Microsoft’s deal to buy video game giant Activision Blizzard received final regulatory approval in October, ending 18 months of back-and-forth between the companies and regulators in the United States and the United Kingdom.
The largest consumer tech acquisition since the AOL-Time Warner deal in 2000, at $69 billion, this deal represents the biggest acquisition in Microsoft’s history.¹ The deal significantly shifts the balance of power in the video game industry in favour of Microsoft and Xbox, say many insiders, and will allow Microsoft to sway the future direction of the video game industry.²
But this deal is hardly the first megadeal Microsoft has made—and it’s not even the first major acquisition of a video game studio.
Let’s take a look at Microsoft’s top 10 all-time acquisitions by dollar value.
1) Activision Blizzard
- Date announced: January 2022
- Value: $68.7 billion
Microsoft acquired Activision Blizzard in an all-cash transaction valued at $68.7 billion.
By adding hit Activision Blizzard franchises like “Call of Duty,” “World of Warcraft,” “Diablo,” “Overwatch,” and mobile gaming powerhouse “Candy Crush” to its existing stable of hits, including “Halo,” “Minecraft,” and “Forza,” Microsoft has managed to vault past Nintendo to become the second-largest console maker (behind Sony) and the third-largest gaming company (after Tencent and Sony), both by revenue.³
- Date announced: December 2016
- Value: $26.2 billion
Microsoft acquired LinkedIn, the world’s largest and most valuable professional network, for $196 per share in an all-cash transaction.
“I certainly think that the value of the two companies, combined, is greater than the two by themselves,” said Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates at the time the deal was announced.⁴
3) Nuance Communications
- Date announced: April 2021
- Value: $19.7 billion
Microsoft acquired Nuance, a healthcare-focused cloud and AI software company, for $56 per share (a 23% premium) in an all-cash transaction.
The two companies had an existing partnership at the time of acquisition. Still, Microsoft decided to make the acquisition as part of its efforts to accelerate the growth of Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare. Nuance’s conversational AI and cloud-based ambient clinical intelligence solutions were already used by more than 55% of physicians and 75% of radiologists in the U.S. and could be found in 77% of all hospitals in the United States.⁵
4) Skype Technologies
- Date announced: May 2011
- Value: $8.5 billion
Microsoft acquired Skype for $8.5 billion in an all-cash transaction. At the time, Skype was the name in consumer voice over internet protocol (VoIP) market, and the company’s real-time voice and video technology was soon integrated into Windows and Microsoft’s Xbox console.
While competitors like Zoom have arisen in the years since, at the time, Microsoft made the acquisition to more easily connect its users via online-to-telephone systems, provide video chat capabilities, and to prevent Skype’s acquisition by either Facebook or Google, both of whom were in talks with Skype prior to Microsoft’s purchase.⁶
5) ZeniMax Media
- Date announced: September 2020
- Value: $7.5 billion
The acquisition of Activision Blizzard was not the first time Microsoft bought a gaming company. In 2020, Microsoft bought ZeniMax—the parent company of video game publisher Bethesda—for $7.5 billion in an all-cash transaction.⁷ In doing so, Microsoft added critically acclaimed and best-selling franchises, including The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, DOOM, Quake, Wolfenstein, and Dishonored, amongst others, to its offerings. Microsoft also announced that many of Bethesda’s new games would be exclusive to Xbox and Windows PCs.8
- Date announced: October 2018
- Value: $7.5 billion
Microsoft acquired GitHub, a code-repository service company used by more than 28 million developers at more than 1.5 million companies, in a $7.5 billion all-stock deal. The deal aimed to boost the use of GitHub at the enterprise level as well as expand the user base for Microsoft’s developer tools and services.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said at the time that the acquisition of GitHub “strengthen[s] our commitment to developer freedom, openness and innovation.”⁹
7) Nokia’s devices and services division
- Date announced: September 2013
- Value: $7.2 billion
In an all-cash deal, Microsoft paid $5 billion for Nokia’s devices division and an additional $2.18 billion to license Nokia’s patent portfolio, including its mapping technology.10
At the time, the deal aimed to accelerate Microsoft’s share of the mobile device market, but unfortunately, this acquisition quickly went off the rails. Within months and for the next several years, Microsoft was forced into rounds of layoffs in its mobile business, ultimately writing off the purchase of Nokia’s phone division and selling the assets to FIH Mobile (a subsidiary of Foxconn) for just $350 million.11
- Date announced: August 2007
- Value: $6 billion
Microsoft acquired digital marketing company aQuantive in a $6 billion all-cash deal—paying a staggering 85% premium ($66.50 per share on a share price of $35.87 at the time of the deal) as part of a ‘land grab’ underway at the time between Microsoft and companies like Google and Yahoo to expand their digital ad-tech offerings.12
However, Microsoft would come to regret the acquisition in relatively short order, taking a $6.2 billion write-down on the purchase just five years later when their online advertising business remained stubbornly unprofitable.13
- Date announced: November 2014
- Value: $2.5 billion
One acquisition Microsoft does not regret is the purchase of game studio Mojang and their massive hit “Minecraft” franchise for $2.5 billion in an all-cash deal.
