For years games have pushed the boundaries of technology to create realistic, responsive worlds and characters for players to interact with: believable cloth and hair reacting to wind, true-to-life facial animation, and buildings that break apart in ways one might expect. All these visual effects are usually created by way of a physics engine inside the code of a video game.
For the past 15 years, the most popular 3D physics engine has been Havok, middleware used by leading developers from across the industry. As of today, they have a new owner. Microsoft has announced that they purchased Havok from its current owner, Intel.
So what led Microsoft to acquire Havok? The answer appears to be connected to the upcoming Xbox One game Crackdown 3.
The developers of Crackdown 3, Reagent Games and Microsoft Game Studios, have promised fully destructible environments in a grand open-world multiplayer setting. Microsoft has said in the past that the only way Crackdown 3 can accomplish its destructive feats is through Xbox One’s online cloud servers, which can handle the complex equations and processing requirements being done behind the scenes.
In an official blog post, Microsoft says Havok will join the cloud and their existing tools – Direct X12, Visual Studio, and Azure – to make for way for more innovation:
We will continue to innovate for the benefit of development partners. Part of this innovation will include building the most complete cloud service, which we’ve just started to show through games like “Crackdown 3.”
So does this mean that Havok will only be available to Microsoft developers? No. Microsoft says they will continue to “[empower] developers by providing them with the tools to unleash their creativity to the world.” Havok has been used in blockbuster films and over 600 video game titles, including top AAA games Halo, Destiny, The Elder Scrolls, Call of Duty, and Assassin’s Creed and that’s not going to stop anytime soon. Havok will continue to license out its middleware to all developers, but now Microsoft will get a cut of those lucrative licensing fees, including those from direct competitors.
Considering the success and widespread use of Havok in leading AAA games, Microsoft is poised to receive a generous amount of revenue from this acquisition. As for the everyday gamer, the good news is that no one should notice any difference; games will continue to be made with Havok. There’s even the possibility that once the middleware is added to Microsoft’s cloud service and other suite of tools, the technology could advance, thereby benefiting gamers with even better physics simulations.
This purchase could be likened to Microsoft’s acquisition of Minecraft last year. Most people who play Minecraft probably haven’t noticed any change to the game itself. Minecraft continues to be successful, published and supported on multiple gaming platforms outside of PC and Xbox. Plus, new innovations have been added to Minecraft, like Hololens. More than anything, these acquisitions are about controlling where the money goes.