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4 video game news stories that shaped the industry’s future in 2022

With the video game industry in constant growth mode, it’s rare we ever get through a year without some massive bombshell announcement with huge implications for the future. In 2021, for instance, we saw Epic waging war against Apple’s business practices, Valve disrupting hardware with its Steam Deck announcement, and a harrowing Activision Blizzard scandal that acted as a tipping point for the industry and its often difficult working conditions.

The news didn’t slow down in 2022 — if anything, it escalated. The Activision Blizzard revelation in particular had something of a snowball effect this year, rolling its way into several major threads. Between high-profile acquisitions and a push for unionization, this year very much felt like a direct continuation of 2021. Nothing was a one-off story, but rather part of a historical moment that could make the 2020s the most pivotal decade in gaming history when all is said and done.

These are the four stories that made 2022 a key year for gaming’s future.

Microsoft moves to acquire Activision Blizzard

Xbox acquired Activision Blizzard on January 18, 2022, and gained the rights to Call of Duty, Candy Crush, and more.

Coming out of a tumultuous 2021, all eyes were on Activision Blizzard. The company was the subject of damning reports about its toxic workplace culture and the industry was calling for change. That wasn’t lost on Microsoft, which made a drastic move in January by announcing its intention to acquire the Call of Duty publisher for $68.7 billion. To put that number into perspective, it’s the largest game studio acquisition of all time by over $50 billion.

The move was met with mixed reactions. Some felt that it was a necessary step to clean up an Activision Blizzard that was spiraling out of control at the expense of its workers. Others felt that the move could lead to a monopoly, as Microsoft would gain publishing rights to some of the industry’s most profitable titles. The move led to a high profile dispute between Microsoft and Sony, the latter of which painted it as an egregious anti-consumer move, even as Microsoft committed to releasing Call of Duty on platforms like PlayStation.

Regardless of what players personally felt, the Federal Trade Commission saw a red flag. Just this month, the FTC announced its intention to block the deal citing antitrust concerns. Now in jeopardy, the deal’s final fate could become the single most important gaming story of the decade. If the deal is struck down, it could set a new precedent for acquisitions, preventing the “big three” console companies from getting too big. Regulations like that could put a firm nail in gaming’s waning Wild West days for good.

Unionization takes center stage

The effects of the Activision Blizzard scandal weren’t just felt at an executive level; they also led to a major milestone for workers rights. Discussions around workplace culture in games led to serious conversations around unionization, a concept that was previously foreign to the video game industry. Rumblings of a union push began in late December 2021 when Vodeo Games created the first gaming union in North America, but that push got more high-profile with each month.

It was no coincidence that the first major gaming union would come from within Activision Blizzard. QA testers at Call of Duty developer Raven Software successfully organized in May by a 19-3 vote. With such a high-profile organization effort at one of gaming’s biggest companies, there was a renewed sense of momentum for unionization across the industry throughout 2022. Whether or not that turns into a wider trend in 2023, it’s a historic moment for an industry that has struggled with toxicity, abuse, and a crunch culture for decades.

Grand Theft Auto 6 leaks

CJ and Rider walking in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas – The Definitive Edition.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

At a high level, the video game industry’s biggest companies operate in secrecy. While there’s always an occasional release date leak, it’s very rare that we see much of a game more than a month out from any official press reveal. So it was especially shocking when a hacker got access to a massive folder of Grand Theft Auto 6 videos and casually posted it online on a Saturday night. The clips showed an incredibly early and rough build of the game — a part of the development process that’s usually left in the dark.

The leak led to some complicated emotions around the industry. Many criticized the criminal act, empathizing with developers whose work had been shared before they were ready to show it off. Others found a silver lining in the leak, using it as an educational moment to show players how much work goes into games behind the scenes.

Wherever you landed on it, the story was part of a much bigger trend this year, which saw interest in “leak” culture reach a boiling point as fans began taking the word of “insiders” as their Bible. That led to several points of confusion during the year, from a quickly debunked story about Amazon acquiring EA to an erroneous claim that two classic Legend of Zelda games were Switch-bound. To cap it all off, we got a new games media website in the form of Insider Gaming, which has struggled to deliver consistent truth since its inception. It was a year where empires were built on impatience.

