Microsoft buys ZeniMax/Bethesda

SEPTEMBER 22, 2020

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Microsoft announced today that it will be acquiring ZeniMax Media, the video game holding company that owns Bethesda, at a $7.5 billion price tag. The deal adds over 2000 new employees to the company, and raises the number of development studios they own from 15 to 23.

Here’s a list of notable companies and franchises that now belong to the Xbox brand:

  • Bethesda Game Studios — The Elder Scrolls, Fallout

  • id Software – DOOM, Rage, Quake

  • Arkane Studios – Dishonored, Prey, Deathloop

  • MachineGames – Wolfenstein

  • Tango Gameworks – The Evil Within, Ghostwire: Tokyo

Phil Spencer has confirmed that all future releases in these franchises (notably Elder Scrolls 6) will arrive on Game Pass. I wouldn’t be surprised if they add games from the catalogue that aren’t there already though.

While this is clearly a move to bolster Xbox’s portfolio, it’s unclear whether these games will be exclusive to the platform. Bethesda’s Pete Hines stated that they will continue to publish their own games, and indications of exclusivity have been notably absent from all the press releases. They will also honour the PlayStation launch exclusivity for Deathloop. So if you’re a PlayStation or Switch user, not all hope is lost. Especially considering they’ve published games extensively on Steam and even the Switch already.

The acquisition isn’t the biggest that the gaming industry has ever seen (Tencent acquired Supercell for $8.6 billion), but it’s certainly the most prominent. As acquisitions become more and more popular from both a developer and a publisher standpoint, people were expecting a major transaction at some point. I don’t think anyone predicted that it would be Bethesda as the subsidiary.

It’s also 3 times more than they spent on Mojang and Minecraft ($2.5 billion), which has a bigger reach than all of those franchises combined. Evidently, it’s a long-term investment for them : Game Pass just hit 15 million subscribers, and they want to keep that momentum going for years to come. They’re trying to make that happen by owning great developers with great games.

I’m amazed that this didn’t get leaked prior to the announcement, which did them a number of favours in regards to timing. Pre-orders for the Xbox Series X/S are now live, hot off the heels of them saying “hey, if you want Elder Scrolls, come to us.” Hardware isn’t their primary focus at this point, but it’s a great opportunity for people to enter their ecosystem for the first time.

The deal is set to complete in the second half of 2021. In the short term, this probably won’t do much for Microsoft. ZeniMax don’t have any major game releases any time soon — but what they have in the pipeline will certainly help recuperate the billions that Xbox just spent. As mentioned, Elder Scrolls 6 will likely be their biggest mover. Now that Obisidian and Bethesda are under the same roof, there’s a possibility for a Fallout: New Vegas 2. Bethesda are also working on a space game called Starfield, which is supposed to be their next big title have Fallout 76.

On a personal note, what I’m really hoping for is that Xbox will bring Bethesda back to its former glory. The decisions they made for games like Fallout 76 and The Elder Scrolls: Blades were extremely disappointing to me, and I’m worried that they were going down a similar path with their upcoming titles. I think every other subsidiary will fit in nicely with their library though — games like DOOM and Dishonored haven’t had similar issues.

If you want to read an article about this from a professional journalist, and not just some shmuck who talks into a mic everyday, check out this one from Oli Welsh on Eurogamer.