With its pending acquisition of Activision Blizzard, Microsoft could soon add the likes of Diablo, Warcraft, and Call of Duty to its lineup of big-name franchises, which already includes everything from Halo to Minecraft to Fallout. That’s sure to move more Xbox consoles and bring more subscribers into the increasingly tempting Game Pass ecosystem. But there’s another, less obvious, part of the deal that could be just as important: it instantly gives Microsoft a huge audience in the mobile space.
The biggest video games in the world are largely found on smartphones, and for the last few years, major publishers have been spending lots of money to get into the space. Just this month, Take-Two — the company behind the likes of NBA 2K and Grand Theft Auto — spent nearly $13 billion to acquire FarmVille developer Zynga. Before that, EA scooped up the likes of Glu Mobile and Playdemic for smaller, but still massive, sums. Years earlier, when Activision Blizzard wanted to get a leg up in mobile, it spent $5.9 billion on Candy Crush creator King.
Provided the Microsoft acquisition goes through — the deal isn’t expected to close until “fiscal year 2023,” and a lot could happen in that time — Candy Crush would become yet another integral piece of the company’s portfolio. And the franchise has proven to be an enduring hit. Analyst firm Sensor Tower estimates that, since January 2014, Candy Crush Saga has generated around $7.1 billion, while its spinoff Candy Crush Soda Saga has taken in $2.9 billion.
Since the King acquisition, mobile has become an increasingly important part of Activision’s portfolio; Call of Duty Mobile, created in partnership with Tencent, is a massive game, and Blizzard is also planning to launch a smartphone version of Diablo. During its most recent quarterly earnings statement, Activision revealed that King was its highest-grossing division, raking in $652 million in net revenue during the third quarter of 2021.
Microsoft, meanwhile, has largely struggled in the space. Minecraft remains a big hit — that same Sensor Tower report estimates that the mobile version has been downloaded more than 237 million times on both iOS and Android since January 2014 — and is one of the few premium mobile games to reach a massive audience. Elsewhere, though, Microsoft’s efforts haven’t had the same impact. Last year Microsoft shut down Minecraft Earth, a real-world game similar to Pokémon Go, and earlier this month, it announced plans to close smartphone racer Forza Street. Outside of Minecraft, Microsoft’s most notable mobile game at the moment is probably Fallout Shelter, which came with its acquisition of Bethesda.
For the most part, it seems, Microsoft’s efforts in mobile have been focused on making it possible to play Xbox games on your phone through xCloud. But with the addition of King, it now has a big opportunity to expand when it comes to smartphone-native experiences.
Mobile might not be as flashy as a new next-gen blockbuster, but it’s a necessary part of the modern gaming landscape. Companies across all of entertainment, whether it’s Netflix or Disney or Microsoft, are acquiring intellectual property and then attempting to leverage them across as many platforms as possible. Netflix is buying game studios, while League of Legends developer Riot Games is launching TV shows. Given how pervasive smartphones are, mobile gaming has naturally become a key cog in this — and a lucrative one. There’s a reason PUBG has two different mobile spinoffs.
Given all of the popular franchises that Microsoft now owns, and the many more that will join them if the Activision deal goes through, it only makes sense that the company is looking to solidify its efforts on mobile. And the easiest way to do that is by utilizing proven talent like King. That doesn’t mean you’ll see spartans showing up Candy Crush any time soon — but it’s likely that Master Chief will be on your phone in some form in the future.