Cloud gaming takes a left turn

A tv shows the new Xbox Game Pass that comes to Samsung Gaming Hub soon.
Samsung / Microsoft

For the last few years, we’ve heard companies claim that cloud gaming is the future. Though the tech has received a fair amount of pushback from traditional players, 2022 proved that executives weren’t just full of hot air — though mixed messaging made it especially hard to get a read on the tech. One of this year’s biggest stories came when Google announced it was shutting down Stadia, a service that helped kick off the current wave of cloud tech.

That may have sounded like the beginning of the end for cloud gaming, but that’s far from what happened. If anything, it simply saw companies moving away from cloud subscription services as they looked for a more natural way to integrate the tech into our lives. Samsung, for instance, made a power play this year by introducing its Gaming Hub on certain smart TVs, a move that would suddenly give countless households access to services like Xbox Game Pass without a console or PC.

Other companies diversified their approach to cloud gaming even more. Logitech released a cloud-focused handheld and Razer’s own is on the horizon. Though the tech certainly found itself in an experimental and often confusing place in 2022, its future is becoming clearer. Rather than living and dying based on subscription costs, expect to see it at the heart of both new devices and the ones you already own going forward.

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Giovanni Colantonio
Giovanni is a writer and video producer focusing on happenings in the video game industry. He has contributed stories to…
Grand Theft Auto V makes its surprise return to Xbox Game Pass today
A man drives away in a boat with stolen money in Grand Theft Auto 5 art.

Xbox Game Pass is kicking off July with a major surprise, as Grand Theft Auto V has returned to the service. Rockstar's sales juggernaut leads an otherwise light month for Game Pass, which brings Capcom's Exoprimal as a day-one launch.

This isn't the first time that Grand Theft Auto V has been on Game Pass. It was previously on the service circa 2021 but removed from it that August. Rockstar has a history of putting its games on Game Pass for a brief window before pulling it, as it also did with Red Dead Redemption 2.

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Rockstar Games’ co-founder just formed an ‘absurd’ new studio
A man drives away in a boat with stolen money in Grand Theft Auto 5 art.

Dan Houser, a co-founder of Rockstar Games and one of the people behind the creation of series like Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption, has unveiled his new studio, Absurd Ventures.

Dan Houser was a stalwart figure at Rockstar Games since its founding and had a hand in the creative aspects of pretty much every game in the Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption series, along with other titles like Bully and Max Payne 3. Following an "extended break" following the release of Red Dead Redemption 2, as well as some controversy surrounding some reported issues with the game's creative development, Rockstar Games' parent company Take-Two Interactive announced that Houser had left the company in early 2020. He's had a relatively low-profile since then outside of serving on the board of a blockchain company, but now looks to be fully invested in Absurd Ventures, a company he technically founded in 2021.
Absurd Ventures is finally being revealed more publicly now, and Houser did so with an intentionally absurd announcement trailer and website with the tagline "Storytelling, Philanthropy, Ultraviolence." According to a tweet by Geoff Keighley, the actual main goal of Absurd Ventures is "building narrative worlds, creating characters, and writing stories for a diverse variety of genres, without regard to medium, to be produced for live-action and animation, video games and other interactive content, books, graphic novels, and scripted podcasts."
Absurd Ventures
It seems like Houser wants to make a creative think tank that can craft ideas that are then realized in a variety of creative mediums. It doesn't seem quite like any other game developer or movie studio out there, so it will be very interesting to see what the minds at Absurd Ventures are eventually able to come up with.

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Why cloud gaming is the linchpin in Microsoft’s troubled Activision Blizzard acqusition
Key art showing multiple devices playing games via the cloud.

