It’s game on for video game mergers.
Microsoft’s nearly $69 billion acquisition of the controversial game maker Activision Blizzard comes just one week after Grand Theft Auto developer Take-Two Interactive announced that it was buying FarmVille owner Zynga.
Gamers (and investors) are now betting on which company might be the next to get scooped up. Wall Street seems to thinks that Electronic Arts, which makes the super popular Madden NFL franchise of football video games, could be the most likely target.
Shares of Electronic Arts (EA) rose 3% Tuesday. The company had no comment for CNN Business when asked about whether it could be considering a sale or looking to make a purchase of its own.
Electronic Arts has made several acquisitions in the past year, including a $1.4 billion purchase of Playdemic, the developer of a popular mobile golf game that was owned by WarnerMedia, the AT&T (T)-owned parent company of CNN.
But unless EA makes a move it is increasingly looking like the proverbial odd man out in gaming.
And Activision Blizzard (ATVI) will now have, thanks to Microsoft (MSFT), one of the deepest pockets in the world to help develop new games (and potentially absorb the costs of any further legal action tied to allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination.)
As more people look to play games on their phones (in addition to consoles or PCs) companies like Electronic Arts, as well as smaller French game developer Ubisoft (UBSFF), may need to do more to bolster their presence in that market. Ubisoft (UBSFF) shares soared 8% Tuesday as investors bet that it, too, is a takeover prospect.
Activision Blizzard already took a big step into the mobile realm in 2016 with the nearly $6 billion purchase of Candy Crush maker King Digital.
The allure of gaming, a lucrative business for Apple thanks to the fees it collects on games purchased through its App Store as well as its Arcade service, is not lost on other tech giants. Facebook (FB) owner Meta, Google (GOOGL) and YouTube parent Alphabet, Amazon (AMZN) and Netflix (NFLX) have all dipped their toes into the gaming pool.
Gaming companies also are looking to build up a presence in the so-called metaverse, virtual worlds that have become more popular with younger users.
“Gaming is the most dynamic and exciting category in entertainment across all platforms today and will play a key role in the development of metaverse platforms,” said Microsoft chairman and CEO Satya Nadella in a statement about the Activision Blizzard deal.
“We’re investing deeply in world-class content, community and the cloud to usher in a new era of gaming that puts players and creators first and makes gaming safe, inclusive and accessible to all,” he added.
It sounds as if Microsoft may have its sights set on gaming platform Roblox, which went public last year and has become a metaverse phenomenon. Roblox now has a market value of $46 billion, more than either EA and Take-Two. Roblox shares rose 2% Tuesday.
“Microsoft’s desire to bolster its metaverse…calls into question the implications for standalones including Electronic Arts and Take-Two, or even an incumbent such as Roblox and whether they are technically and financially disadvantaged, if in fact the metaverse is the next frontier of interactive entertainment,” said Stifel analyst Drew Crum in a report Tuesday.
The Microsoft-Activision deal may also put more pressure on Japanese conglomerate Sony – maker of the PlayStation console and operater of PlayStation Studios, its video game development division – to step up its own gaming game.
While Sony develops a number of blockbuster, PlayStation-exclusive games, the company has lagged behind Microsoft in launching a true competitor to the Xbox Game Pass cloud subscription service.
Shares of Sony fell 7% Tuesday. The company was not immediately available for comment when asked about its reaction to the Microsoft purchase.
But shares of Japanese rival Nintendo (NTDOF), which makes the popular Switch console, were up about 2%.