Microsoft Gaming CEO Says Business Is Untenable in Long Term Without Mobile – Candy Crush as Important as Call of Duty

Alessio Palumbo
Microsoft Activision-Blizzard

Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer was featured in a lengthy chat on The Verge's Decoder podcast. As usual, Spencer provided plenty of quote-worthy comments to readers, such as reiterating the company's commitment to consumers to keep delivering Call of Duty on PlayStation consoles for the foreseeable future.

Elsewhere in the interview, though, Phil Spencer noted that the Microsoft Gaming business could very well become untenable in the long term without expanding into the mobile market, which is a key factor in the $69 billion deal to purchase Activision Blizzard.

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In terms of the Activision opportunity — I keep saying this over and over, and it is true — it definitely starts with a view that people want to play games on every device that they have. In a funny way, the smallest screen that we play on is actually the biggest screen when you think about the install base in a phone.

That’s just a place where if we don’t gain relevancy as a gaming brand, over time, the business will become untenable. We’re not alone in seeing this; this is true for any of us. If you’re not able to find customers on phones or on any screen that somebody wants to play on, then you really are going to get segmented to a niche part of gaming where running a global business will become very challenging. [...] It’s critical that if you’re trying to run an at-scale global gaming business, you meet your customers where they want to play, and mobile is more and more that place. 

To that end, interviewer Nilay Patel pointed out that King actually makes more money than Activision and Blizzard because Candy Crush is more profitable even than Call of Duty. The Microsoft Gaming CEO agreed as much, adding that the deal being all about Call of Duty on console is a construct made by Sony.

Absolutely. In addition, the number that’s not in the Candy Crush/King number is Call of Duty: Mobile and Diablo mobile, which are big franchises that exist in that Activision and Blizzard bucket that are also major players on phones. Yes, the idea that Activision is all about Call of Duty on console is a construct that might get created by our console competitor and maybe some players out there.

It’s the same reason that Take-Two looks at Zynga and says, “Okay, we have to build out our mobile capability.” I would say Activision/Blizzard/King did a better job of doing that earlier, and definitely better than we did. They are now in a position where they have great PC franchises, great console franchises, and great mobile franchises. The real differentiation that they add for Microsoft is their mobile capability.

As a reminder, UK and EU regulators are now going deeper into their review of the Microsoft/Activision Blizzard deal while we're still waiting to hear from the US Federal Trade Commission. For its part, Activision Blizzard still expects the deal to be closed by June 2023; if that doesn't happen, Microsoft will have to pay a $2-3 billion fee.

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