IN what may be the largest video game company acquisition in history, gaming and tech giant Microsoft has bought heavyweight AAA games company ZeniMax media – meaning Xbox now owns Bethesda.
The sale, which cost Microsoft some spare change to the tune of USD$7.5bn (AUD$9.6bn), gives Xbox ownership of some massive franchises, including the Fallout games, The Elder Scrolls games (including The Elder Scrolls Online), Doom and Wolfenstein.
Just to put the dollar value involved into perspective: It is larger than the combined Gross Domestic Product values of Fiji, Vanuatu and Tonga.
The sale is already being compared to Disney buying 20th Century Fox (and therefore Star Wars and Marvel) and has the potential to have the same significant impact on the gaming industry as the House Of Mouse’s foray into a galaxy far, far away
The news broke overnight while most of us in Australia were asleep and the internet is already full of “But what does it mean?” takes, which I’m not going to add to beyond saying “It means Xbox now own Bethesda and all their games, and this is a good thing as Xbox have proven themselves to be a good parent company who are doing some excellent things in making gaming accessible to as many people as possible”.
We do now have an interesting situation of Microsoft-owned IP being a PlayStation 5 console exclusive (at least for a period of time), which has caused a few chuckles around the traps too.
It’s still far too early to speculate on things like “Are all the Bethesda franchises going to become PC-Xbox exclusives?” since the ink isn’t even dry on the contracts yet, and the acquisition isn’t expected to be completed until sometime between January and June 2021. For the same reason, even though Microsoft also own Obsidian that doesn’t mean we can immediately look forward to Fallout: New Vegas 2, although we can certainly hope.
While the announcement took everyone by surprise – coming as it did hours before Xbox Series X pre-orders opened, it’s not totally out of the blue; Bethesda have had a good working relationship with Microsoft for some time and several of their games, including Fallout: New Vegas and The Elder Scrolls Online are part of the Xbox Game Pass subscription package, and Bethesda have long had a strong PC focus for their games – Wolfenstein: Youngblood, for example, has raytracing enabled in the game, and it seems likely Doom Eternal will get an update for RTX at some point too.
Xbox head Phil Spencer even acknowledged the situation in the official announcement, noting “Bethesda’s games have always had a special place on Xbox and in the hearts of millions of gamers around the world” and confirmed the Bethesda franchises would be getting adding to Xbox Game Pass for console and PC.
“Our teams have a close and storied history working together, from the amazing first Doom, and its id Tech engine, innovating games on PCs to Bethesda bringing their first console game to the original Xbox, the ground breaking The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind,” he said.
“Over the years I’ve had many deep conversations with the creative leaders at Bethesda on the future of gaming and we’ve long shared similar visions for the opportunities for creators and their games to reach more players in more ways.
“Just as they took the bold first steps to bring The Elder Scrolls franchise to the original Xbox, Bethesda were early supporters of Xbox Game Pass, bringing their games to new audiences across devices and have been actively investing in new gaming technology like cloud streaming of games.”
Also included in the acquisition are Arkane Studios (who make Dishonoured and the upcoming Deathloop), and MachineGames (Wolfenstein) and iD Software (Doom) – so there’s a lot of heavy-hitting titles which are now firmly part of the Microsoft catalogue too.
Speaking of Doom, one of the elements of the acquisition is the iD Tech engine (which powers Doom), giving Xbox access to some interesting opportunities for first-person shooter games in the future.
Regardless of which platform you game on, this year continues to surprise us – and the new consoles aren’t even set up in living rooms yet.