At the time of the acquisition, Microsoft said the deal was part of its goal to boost investment in cloud and mobile technologies.14 The deal has certainly paid off in that regard: as of August 2023, the original “Minecraft” has sold more than 300 million copies worldwide—the first game to do so—across PCs, smartphones, and consoles. Especially impressive for a game that debuted in 2009, 62 million of the game’s sales have come in the last two-and-a-half years.15
10) Visio Corp.
- Date announced: September 1999
- Value: $1.5 billion
Microsoft acquired Visio, a graphics applications and visual programming tools developer, for $1.5 billion in an all-stock deal.
The acquisition helped Microsoft enhance its business productivity offerings by bringing Visio’s business diagramming, technical drawing, and visualization software to the Microsoft Office suite of products.16
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- Gerken, T., McMahon, L. & Rogers, A., “Microsoft Activision: What does deal mean for gamers?,” BBC News, October 14, 2023; https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-67066870
- Dring, C., “Finally, the Microsoft/Activision Blizzard acquisition saga is over. Now the work begins,” GamesIndustry.biz, October 13, 2023; https://www.gamesindustry.biz/finally-the-microsoftactivision-blizzard-acquisition-saga-is-over-now-the-work-begins-opinion
- Howley, D., “How Microsoft’s Activision Blizzard win could dramatically alter the gaming industry,” Yahoo Finance, July 14, 2023; https://finance.yahoo.com/news/how-microsofts-activision-blizzard-win-could-dramatically-alter-the-gaming-industry-140240030.html
- Erlichman, J., “Three years after Microsoft acquisition, LinkedIn keeps quietly climbing,” BNN Bloomberg, October 23, 2019; https://www.bnnbloomberg.ca/three-years-after-microsoft-acquisition-linkedin-keeps-quietly-climbing-1.1335990
- “Microsoft accelerates industry cloud strategy for healthcare with the acquisition of Nuance,” Microsoft News Center, April 12, 2021; https://news.microsoft.com/2021/04/12/microsoft-accelerates-industry-cloud-strategy-for-healthcare-with-the-acquisition-of-nuance/
- Hardawar, D., “Microsoft acquires Skype for $8.5B, headed to Kinect, Windows Phone, Office,” VentureBeat, May 10, 2011; https://venturebeat.com/entrepreneur/microsoft-acquires-skype-for-8-5b-promises-integration-across-all-products/
- Browne, R., “Microsoft closes $7.5 billion Bethesda acquisition, aiming to take on Sony with exclusive games,” CNBC, March 9, 2021; https://www.cnbc.com/2021/03/09/microsoft-closes-bethesda-acquisition-aiming-to-take-on-sony.html
- “Microsoft to acquire ZeniMax Media and its game publisher Bethesda Softworks,” Microsoft News Center, September 21, 2020; https://news.microsoft.com/2020/09/21/microsoft-to-acquire-zenimax-media-and-its-game-publisher-bethesda-softworks/
- “Microsoft to acquire GitHub for $7.5 billion,” Microsoft News Center, June 4, 2018; https://news.microsoft.com/2018/06/04/microsoft-to-acquire-github-for-7-5-billion/
- Hardawar, D., “Welcome to MicroKia: Microsoft buys Nokia’s devices and services biz for $7.2B,” VentureBeat, September 2, 2013; https://venturebeat.com/mobile/welcome-to-microkia-microsoft-buys-nokias-devices-and-services-biz/
- Sawers, P., “Microsoft announces up to 1,850 more layoffs, mostly a result of failed Nokia acquisition,” VentureBeat, May 25, 2016; https://venturebeat.com/business/microsoft-announces-up-to-1850-more-layoffs-mostly-a-result-of-failed-nokia-acquisition/
- Marshall, M., “Microsoft to buy aQuantive for $6B at high cost — to stay in game,” VentureBeat, May 18, 2007; https://venturebeat.com/business/microsoft-to-buy-aquantive-for-6b-at-high-cost-to-stay-in-game/
- Goldman, D., “Microsoft’s $6 billion whoopsie,” CNN Money, July 12, 2012; https://money.cnn.com/2012/07/02/technology/microsoft-aquantive/index.htm
- “Minecraft to join Microsoft,” Microsoft News Center, September 15, 2014; https://news.microsoft.com/2014/09/15/minecraft-to-join-microsoft/
- Stanton, R., “Minecraft is the first videogame ever to sell more than 300 million copies,” PC Gamer, October 16, 2023; https://www.pcgamer.com/minecraft-is-the-first-videogame-ever-to-sell-more-than-300-million-copies/
- Nguyen, C.T., “Microsoft to Acquire Visio,” ITPro Today, September 16, 1999; https://www.itprotoday.com/windows-78/microsoft-acquire-visio