Late last year Microsoft’s Xbox chief Phil Spencer said it was actively looking at investing in studios in order to boost its first-party Xbox output. At the time we wondered just what studios these could be. Well, Polygon has gone one step further, citing a “reliable source” close to Microsoft that it’s very seriously considering a buyout of Electronic Arts. As well as this, Microsoft is also looking at potential purchases of PUBG publisher Bluehole, and none other than Valve.
“The most recent one we heard (from a reliable source close to Microsoft) was, in fact, Electronic Arts,” writes Polygon, fairly confidently.
There probably isn’t a salt shaker big enough for you to take the sizeable pinch necessary to swallow this, so we’re just going to have to assume Polygon’s sources have at least some shred of truth to them.
Of course, Microsoft would probably like to own Valve, but wanting something doesn’t just make it happen. Valve is a private company majority owned by Gabe Newell. I think the idea of Microsoft buying Valve is ludicrously optimistic on Polygon’s behalf, and certainly the least likely of the three. Newell owns more than 50% of the biggest PC gaming distributor in the world. He personally is worth more than $5.5 billion; he’s hardly reaching down the back of the sofa for some change. If he doesn’t want to sell, nothing happens
As for Bluehole, that seems like a more realistic prospect. Microsoft has demonstrated with Mojang and Minecraft that it’s willing to bet big on a single property, although I suspect not even PUBG has the legs of Minecraft. A buyout is feasible, although a bidding war with Chinese conglomerate Tencent would almost certainly commence should Microsoft show their hand.
Which finally brings us to EA, and Polygon’s strongest rumour. While improbable, it’s not impossible to see happen. EA is one of the largest games publishers in the world, yet Microsoft is obviously worth considerably more. In terms of bolstering first-party games, EA would certainly do the job. It seems almost inconceivable that EA would abandon multiplatform support though. Imagine Madden, FIFA, and Battlefield being exclusive to Xbox. The ramifications would be huge. If Microsoft bought EA and forced them to drop PlayStation support, their addressable market has just pretty much halved.
Ultimately, Microsoft can afford to buy any of these three companies and probably would like to as well. Whether it’s even possible is another matter entirely though, despite the $130 billion it's got sat in the bank. The rumours do at least indicate the scale Microsoft is thinking of when it comes to studio purchases though, and now nothing is off-limits, but I don’t think any of these three are genuinely going to happen. It’s difficult to envisage the benefits of a buyout for anyone aside from Microsoft’s shareholders; it would just be more industry consolidation and less choice.
Can you see Microsoft buying any of these three publishers? Which would have the biggest impact on the gaming industry?