The United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) delivered a shocker this week when it blocked Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard on Wednesday. While a lot of focus on Microsoft’s fight was centered around whether or not the acquisition would give Xbox consoles an unfair advantage over PlayStation consoles, what ultimately decided it was a much smaller market: cloud gaming.
The idea of being able to stream the game you’re playing from the cloud has existed for well over a decade. Cloud gaming’s relevance to the video game industry has only grown over the past several years thanks to both failed and successful efforts from big tech companies like Google, Amazon, and, most importantly, Microsoft. Still, cloud gaming is considered relatively niche, with Activision Blizzard Bobby Kotick calling it "inconsequential" in an interview with Bloomberg and UCL Associate Profession Joost Rietveld saying it’s not a distinct market in a submission to the CMA.
Despite those pleas, the CMA claims that cloud gaming is a “nascent market” and that “already strong incumbent in this market even stronger” in its 418-page report on the matter. Following the CMA’s decision on Wednesday, I spoke to several different analysts to find more clarity about how big Microsoft is in the cloud gaming space and why the CMA should feel compelled to intervene. While experts mostly side with Microsoft over the CMA on this decision, one greater truth emerged from these discussions. Whether one thinks cloud gaming is relevant to this acquisition or not, this emergent style of gaming has reached a point of no return where it'll be instrumental to the video game industry going forward. 
Microsoft, king of cloud gaming
Cloud gaming may sound like a niche within the industry, but that's not entirely accurate. BrandFinance Managing Director Laurence Newell tells Digital Trends that “cloud-based services account for over 70% of Microsoft’s brand value, amounting to a staggering $137.5 billion.” That’s quite an eye-catching number that understandably would raise a regulator's alarm bells. However, Newell admits that gaming only makes up 8.5% of Microsoft’s revenue, and cloud gaming is an even smaller amount of that slice.
Despite its relatively small impact on the wider company, most of the experts I spoke to agreed that Microsoft has emerged as a cloud gaming leader thanks to its compatibility with a large segment of the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate library. Conversely, Activision Blizzard has had almost no cloud gaming presence outside of one Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice port on Google Stadia before that service’s shutdown. If it were to be acquired, it is inevitable that more Activision Blizzard games would likely come to cloud-based gaming services.

Despite the shutdown of Google Stadia and the relatively small brand value received from cloud gaming compared to the rest of the company, the CMA still points out in the press release about its decision that “monthly active users in the U.K. more than tripled from the start of 2021 to the end of 2022. It is forecast to be worth up to 11 billion British pounds globally and 1 billion pounds in the U.K. by 2026.” Associate Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at the UCL School of Management Joost Rietveld, who has also been a consultant for Microsoft during its acquisition process, challenges the notion that cloud gaming as a whole is a single market.
Instead, Rietveld splits it into four categories, placing Xbox Game Pass into a category called “cloud gaming as a feature,” which is when it’s “offered as part of a consumer-facing distribution platform” or “included within a bigger bundle of services provided by the platformer.” Under Rietveld’s view, services like Nvidia GeForce Now, Ubitius, and EE -- all of whom Microsoft has made individual deals to bring Activision Blizzard and Xbox Game Studios titles to -- fall into different categories and thus shouldn’t be considered or directly compared to Xbox Game Pass. No matter how they’re categorized now, the real question mark looming over the technology is its future growth, according to Omdia Senior Principal Games Analyst Steve Bailey.
“Will it remain a niche additional service or become the gaming platform of the future?” Bailey asks in his statement to Digital Trends. “Our projection is that cloud gaming is growing rapidly (revenue should more than double by 2026), but it’s still a long way from taking over the games market, so it remains arguable either way.”
“Arguable” stands out as the keyword to me here. Like any emergent technology, we’re heavily debating the positives and negatives of cloud gaming, specifically through the lens of this acquisition. But what exactly is it that the CMA sees in Microsoft that worries them?
The CMA’s problem with Microsoft
“The CMA’s argument is not that acquiring Activision Blizzard would allow Microsoft to dominate the console market as a whole, where Sony and Nintendo have strong positions relative to Xbox, but only that it would help it to achieve a dominant position in cloud gaming specifically,” Bailey tells Digital Trends. “Microsoft and Activision Blizzard will likely argue that this is disproportionate, given the relatively small scale of the cloud gaming market.”

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