Microsoft tried (and failed) to buy Zynga before Activision Blizzard

It definitely looks like Microsoft was serious about wanting to be a major player in the mobile gaming space.

Microsoft’s pursuit of a dominant position in the gaming industry has involved a series of strategic moves, particularly deals that position the company competitively in the rapidly evolving gaming landscape. However, recent revelations from FTC's hearings with Microsoft as part of its acquisition attempt of Activision Blizzard have shed light on the 'one that got away': a potential acquisition of mobile gaming giant Zynga that didn't materialize.

When one door closes, another opens, and Microsoft is arguably better off buying Activision Blizzard, which owns the makers of Candy Crush.

During the FTC hearings, Phil Spencer, Microsoft Gaming CEO, shared some insights about the company's journey to break into the mobile gaming market.

A core issue, according to Spencer, is that "Xbox has no strategy to win organically in mobile gaming." The traditional Xbox console experience don't seem to resonate with mobile gamers, nor do console gamers crave a mobile experience.

Mobile gaming holds a ton of potential that conventional gaming companies can tap into going forward.

Spencer opened up about Microsoft's previous attempt to acquire Zynga as part of its strategy to solve this issue. Zynga, known for successful franchises such as Farmville and Zynga Poker, has a significant footprint in mobile gaming. However, despite Microsoft's willingness and considerable effort put into a potential deal, Zynga was ultimately acquired by Take-Two Interactive for a record-breaking $12.7 billion in 2022.

Why did Microsoft not secure the Zynga deal? According to Spencer, it was not due to any lack of respect for Zynga or its achievements. Instead, Microsoft believed it needed "something even bigger than what Zynga was" to make a meaningful start in the mobile gaming business, given its limited foothold in the space.

Despite this setback, Microsoft didn't stay idle for long. In November 2021, their attention shifted to another gaming giant: Activision Blizzard.

Zynga and King used to be their own identities but they've since been acquired by larger companies.

Known for its popular franchises like Candy Crush through its subsidiary, King, Activision Blizzard is the largest publisher of mobile content outside China. As Spencer noted, the company's portfolio and its established engagement in the mobile space made it an attractive prospect.

The decision to pursue Activision Blizzard wasn't made lightly. Spencer and Amy Hood, the CFO of Microsoft, invested time in assessing the various mobile opportunities available in the market. Comfort with the studios, the teams, and the long history of working together with Activision Blizzard solidified the decision. Notably, this wasn't Microsoft's first attempt to acquire Zynga. The company reportedly considered buying Zynga back in 2010, when Don Mattrick was still running the Xbox business.

At present, Microsoft maintains a limited presence in the mobile gaming sector, but that will change as soon as Activision Blizzard, which once asked Microsoft to pay a premium to release Call of Duty on the Xbox, gets the legal green light to join the fold. 

As for Zynga, Take-Two Interactive has since acquired the mobile gaming company as part of its own endeavors within the said space.

Call of Duty: Mobile has already made over $2 billion in lifetime revenue.

The gaming landscape is changing, and Microsoft, despite some missed opportunities, is clearly committed to adapting and evolving. As they look towards a future of gaming that increasingly blends the lines between console and mobile, this openness to change, backed by strategic thinking, may well position them as a significant force in the world of mobile gaming.

Here's to hoping that making its upcoming exclusives available on portable platforms like the Nintendo Switch and Steam Deck is part of its plans.


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Ray Ampoloquio
Ray is a lifelong gamer with a nose for keeping up with the latest news in and out of the gaming industry. When he's not reading, writing, editing, and playing video games, he builds and repairs computers in his spare time. You can find Ray on Twitter and LinkedIn.
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