As you read this, the Xbox Series X and S are already up for pre-order. And it’s likely a few gamers are thinking differently about the potential of the next Xbox from just a few days earlier. Yesterday morning, Microsoft announced the acquisition of Bethesda and parent company ZeniMax Media for $7.5 billion.
(Most of) Your Favorite Western RPGs
The purchase is the latest in a string of acquisitions by Microsoft of other game studios, and the biggest spend to date. This brings the following studios under Microsoft’s umbrella:
Bethesda is an incredibly talented group of 2,300 people worldwide who make up these studios across Bethesda Softworks:
— Xbox (@Xbox) September 21, 2020
That includes series like Fallout, The Elder Scrolls, Wolfenstein, Doom, Dishonored, Prey, The Evil Within and the upcoming Bethesda RPG Starfield.
This is a huge acquisition for Microsoft that raises lots of questions. The move will unquestionably bolster GamePass, bringing a laundry list of games just starting with those listed above to the service.
Right now, Microsoft does seem like a good fit for the studios under Bethesda. While The Elder Scrolls and Fallout do big business, many of the publishing house’s other games, like Dishonored and Prey, and The Evil Within have struggled to find audiences. A service like GamePass where they serve to add value to the service and bring in other types of gamers, could give those studios some room to work.
Microsoft’s deep well of technical knowledge could also serve Bethesda well; the studio is renowned for making massive open-world games, but the games have as much a rep for being buggy as they do for being engrossing. It seems unlikely that Microsoft would pull an EA and force the studios onto a unified platform, but Microsoft’s skill with things like AI, as well as in-house studios like Playground Games, Turn 10, and 343 Industries could give them a bigger knowledge base to work with.
Exclusivity is another big question. Microsoft said that it will honor the exclusivity deals that Bethesda had in place for Arkane’s Deathloop and Tango GameWorks’ Ghostwire: Tokyo on PlayStation 5. Other games it will handle, it says, on a case-by-case basis. That means the future of games like The Elder Scrolls VI on PlayStation 5 is now up in the air. On the one hand, Microsoft could burn a lot of good will by taking the games off PlayStation. On the other, it could make a lot of friends by putting The Elder Scrolls VI on GamePass where they can access it and countless other games for one low price.
The near future
Things that seem more certain are the future of modding Bethesda games and studio creative head Todd Howard directing games. Todd’s commitment to Bethesda was likely part of the deal in Microsoft’s purchase. He’s the mind behind some of the longest-lived games and game series of the last two generations and he’s almost certainly contracted to stay with the company for some certain amount of time. He published a post, too, outlining Bethesda and Microsoft’s shared history.
On the modding front, Microsoft led the way in bringing mods to Bethesda’s console games. Removing modding seems to go against that–also going along with that customer-first reputation. Game development legend John Carmack seems pleased, too:
Great! I think Microsoft has been a good parent company for gaming IPs, and they don’t have a grudge against me, so maybe I will be able to re engage with some of my old titles. https://t.co/GijQGEL4tZ
— John Carmack (@ID_AA_Carmack) September 21, 2020
There’s also the fact that Microsoft is a company actively trying to develop its games portfolio while making lots of gamer-friendly moves like focusing on backwards compatibility and offering low-cost and high-power options for its upcoming Xbox console. It’s not hard to look around at the many studios acquired by EA and Activision and worry. Of course, we don’t know what’ll happen 10 years from now. But right now, Microsoft seems like a fit that could give Bethesda’s studios lots of new options.