Microsoft Owns 13 Video Game Franchises Worth Over $1 Billion Each
Microsoft's recent eye-popping $68.7 billion takeover of Activision Blizzard catapults it to the forefront of gaming with 13 AAA franchises, each with billion-dollar revenues. This move propels Microsoft to the third largest gaming company by revenue, trailing only Sony and Tencent.
Rewind to 2014, when Microsoft shelled out $2.5 billion to bring Minecraft into its fold. That was just the start. From there, it's been a relentless expansion, amassing a war chest of 24 gaming studios including ZeniMax. The result? A beefed-up Xbox Game Pass library that pulls in over 25 million subscribers.
And with the Activision Blizzard acquisition, Microsoft's making a statement. "We will have 13 billion dollar-plus franchises – from Candy Crush, Diablo, and Halo, to Warcraft, Elder Scrolls, and Gears of War," says Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO.
With Microsoft's gaming realm expanding at warp speed, it's a maze keeping up. So, here's the rundown of the billion-dollar heavy-hitters they've now got under their belt.
1. Age of Empires
Age of Empires is a monumental journey through history, a Real-Time Strategy (RTS) series that has captivated gamers for over 25 years. The franchise has expanded to a dozen titles, selling over 25 million copies worldwide.
Debuting in 1997, the original Age of Empires lets you command one of 12 civilizations, guiding them from the Stone Age to the Iron Age. Your mission? To grow a simple settlement into a formidable empire. You must strategically manage resources, expand your cultural influence, and engage in military strikes.
The game's allure lies in its blend of strategy and history. Countless gamers have commanded legions, built empires, and crafted historical narratives. It's a tribute to our past, a strategic challenge, and a testament to how games can make history come alive.
2. Call of Duty
Call of Duty has outsold even the famed Grand Theft Auto series. As of 2023, this AAA franchise is valued at an incredible $31 billion, with nearly 450 million units sold.
Each Call of Duty release is a global event, drawing millions of gamers. Known for its immersive FPS action, you dive into all kinds of warfare – from historical battles to modern skirmishes and even futuristic combat.
Its success lies in its ability to continuously reinvent and elevate the FPS genre. Every installment brings innovative gameplay, gripping narratives, and a multiplayer experience that's often imitated but never replicated.
Diablo is a dark fantasy RPG series where you delve into hell's depths, maiming creatures before escaping with loot. Developed by Blizzard Entertainment, it's a saga of action, role-playing, and hack-and-slash that has captivated gamers since 1997.
Set in the brooding world of Sanctuary, players battle demons, including the notorious Diablo, across various realms like the High Heavens and Burning Hells. The series, spanning four core games, has become a cultural titan in gaming, inspiring books, comics, and a rich expanded universe.
As of 2023, Diablo has sold nearly 100 million copies globally. The latest, Diablo IV, made a hellish impact, raking in $666 million in just five days. Diablo's legacy continues to define the action RPG genre, with millions drawn to its dark allure.
Microsoft's 2020 acquisition of ZeniMax Media brought an unexpected prize: the Fallout series. Unleashed by Tim Cain at Interplay Entertainment, Fallout is a post-apocalyptic RPG juggernaut smashing sales records since its 1997 debut. Set in a world where 1950s American culture collides with a nuclear dystopia, it's a masterclass in atompunk retrofuturism. Think atomic age meets doomsday.
Starting with the revolutionary Fallout, the series evolved under Bethesda Softworks, particularly with Fallout 3 in 2008, which revamped the game with immersive 3D graphics and a sprawling open world. In 2015, Fallout 4 smashed $750 million in sales just 24 hours after hitting the shelves.
Fallout's blend of nail-biting survival, deep stories, and a world like a nuclear-blasted echo of our own. It's a mix of intense survival gameplay, rich narrative, and a haunting yet familiar nuclear wasteland, earning its stripes as a billion-dollar franchise.
