drops become the exception.


The delicious history of a cake fit for a king | Matt Haines

“At the center of the party is a cake. Someone grabs a slice and notices there’s a trinket hidden inside. Congratulations to them! They are crowned queen or king for the day.”

I love King Cake and would eat it year-round if I could. I even baked my first King Cake earlier this month, kicking off the Carnival season in northern New Jersey! Whether you’ve never had one, don’t know the story behind them, or like me, take any opportunity to indulge in NOLA-centric content, this article is for you.

Happy Almost Mardi Gras!

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