While mergers and acquisitions have been a part of the video game industry for decades, they've become a major hot topic over the last few years. As companies like PlayStation, Xbox, and Embracer Group have swallowed up studios, there has been a growing concern about what it could mean for the future of the industry. Former Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO Shawn Layden has shared his worries about this trend in the past, and did again on a recent episode of the Lan Parties podcast. In the appearance, Layden worried that consolidation could lead to voices being lost.
"My concern around consolidation is that often it impacts creativity. For instance, it takes some kind of small, independent, wildhorse studios and brings them into a larger conglomerate and essentially time slows down the bigger you are, time slows down," Layden said on the podcast. "I'm also concerned when studios get bought and instead of enabling a way to create their game, they maybe get absorbed into a larger enterprise that's making a larger game, you know, how many studios are involved in making blockbuster games that will stagger the mind."
Studios being forced to work as support teams on major releases isn't unheard of. Over the last few years, several of Activision's teams have been redirected to work on the Call of Duty franchise in a support role, including Toys for Bob. Ironically enough, Microsoft has implied that could change following the company's acquisition of Activision, as there has been a desire to bring back some of the company's missing franchises, and potentially move away from yearly Call of Duty releases. However, it remains to be seen whether that might actually happen.
Acquisitions and Their Impact
Over the last two years, Microsoft purchased Activision Blizzard, while PlayStation purchased Bungie. These multi-billion dollar deals have caused the most concern throughout the industry, but it seems unlikely that they'll have a huge impact on output; Destiny 2 and Call of Duty will both remain multi-platform, and will remain the dominant focus for both companies.
However, Layden's concerns about smaller studios having to "conform" as part of the company culture remain valid; there are plenty of examples of smaller studios being swallowed up by big companies. Embracer Group went on a buying spree over the last few years, and while the company was long known for its hand-off approach, that seems to be changing. Following a recent deal that fell through, Embracer shuttered Volition and forced layoffs at Crystal Dynamics. Volition's closure also led to some of the company's IPs being transferred to other subsidiaries. Will Embracer start dictating more of what its companies produce? It remains to be seen, but it's not unthinkable, and it could happen with just about any studio swallowed up by a larger company.
"I'm just concerned about what it does to the creativity urge inside of the studios, and can they keep that sort of independent creativity alive or do they just get absorbed into the larger whole? Time will tell, but it's a bit concerning. When you go from hundreds of voices to dozens of voices, you lose some voices," Layden said on the podcast.
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