5. Microsoft Flight Simulator
Microsoft Flight Simulator, soaring since '77, predates even Windows! Bruce Artwick's brainchild started as a geeky sim on MS-DOS, evolving into a jaw-dropping, cloud-powered spectacle on Windows and Xbox.
The 2020 edition marked the biggest leap in the franchise’s over 40-year journey. More than 1 million copies sold quickly after its release contributed to the series' impressive total of 22.2 million units. The impact extends beyond the game itself, as Jon Peddie Research (JPR) highlights a remarkable $2.6 billion boost in PC hardware sales linked to the game.
Microsoft Flight Simulator offers a sky's worth of adventure with over 24,000 airports, perfect for gamers and aspiring pilots. With its cutting-edge graphics and a worldwide fanbase hooked on its expansive mods, it's a gaming legend offering an unparalleled virtual flight experience.
Forza, a high-octane racing video game series, roars as a billion-dollar franchise and a jewel in Microsoft's crown. Since its 2005 launch, Forza has revved up immense success, selling over 16 million copies by 2021. It has become the go-to for racing fans on Xbox and Windows, attracting over 14 million unique players.
Crafted by Turn 10 Studios and Playground Games, Forza splits into two adrenaline-fueled series:
- Motorsport: simulation purists
- Horizon: arcade-style racing
With mobile spin-offs like Forza Street and Forza Customs, the brand has expanded beyond traditional gaming platforms, catering to a broader audience. This expansion and stellar sales cement Forza as a top-tier, billion-dollar racing franchise. It's not just racing; it's the cutting-edge of virtual racing experiences.
7. Gears of War
Microsoft acquired Gears of War from Epic Games in 2014. The series has consistently delivered gritty storytelling and visceral combat. Its groundbreaking cover-based combat system has revolutionized third-person shooting mechanics.
The saga began in 2006 with the original Gears of War, centering on Marcus Fenix's fierce battle against the Locust. Over its nine titles, the series has continued to evolve, deepening the conflict, and expanding its universe with each new installment.
More than a game series, it's a culture: DC comic series, novels, and merchandise, all testament to its magnetic pull. It hit the ground running, selling over three million copies within ten weeks of its debut, making it the fastest-selling video game of 2006.
With total sales exceeding 22 million units and revenue surpassing $1 billion, Gears of War is not just a successful game series; it's a billion-dollar franchise and a landmark in the gaming industry.
Halo isn't just a game; it's a sci-fi sensation that changed FPS gaming. Born from the minds at Bungie and now steered by Microsoft's own 343 Industries. It blasted onto the scene in 2001 with Halo: Combat Evolved. Fast-forward to now, and it's the Xbox's flagship with over 12 killer titles.
Over 70 million Halo games have been snapped up worldwide. You play as Master Chief, a super-soldier taking on the alien Covenant. And it's not just about the solo play. Halo's multiplayer is equally acclaimed.
But Halo's reach goes beyond the console. Its vast cultural impact sparked a whole universe of novels and comics. Even a TV series is on the horizon. Talk about impact. And with a cool $6 billion in the bank, Halo's a mega-hit, a cultural titan in the gaming world.
Minecraft reigns as the top-selling video game, with over 300 million sold and more than 140 million players in August 2021. Snapped up by Microsoft in 2014 for a whopping $2.5 billion, it generated a massive $99.62 million from mobile revenues in 2022 alone.
Minecraft launched in 2011 as a simple game where players could build and explore pixelated worlds. It's a canvas for creativity, offering gameplay including:
- Survival: test your resourcefulness in a dynamic world.
- Creativity: unleash your imagination with unlimited resources.
- Story mode: dive into narrative-driven adventures.
- Dungeons: explore action-packed, dungeon-crawling adventures.
This digital playground, where players shape their own narratives, is a testament to the power of interactive storytelling and community-driven innovation in gaming.
