In one of gaming’s biggest announcements in years, Microsoft recently revealed its acquisition of ZeniMax Media for a monumental $7.5billion. Included in this deal are its subsidiaries, namely Fallout developer Bethesda Softworks, Dishonored developer Arkane Studios, and DOOM developer id Software and more.
The timing of the announcement couldn’t be any more strategic, with Microsoft revealing the acquisition just a day before pre-orders for the next-generation of Xbox consoles went live. Of course, the first question on our minds was: “What does this mean for us?”
Thankfully, Microsoft has repaired its terrible track record in recent years with studios it has acquired. Beloved developer Rare, known for franchises such as Banjo-Kazooie and Perfect Dark, finally returned to form in 2018 with Sea Of Thieves, which was Microsoft’s most successful IP of the generation, after years of mediocre Xbox 360 and Kinect exclusives.
The same happened in 2014 when Microsoft purchased Minecraft developer Mojang for $2.5billion. The sandbox game changed dramatically thereafter, with the addition of a ridiculous amount of microtransactions, a new marketplace system, subscriptions and more. However, Minecraft is now one of the most accessible games on the planet and is even being used to educate millions of young people in schools across the world. Arguably, the IP is stronger than ever.
Microsoft has also shown more restraint with its more recent acquisitions – in 2018 it purchased a handful of studios, which included Wasteland 3’s inXile Entertainment, The Outer World’s Obsidian Entertainment and We Happy Few’s Compulsion Games. The companies have, more or less, been left to their own devices, but now with the financial backing and safety net of the tech giant’s deep pockets.
So, let’s start off by asking what this means for those of us who aren’t tied to a single console? If you find yourself switching between Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo every so often, you might wonder if this deal will affect you.
Well, it likely won’t – at least not as much as you might think. Microsoft has a history of releasing first-party games on both Xbox and PC, and you can be assured that this will remain the same. The company confirmed that it would judge the release strategy for each future Bethesda title on a “case-by-case basis”.
The more interesting and prominent question, however, is what this landmark deal means for PlayStation users. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is one of the best-selling games in history and is, no doubt, due to the fact that it has been available on every platform for every generation since its release.
There is a pattern between best-selling titles and their availability on platforms. There isn’t a single PlayStation or Xbox exclusive in the top 30 best-selling games of all-time, with Nintendo being the only company in the list with first-party titles. Microsoft knows this and, coupled with their stance of moving away from exclusives to make gaming more accessible to a larger audience, it’s unlikely that the tech giant would make Bethesda’s main franchises exclusive to Xbox.
The company has also stated that it will uphold the timed exclusivity deals for Arkane’s Deathloop and Tango Gameworks’ GhostWire: Tokyo – both of which are coming to PlayStation 5 before other platforms.
While a lot of us focus on PlayStation exclusives being overwhelmingly better quality than those on Xbox, we forget that Microsoft has another ace up its sleeve: Xbox Game Pass.
And sure enough, instead of talking about Bethesda titles becoming Xbox exclusives, head honcho Phil Spencer has been discussing what the acquisition means for Xbox’s increasingly popular subscription service. If you only own a PlayStation, you are missing out on one of the best gaming services of all time, and with this colossal deal, the lineup just got even crazier. The idea that Microsoft can just announce some of the biggest franchises and then make them available on day one to all Game Pass subscribers is insane.
Which brings us to the final question: “What does this mean for Xbox players?” This deal is probably the biggest win for Xbox in years, depending on what Microsoft chooses to do with it. Game Pass has hit a massive 15million subscribers, and it isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.
While Sony prides itself on having great first-party titles, Xbox now has a subscription service which is going to slowly become one of gaming’s greatest features. Bethesda is a huge step forward for Xbox and PC players, while also not harming those who play on other systems.
Microsoft’s acquisition of Bethesda feels like a $7.5billion advertisement for Xbox Game Pass, and the entire thing feels like a huge wildcard in the console wars, creating a cloud of mystery as to whether this will be a huge victory for accessibility with Game Pass or yet another step towards Microsoft’s gaming monopoly.