Microsoft’s pending purchase of Activision Blizzard, if the government gives it the OK, is first and foremost a deal about about video games. This is a deal about Call of Duty, Game Pass, and the future of virtual entertainment. Or maybe it’s a deal about the metaverse, Web3, and making the HoloLens as ubiquitous as an iPhone. It’s a big deal.
But it could also be a deal about TV shows. While not a focal point of either company at the moment, there are a few potential TV shows whose fates remain up in the air after Microsoft’s potential purchase was announced. Chief among these are plans for adaptations of Diablo and Overwatch.
Details on these shows are few and far between. News of the adaptations first appeared on former Activision president Nick van Dyk’s LinkedIn page in 2020, where under his achievements van Dyk mentioned being an executive producer of “Diablo, a TV adaptation of Blizzard Entertainment’s IP, rendered in anime style. The show is currently in pre-production for distribution worldwide through Netflix.”
Van Dyk’s LinkedIn page also noted that he had, with a creative partner, “developed and sold an animated series based on Blizzard’s Overwatch franchise.” Mention of both specific shows has been deleted from the current page, replaced with a note that van Dyk “executive produced additional shows in a number of animated formats.”
Diablo feels a little more real than Overwatch, since Andy Cosby, a co-creator of Eureka and the co-founder of Boom! Studios, tweeted in 2018 that he was in “final talks” to write and act as showrunner. Cosby also mentioned that “I hope to High Heavens it all works out.” The tweet has since been deleted, so there’s a chance things didn’t, in fact, work out. Polygon reached out to Cosby’s representation to see if the project is still ongoing, but did not receive a response at the time of publication.
To be fair, Activision hasn’t had much luck taking any adaptation projects across the finish line. In 2015, the company founded Activision Blizzard Studios to adapt properties for film and TV after the Warcraft movie ... didn’t go so well. ABS successfully made a Skylanders Academy series based on the Spyro games, and called its biggest shot with a Call of Duty movie. The studio hired Italian director Stefano Sollima (Sicario: Day of the Soldado) to write and direct the proposed adaptation. And Sollima had a vision.
“Another kind of movie that’s missed […] is a movie that talks about soldiers,” Sollima told Polygon in 2018. “So not a war movie, but a soldier movie. I think that this is what I will do. I think it’s a missing part. [There have recently been] some movies [about] soldiers, but only some of them are masterpieces. I think I miss modern [soldier movies]. As an audience.”
There’s been no update since, and Activision Blizzard Studios has gone on to produce nothing else.
If Activision employees start seeing Phil Spencer’s names on their paychecks, there’s seemingly even less of a chance for any potential projects to see the light of day. Speaking at The Grill 2021 in what was billed as a “fireside chat” along with Take-Two’s Strauss Zelnick, Spencer said Microsoft was “very, very cautious” about linear productions, the industry’s term for TV and movies.
The computer and gaming giant has given the greenlight for a few productions, though: there’s a live-action Minecraft movie, which was supposed to come out on March 4, 2022, but was moved back to “undated” as the toll of the pandemic began in 2020. A Halo TV show trailer appeared at The Game Awards and is expected to appear on Paramount Plus this year. And Dave Bautista’s dream of a Gears of War show is allegedly being “considered” by Netflix.
But from Spencer’s point of view, the risk of a poorly done TV show is high and the reward for a brilliant one doesn’t match the heights of the video game industry. The economics of the TV and movie industry “usually don’t match the economics” of gaming.
“So we look at them almost more like exposure and marketing opportunities,” he said.
While video game adaptations have long been viewed in line with Spencer’s thinking—they’re typically more fan service than high art, and the more successful properties tend to realize that — one recent attempt has bucked the trend: Arcane. Netflix’s adaptation of League of Legends “pushed League characters further into the mainstream,” Ryan Gilliam wrote in a year-end assessment on the game’s world.
Arcane, which is currently nominated for nine Annie Awards, did more than offer exposure for League of Legends: It took a seemingly obtuse world and opened it up for people who couldn’t tell the difference between Steam and a steam-powered engine. Former Overwatch director Jeff Kaplan promised in a 2020 Reddit AMA that Blizzard was “excited about telling stories in new ways and using new mediums,” so an Arcane-style adaptation is certainly possible.
But most likely, the potential behemoth of Microsoft Activision Blizzard will have more pressing concerns.