On September 21st 2020, Microsoft announced their intention to acquire Zenimax Media, parent company of Bethesda Softworks.
Today, that deal has finalised, meaning that the incredibly talented group of 2,300 people worldwide who make up some of the most accomplished creative studios in the video game industry are now a part of Xbox Game Studios under Microsoft.
What will this mean for Xbox? How will Bethesda operate? In a handy blog post today from Phil Spencer, some of those details have been revealed, though not everything is as clear cut as many Xbox fans hoped for.
As per the Xboss himself on Xbox Wire:
Phil continued to talk about the lead up to this announcement, and this is where things get interesting – “At every step building toward this moment, I’ve been inspired and motivated by the creativity, insight, and community-first approach of the talented people at Bethesda. Our goal is to give these teams the best foundation for doing their greatest work and to learn from them as we continue to build Xbox into an inclusive platform for all players.”
It’s long been an ambition of Xbox to have an “industry-leading” first party organisation, and we again see that phrase repeated here, alongside a statement of commitment to the Xbox Community.
“This is the next step in building an industry-leading first party studios team, a commitment we have to our Xbox community. With the addition of the Bethesda creative teams, gamers should know that Xbox consoles, PC, and Game Pass will be the best place to experience new Bethesda games, including some new titles in the future that will be exclusive to Xbox and PC players.”
This is where things get a bit murky, and for a lot of gamers, perhaps this messaging is not clear enough.
“Some” new titles. While not the clear cut direction many were hoping for, it does give us some indication of Microsoft’s intent.
What will it mean exactly?
If we were to theorise, we would suggest any new games with a heavy multiplayer component, such as Zenimax Online’s new MMO, will be multiplatform, in much the same way Elder Scrolls Online is today.
PlayStation gamers looking to enjoy Starfield or the next Elder Scrolls in the coming years will find themselves out of luck and will likely have to turn to the Xbox Platform to enjoy them.
Another reason the language is phrased just so, is likely due to existing contracts for a number of titles (Say hello DeathLoop and Ghostwire:Tokyo) that were in place prior to Microsoft purchasing as well as justifying the overall acquisition to the higherups at Microsoft.
You might think Console Wars demand a “victory”, but – and I’m sorry to burst your bubble here, no-one outside of Twitter cares about that. Sadly, Phil can’t be as crystal clear on the hot topic of “exclusivity” as the gamers would like him to be.
Phil continues: As we shared previously, it’s vitally important that Bethesda continues making games the way it always has. We look forward to empowering Bethesda’s creative teams to reach even more players around the world, helping make future Bethesda titles the biggest and most popular games in their history. Xbox and Bethesda have long shared a common vision for the future of gaming. Both as fans and as creators, Bethesda understands the potential of Xbox Game Pass.
Here again, we see Microsoft continue to push that Game Pass messaging, and rightly so.
Game Pass is performing extremely well for Xbox, and it’s a killer feature that is only available on the Xbox Platform, including console, PC and Android phones via xCloud. Gamers in the coming years will enjoy all of the now 23 (I still can’t believe it’s this many!) First Party Studios output on release as part of their subscription service.
What’s equally important is the independent decision making and creative processes of those teams. It seems Microsoft is learning when it comes to taking over larger organisations, and has leaned into standing back and not interfering in existing studio cultures. It certainly seems to be serving them well, with nothing but glowing feedback from the previously acquired studios back in 2018.
In a touching remark, Phil also commented on the passing of Robert Altman, who founded Zenimax Media back in 1999.
“We would also like to honor the life and memory of my close friend Robert A. Altman, founder of ZeniMax Media. Robert believed deeply in the power of gaming and we are privileged to be able to continue his work by joining forces with the teams he built and led for many years. I will miss the opportunity to work directly with him on the future of our combined teams but I know that his spirit will live on in the shared work we do and motivate us to make this partnership all he envisioned.“
The Bethesda team have released a nice little YouTube video titled “Here’s to the Journey” which certainly captures their studios spirit and culture, with some touching images of Robert throughout, as well as a nice tribute to all their games. We’ll link it in the description below.
We won’t have to wait long for more games to play, as Phil confirmed in his blog post, “to properly celebrate this special moment”, that Xbox will be bringing a number of additional Bethesda games into Xbox Game Pass later this week. The Evil Within has already been spotted to be on the way.
As the Dust Settles
Whether you feel a giant company purchasing another giant company is something worth celebrating of course. For me, it was clear Zenimax was looking to sell, and I’d argue Microsoft was the best overall ‘fit’ comparatively to anyone else out there. Fallout 76 and Wolfenstein: Youngblood both didn’t do as well as Zenimax would have liked, and with Game Pass and Microsoft now supporting the studios creative endeavours, I think we’ll see less microtransaction-ridden games as a result of Zenimax no longer trying to maximise their profits.
Through all of this, the one topic that’s been on everyone’s lips is that of exclusivity and availability of longstanding franchises gamers have come to love. Microsoft have always had a close relationship with Bethesda, dating all the way back to Morrowind on the original Xbox. Gamers are no strangers to the concept of an exclusive game, and it’s rare for a publisher to have been bought outright in this fashion, but now PlayStation gamers in particular will have to get used to a new reality.
Regardless of any revisionist hot-takes as to the quality of aforementioned games, Elder Scrolls, Doom, Fallout and more are huge, popular IPs, and in this industry shaking move, Microsoft has made one thing clear: they’re all in on gaming, in a way we’ve never seen a platform holder be before. The scale of operation and output from Xbox is now unmatched, and with Satya publicly stating that they’re always open to growing “inorganically”, they may not be done yet.
Of course, until the games start coming, not much will change. But over time, gamers that love WRPGs and particularly, Bethesda’s output, might have to consider an Xbox under their television at some point in the near future with a Game Pass subscription to go alongside it.
It’s going to be an interesting generation of gaming, and as fan of the Xbox Platform, I can’t wait to see how it all shakes out.