A year and a half after Microsoft first announced it would be acquiring Activision Blizzard, the $69 billion deal is finally going through. After winning its court case against the Federal Trade Commission, Microsoft’s merger is set to bring franchises like Call of Duty into the Xbox family.
A good day for Xbox gamers has left some PlayStation fans hoping that Sony will start making bigger acquisitions to secure an increasingly shrinking landscape of publishers and developers. The biggest name on the tip of everybody’s tongue is Final Fantasy developer Square Enix, and it’s a union that’s spawned as many thirsty social media posts as pop-culture fan-fic pairings like Star Wars’ Reylo and Game of Thrones’ Brienne and Jaime.
What may seem like a coup for PlayStation fans is evidence of a larger problem in fandom — the tendency to talk about potential pairings between two corporate entities in a bizarrely romantic fashion.
For fans of either Xbox or PlayStation, the central fear surrounding the increasingly common occurrence of acquisitions is that popular franchises and developers will be made exclusive to one platform or the other. While Microsoft announced it has come to an agreement to keep Call of Duty on Sony consoles for the next decade, other big tentpole titles like Starfield have become exclusive to the Xbox ecosystem.
PlayStation has always been known for its first-party studios (such as The Last of Us developer Naughty Dog) that deliver high-quality experiences but has not been making as many large acquisitions as Microsoft in past years. The most high-profile purchase Sony has made was the purchase of Destiny 2 developer Bungie in the summer of 2022.
This is where Square Enix enters the picture. Square Enix and Sony have long had a good relationship, dating back to Square’s decision to develop Final Fantasy VII for the original PlayStation. To this day, the majority of Final Fantasy games since VII have only been available on Sony hardware for years on end. This extends to current exclusivity agreements for the Final Fantasy VII Remake series and Final Fantasy XVI.
In addition to Sony being in the buying market, Square Enix has long been rumored to be in the selling market. In May 2022, the company sold its American development studios and a handful of IP — including Tomb Raider and Deus Ex — to Embracer Group. This sale led to Square Enix becoming more consolidated. In other words, it made the company a more appealing acquisition for larger companies like Sony.
In the wake of the Microsoft Activision deal, PlayStation fans are reigniting these rumors in hopes of Sony finally acquiring Square Enix. Yet, encouraging more mergers in the gaming industry in hopes of securing a desirable exclusive for one platform leads to harm across the board — even for PlayStation fans who think they will benefit from such an acquisition.
The obvious downside of a Sony acquisition of Square Enix for Xbox and Nintendo gamers is the possibility of future releases from Square Enix becoming exclusive to PlayStation. While Sony has released its first-party games on PC in recent years, there is typically a multi-year gap between when the games are released on PlayStation and PC.
For PlayStation gamers, the downside is less immediately obvious. While Square Enix is beloved for tentpole franchises like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, there are just as many fans of more niche releases and loving remasters the company makes. 2022 was a great year for Square Enix, thanks in large part to smaller, more experimental titles like Harvestella and reimaginings of classics like the HD-2D remake of Live A Live. A Sony-owned Square Enix would most likely not focus on projects outside of big tentpole releases like Final Fantasy.
“At the heart of monopolization is homogeneity,” I wrote in an article discussing the then-recent Square Enix/Embracer deal. Meaning that companies like Microsoft and Sony acquiring other publishers and developers leads to less diversity in what kind of games are available for players. At the end of the day, these companies are hoping that acquisitions will lead to more properties that can make them large sums of money by capitalizing on the most popular trends in gaming.
Sony itself has made this business model clear with its statement that 10 live-service games are currently in development across its many developers. Live service is already a genre that is oversaturated and quickly dwindling in popularity, but multiple studios are stuck developing games that are almost surely failures before even releasing. Meanwhile, first-party studios creating experimental work have been shut down by Sony. Namely the closure of Japan Studio — responsible for titles like Gravity Rush, Ico, Tokyo Jungle, and more — being announced in 2021.
For fans who only want a big Final Fantasy title every five years, Sony purchasing Square Enix could be great. But for everybody else who wants the chance to play a diverse variety of titles from the publisher including remakes of its classic catalogue of games the prospect of a Sony-owned Square Enix is more dire.
Companies like Sony and Microsoft will continue to acquire more companies in the future, with or without support from the fanbase. Before people start openly hoping for more acquisitions, it’s important to think about what is lost in these mergers. Daydream about romances between people and fictional characters all you want. But let’s cool it on shipping corporations, shall we?