Last week’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard by Microsoft shocked both the gaming and business worlds. In a post published to Xbox Wire, CEO of Microsoft Gaming Phil Spencer shared that after the deal goes through, Microsoft plans to offer many of Activision Blizzard’s titles on its Game Pass service. While no specific titles were mentioned, Spencer wrote that Microsoft will put “both new titles and games from Activision Blizzard’s incredible catalog” on both PC and Xbox Game Pass.
As expected, fans everywhere have gone wild imagining which old franchises from Activision and Blizzard history Microsoft will resurrect. While the obvious choices are titles from recent history, like Overwatch, there are a lot of hidden gems in both companies’ vaults that could find new audiences through Microsoft. Here are the titles and franchises we think deserve a spot on the Game Pass roster.
World of Warcraft
Blizzard’s seminal MMO, which originally launched in 2004, is well due for a refresh. While the game is still churning out content and expansions — the most recent one, Shadowlands, came out in 2020 — the venerable game seems to be losing its footing to other popular games in the MMO space, like Final Fantasy XIV.
While the game’s complex UI and PC-based control scheme doesn’t immediately lend itself to console gameplay, putting World of Warcraft on PC Game Pass could result in a massive revitalization for the game, particularly if fans don’t need a membership to play. A month-to-month subscription currently costs $15, which is the same price as Game Pass Ultimate. If a subscriber only played World of Warcraft during a given month and didn’t have to pay an additional subscription fee, the service would have already payed for itself.
It’s almost certain that Spencer and Microsoft see this opportunity, but it remains to be seen whether game’s new publisher will take the storied MMO in a new direction or whether they will continue with Blizzard’s established template for the series. ~ Emily Morrow
Another recent Blizzard property that could see a resurgence on Game Pass is Overwatch. While a sequel is already on the way, it seems to be mired in development hell, and the original title is no longer receiving new playable characters. The Overwatch League is also struggling to maintain momentum due to the impact of COVID-19, though some fans hope that the purchase will give the league a boost in production value and sponsorships.
While Overwatch is currently available as a stand-alone title on Xbox platforms, putting it on Game Pass would be a great way to bridge the gap between its current status and the eventual release of Overwatch 2. Adding it to Game Pass would lower the barrier to entry for new players and could potentially entice old players back with exclusive cosmetics or limited-time events. Overwatch benefits when there are more players in the matchmaking pool. Allowing Game Pass subscribers the chance to play the game for free would put more people back into the mix and improve matchmaking for everyone involved. ~ Emily Morrow
Outside of Blizzard’s many massive franchises, there are some deep cuts in the Activision catalog that deserve to see the light of day through Game Pass. King’s Quest is a classic adventure game franchise that was originally created by developer Sierra. The series was really in its heyday in the late ’80s and early ’90s, when it was part of the “golden” era of adventure games.
There have been a few attempted revivals of King’s Quest, but with its massive amount of capital and resources, Microsoft could create something beyond anything that’s been done before. Including the titles on Game Pass would allow a whole new generation to experience one of the classics of the early PC era and explore how an entire genre was built.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Spencer specifically mentioned King’s Quest as one of the IPs he saw in Activision’s catalog. (“I was looking at the IP list, I mean, let’s go!” he said.) Most of the King’s Quest games are still available for purchase on various online storefronts, but with access to the IP through the acquisition, Microsoft is in a position to create the definitive multigame collection for Game Pass. ~ Emily Morrow
Guitar Hero was one of the biggest rhythm game franchises of the 2000s. Most players can remember a time when they went over to a friend’s house and busted out the plastic guitar, bass, and drum kit for some rock star-style shredding. While the game had some expensive startup costs due to all those peripherals, it was also one of the most unique arcade-style party games out there. Alongside King’s Quest, Spencer also specifically mentioned Guitar Hero in the Washington Post interview.
Right now, Guitar Hero lives on mostly through derelict arcade machines in casinos and bowling alleys. Adding some of the franchise and its most popular DLCs to Game Pass as a sort of “complete edition” would be a great way to bring back that fun rock ‘n’ roll feeling. Microsoft could even use the franchise to start marketing Game Pass as the go-to destination for party games. While an alternate control scheme would probably need to be developed, as not everyone has the peripherals that the original games were best played with, Guitar Hero is still a franchise that really put rhythm games on the map for casual audiences (sorry, Dance Dance Revolution). ~ Emily Morrow
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater
Another 2000s gem was the Tony Hawk franchise, a series of skateboarding titles beloved by a wide legion of fans. The series’ fun skating and great soundtracks earned it a fair amount of critical acclaim that coincided with Hawk’s fame as a pro skateboarder. However, later titles in the series weren’t as well received, and Activision has done little with the IP since then besides 2020’s remake of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2.
Game Pass is the perfect place for the Tony Hawk franchise to make a comeback. Tony Hawk’s series inspires nostalgia in many of today’s gamers, and Microsoft could easily use it to promote the service. Its inclusion could also be a litmus test for future games in the franchise, which would very likely be Game Pass exclusives.
It most likely won’t be the first franchise that Microsoft thinks of when deciding what to add to Game Pass, but its inclusion would make it easier to play one of the better sports games of the past few decades. ~ Emily Morrow
Here’s a real throwback. For those who owned an original Atari 2600, you may remember a little game called Pitfall! The adventure title was essentially gaming’s original Uncharted. Players controlled a little explorer who swung on vines, jumped over crocodiles, and explored pits like Indiana Jones.
Pitfall! was one of the first Activision releases, which is a reminder of how deep the company’s history goes. Game Pass tends to focus on bringing hot new games to the platform, but is less useful for retro gamers. Outside of some PS3-era EA games and early Xbox titles, Game Pass is sorely lacking older games. With the Activision Blizzard acquisition, Microsoft is in a strong position to preserve decades of history.
Pitfall! is one of those building-block games that’s fundamental to gaming’s evolution. It deserves to be a household name, just like the other games on this list. Game Pass can help achieve that. ~ Giovanni Colantonio
True Crime: Streets of LA
Let’s end things on a truly leftfield note. True Crime: Streets of LA isn’t the most well-known Grand Theft Auto clone. The crime game seemed eager to compete with Rockstar’s unshakable franchise in 2003 and it had some immediate success. Initial sales were strong and it gained a handful of nominations at the Spike Video Game Awards.
The franchise wasn’t long for this world, though. It got a New York-set sequel in 2005, but it didn’t sell nearly as well as the first game. That, combined with rough reviews, caused Activision to drop any plans for a sequel. Activision would eventually drop its trademark on the series altogether.
That story is just a little reminder that Activision’s history goes much deeper than Call of Duty. The company used to take tons of risks, trying to invent popular IPs. In recent years, that’s changed. The publisher now only tends to focus on surefire franchises that can rake in big returns, but that’s not Microsoft’s strategy. Game Pass’ value comes from its quantity of options for all players. The more games that come to the service, the better. I’m sure franchises like Crash Bandicoot will be flagship Game Pass titles moving forward, but it’s games like True Crime that I’m more eager to see get a second wind. ~ Giovanni Colantonio