When Blizzard Entertainment unleashed Overwatch in 2016, it redefined team-based combat games. Raking in $1 billion in its 2016 debut year, Overwatch merged cutting-edge gameplay with a roster of diverse characters, each with unique abilities and backstories.
Overwatch's hero-based gameplay encourages teamwork and strategy. It demands players adapt their skills to dynamic combat situations. The cultural footprint of Overwatch stretches far beyond the screen with fan art, cosplay and an animated miniseries. It's sparked a global community where, and hopefully under Microsoft's new leadership the Overwatch League will flourish again.
With Microsoft's acquisition, Overwatch stands on the brink of a new era. This move isn't just a financial transaction; it's a statement about the game's innovation. Overwatch, now a billion-dollar title under one of tech's biggest names, is poised to redefine the gaming landscape.
11. The Elder Scrolls
The Elder Scrolls series is revered in the realm of fantasy RPG with its intricate gameplay and vast, immersive worlds. Its colossal success caught Microsoft's eye, and it acquired ZeniMax Media, the parent company of Bethesda Softworks, the publisher behind The Elder Scrolls. The deal, valued at a whopping $7.5 billion in 2020, underscores the immense value and influence of this best-selling video game franchise.
Starting in 1994 with The Elder Scrolls: Arena, the series continually redefines the RPG genre. Each game invites players into vast narratives and intricately detailed universes.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, released in 2011, achieved over $1 billion in its first month. Skyrim is the 7th best-selling game, selling over 60 million copies. This success reflects the series' blend of immersive storytelling and player-driven adventure.
With Microsoft's backing, The Elder Scrolls is poised for new horizons, promising to uphold its legacy as a beacon of interactive storytelling.
12. World of Warcraft
Since its 2004 inception, World of Warcraft (WoW) has redefined the MMORPG genre and amassed over $10 billion in revenue. Crafted by Blizzard Entertainment, WoW unfolds in the mythical world of Azeroth, captivating a player base of over 100 million registered accounts. Eighteen years on, its magic hasn't faded, with 9 to 10 million active players.
You embark on epic quests, battle legendary beasts, and form alliances, constantly shaping Azeroth's destiny. Whether tackling dungeons, engaging in large-scale PvP battles, or simply exploring its vast landscapes, WoW offers a dynamic, player-evolving experience.
The game's enduring appeal is reflected in its nine major expansions, each widening Azeroth's horizons. Beyond gaming, WoW influences real-world economics and social dynamics, underlining its cultural significance. Continuing its march, WoW consistently leaves a lasting impression on digital culture and entertainment.
13. Candy Crush Saga
Candy Crush Saga is a huge mobile game hit and cultural phenomenon. This addictively simple tile-matching game has generated a staggering $20 billion, redefining casual mobile gaming. Microsoft owns it after acquiring Activision Blizzard and its developer, King.
The game shows how simplicity, accessibility, and a freemium model can create a blockbuster in the digital age. At its peak, Candy Crush Saga was pulling in nearly $1 million daily, proving optional in-game purchases equals a goldmine.
With the rise in casual gaming, Candy Crush proves that sometimes the simplest games can lead to the sweetest successes.
Microsoft's gaming dominion
Where digital entertainment is now king, Microsoft's acquisition of Activision Blizzard has positioned it as a gaming titan. Each franchise grows Microsoft's gaming empire from the blocky realms of Minecraft to the strategic depths of Age of Empires and the fast-paced battlegrounds of Call of Duty.
Activision Blizzard's exit from being an independent company will have far-reaching consequences across all gaming platforms:
Microsoft's influence now extends beyond mere gameplay. It can scrap, reboot, or reshape our beloved titles and decide what we play. The recent acquisition encapsulates not just games but entire universes and communities, each with rich lore and a dedicated following.
With this vast array of billion-dollar franchises, Microsoft is not just playing games; it's setting the rules for the future of gaming.
Robert is a Taiwan-based writer and digital marketer at iamrobert design. He has a passion for helping people simplify their lives through tech.