Microsoft acquisitions speak on limited integration; “about retaining all of that great talent”

July 9, 2020
Satya Nadella Microsoft acquisitions Xbox Game Studios

With the massive number of Microsoft acquisitions made in recent years, it’s been a major worry for fans of products, services and studios that the company will revert to sucking the identity of studios away, similar to the company’s actions in years past. 

In an interview with GamesIndustry, multiple Microsoft higher-ups and heads of recent Microsoft acquisitions explained how the tech giant is looking at their new arrivals for the future.

Microsoft’s executive vice president of gaming, Phil Spencer, explained that the company is learning how to handle present and future Microsoft acquisitions from the success they’ve found with Swedish game developer Mojang and how they’ve helped the studio evolve the game since their $2.5 billion acquisition in 2014.

“Mojang was a big point for us, where it was obviously a large acquisition, with an incredible franchise in Minecraft,” Spencer said. “But Minecraft is not a non-complex product. It’s on a lot of platforms, it is very community-led. Our ability to integrate Mojang and grow Minecraft also gave us confidence.”

Minecraft player numbers
Minecraft was an incredibly important Microsoft acquisition back in 2014, one that taught the studio how to handle new studios under its wing.

“We had a lot to learn from Mojang. It would be easy for a large organisation to come in and say: ‘Hey, we’re going to show you how it’s done. We’re going to get you off this Java code. We’re going to get things moved over to C. We’re going to get you off Amazon Web Services and over to Azure.’ But it’s important to realise that the conditions that created Minecraft, how it came to be, are likely to be things that are difficult to recreate within a more corporate structure.”

Mojang studio head Helen Chiang further explained Mojang’s experience with being acquired by Microsoft, explaining that there was an initial worry surrounding the culture gap between a large corporate Microsoft and the Minecraft developer’s indie status.

“A lot of times you see big companies buy smaller companies, and it’s easy to lose the magic of what you’ve purchased. It was really important that this acquisition was about retaining all of that great talent within the studio, and ensuring that you’re continuing to foster that creative spirit,” Chiang explained.

“It’s not all about business results; it is about building a foundation of trust. As you can imagine, there was quite a gap in the culture between an indie studio and a large corporate company like Microsoft. It was about making sure they trusted that the leaders were not going to do harmful things to Minecraft.”

“Mojang really helped set the stage for how Xbox acquired and integrated all of the additional studios. Before, Microsoft acquired companies in a specific way. And this not only set the foundation for additional game studios, but when you look at LinkedIn and GitHub, they also have this minimally integrated approach. That really was something that Mojang set the foundation for.”

Instead of integrating new Microsoft acquisitions into the corporate environment that many would expect, Microsoft has stuck to a strategy they call “unplugged studios”. This limited integration method is allowing developers to keep the freedom they know while benefiting from a larger financial back wall to lean against.

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“The only really different aspect of my day-to-day is not having to be the guy getting the money from the publishers,” explained Obsidian Entertainment head Feargus Urquhart.

Double Fine’s Tim Shafer, a recent acquisition, echoed similar thoughts: “Things have been almost exactly the same, just without the terror of going out of business all the time.”

With Microsoft acquisitions continuing to pile up, especially if the company decides to acquire the massive collection of WB Games Studios, Xbox’s Matt Booty explains what their approach is when it comes to present and future Microsoft acquisitions: “leave them alone for as long as possible, until they’ve got something that can walk on its own.”

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