The recent announcements of the new Xbox and PlayStation consoles was not exactly a surprise to the gaming public, but the information surrounding the consoles did feel a bit more out there than any previous console announcements. Higher game prices and digital-only versions of consoles (versions in which games can only be downloaded, not played off of a disk) were two significant changes to the formula that had several gamers and industry-folk questioning what would be the next big change in the industry. What would the ‘Big Two’ do to try to one-up each other this generation? Then, Microsoft, the owner of Xbox, bought Bethesda.
On Sept. 21, it was announced that Microsoft had purchased ZeniMax Media, the parent company of game developer/publisher Bethesda Softworks (publisher of The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, etc.), for $7.5 billion dollars. It’s a large acquisition, the second largest in the history of the games industry, and the largest one between two American companies. It was a surprise one, too, unexpected by the general public despite it apparently being a constant discussion between the two companies throughout the summer. Because of how sudden the news seemed, a lot of people have been asking: what does this mean for the average gamer?
First and foremost, Bethesda made clear that its current timed exclusivity agreements with other consoles (re: Sony) will continue to be honored, such is the case with Arkane Studios’ Deathloop and Tango Gameworks’ GhostWire: Tokyo. With that being said, Xbox head Phil Spencer stated that future Bethesda games will be on “other consoles on a case by case basis,” which pretty directly points to the idea that several, if not most, Bethesda games will be exclusive to the Xbox and PC platforms after any current deals are satisfied. It’s not clear when this could happen, but it’s possible that titles like Starfield and The Elder Scrolls 6 could become exclusives upon their release. Microsoft also stated that future Bethesda games will be added to the Xbox Game Pass in addition to the ones that already exist there, further broadening the library of games that are available on the service.
A few things change in the immediate sense because of the acquisition, but what exactly does it mean for the future of the industry, and why exactly did Microsoft buy ZeniMax in the first place? Well, to get a bit ‘inside baseball’: Playstation currently owns a significantly larger section of the market than Xbox, and this acquisition is likely Microsoft’s attempt at evening the playing field. PlayStation has historically sold more consoles and games on their system than Xbox, but with this acquisition, Microsoft can make Bethesda games exclusive to the Xbox, which will draw consumers away from PlayStation and towards their console. This could be seen as Microsoft attempting to use their extensive financial resources to essentially ‘buy’ Sony out of the market. The less games on PlayStation, the less likely it’ll be purchased by consumers. The less people purchase a PlayStation, the more people start buying an Xbox or using the Xbox brand.
Why did ZeniMax sell? Probably because their games haven’t been going as well as they’d hoped, and $7.5 billion dollars is a lot of money to gain. Sure, they’ve had some big successes in the past, but past successes don’t make up for future failures, and attaching yourself to one of the largest tech/entertainment companies in the business is a pretty great way to ensure your company’s success.
There’ll be a lot more changes that come out of this acquisition, probably more than anyone can guess right now. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out, and what effects it will have on gamers and the gaming industry.
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