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Microsoft Shakes Up the Gaming Landscape with Zenimax/Bethesda Acquisition As Next-Gen Approaches

Well, add Microsoft acquiring Zenimax/Bethesda and all of its studios just before a new console gen as another thing I never thought would happen in 2020. This might be one of the biggest disruptions the industry has seen in a long time. Let’s take a look first at what Microsoft is acquiring for the sum of $7.5 billion.

Arkane Studios

  • Dishonored
  • Prey
  • Wolfenstein
  • Deathloop

MachineGames

  • Wolfenstein

Zenimax Online 

  • The Elder Scrolls Online

Bethesda Game studios 

  • The Elder Scrolls
  • Fallout
  • Starfield

id Software

  • Wolfenstein
  • Doom
  • Quake
  • Rage

Tango Gameworks 

  • The Evil Within
  • Ghostwire: Tokyo

Alpha Dog Games (mobile)

  • MonstroCity
  • Wraithborne

Roundhouse Studios

  • N/A

Technology

  • Creation Engine
  • id Tech

It’s no secret that Microsoft was lagging behind in internal studios, nor was it a secret that they knew that. They’ve been on a purchasing spree buying talented studios since 2018! Their recent acquisition brings heavy-hitting franchises into their stable including: Wolfenstein, Doom, The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Dishonored and countless others. The one key difference is the breadth of talent, IPs and the fact that they didn’t just buy studios this time. We would be remiss not to mention that, included in the deal are Creation Studio and ID Tech, two pieces of technology that are driving Bethesda’s online service games (The Elder Scrolls Online and Fallout 76) and Doom respectively. 

This purchase emphasizes one of Microsoft’s biggest drivers in recent months, Xbox Game Pass. For what appears to be a boon for Microsoft, Game Pass has been lauded as the “Netflix of Gaming” by many fans and critics alike. While there are constant questions about its viability in the future, one thing is certain, there is no better way to get in on the ground floor of gaming than Game Pass. All Xbox Studios’ games will be available on the service on day one of release, plus a large number of outstanding indie titles on day one. Ultimate, the ability to use one subscription across Xbox consoles and PC, makes the service even more valuable. To further provide value, Xbox is bolstering the Ultimate service tier with EA Play and xCloud. So, how do you make an already great deal, better? Apparently by adding some of the most beloved franchises in gaming. At one time, it was a pipe dream to think of something as big as The Elder Scrolls VI or the next Doom on Game Pass on release day, but as of now, Microsoft has stated all internal studio games will be part of Game Pass the day they release. It would be odd for them to backtrack on this since it has been a core tenant of the service.

Let’s be clear: $7.5 billion is a ton of money. We can compare it to the slightly related yet arbitrary media purchases like Disney buying Star Wars ($4.05 bn) or Marvel ($4 bn), but we haven’t seen a shakeup this big in the console gaming space. It’s important to emphasize that this is a future play for Microsoft. 

When Microsoft purchased a bunch of studios in 2018, there was a strong likelihood that these new studios wouldn’t have games out to usher in the Series X|S. Optimistically, these studios would start bearing their fruit around late 2021, but I have to imagine it is more than likely to be sometime in 2022. But, when can we expect titles from Zenimax/Bethesda? I have to imagine for games that have already been released in their stable of studios that they would expedite those to Game Pass. No better way to further push Game Pass than with an influx of games.  As for those in development, like Starfield, I feel those are going to hit the same mark of their previous acquisitions. That late 2021, early 2022 timeline sounds like it could be inline with when they should begin releasing. Now, this does bring Microsoft into an interesting position. There are currently two known games that have some sort of timed-exclusive deals with PlayStation: Tango Gameworks’ Ghostwire: Tokyo and Arkane’s Deathloop. Where do those two titles stand? According to Jason Schreier, fellow colleague Dina Bass interviewed Phil Spencer (Executive Vice-President of Gaming at Microsoft), and he said that they would honor those exclusivity deals while future Bethesda games will come to Xbox, PC and “other consoles on a case by case basis.” Outside of those two titles, what in the world does on a “case-by-case basis” even mean? It’s unlikely that Microsoft would drop $7.5bn to have them on all other platforms, so what will this strategy look like? 

We have little precedent of first party games going to other consoles. Minecraft creator Mojang, another massive acquisition by Microsoft to the tune of $2.5bn, saw continued support on nearly all platforms you could imagine. Even as recently as Minecraft Dungeons which released on May 26th of this year. Ori and The Blind Forest, an Ip owned and published by Microsoft, but developed by Moon Studios, saw its release to The Switch just last year, four years after its Xbox One and PC release. However, its sequel, Ori and The Will of the Wisps, came to The Switch on September 17 of this year, a mere six months after its Xbox One and PC release. It’s not a lot to go on, so we might have to get a bit creative. On one hand, you don’t spend $7.5bn and let other consoles get in on your unique selling proposition. That’s just bad business. Having said that, since these titles should appear on Game Pass on release date, and knowing that most video games sales are front-loaded, might it make sense for them to come to PlayStation and Nintendo at a later date? Say 1.5 years after launch? It’s impossible to say, but Microsoft now holds the cards to some powerful Ips. One thing that is for certain, those on PC should be comforted knowing Microsoft has stated many times over their intentions of releasing all their games on both PC and their Xbox console. 

It appears that word of Microsoft’s doom were drastically exaggerated. Microsoft’s biggest blind spot was first party studios. Well, it just so happens that $7.5 billion plugs that hole. The ‘success’ of the deal won’t be determined for years to come, but this certainly has raised eyebrows across the gaming landscape. Microsoft is here to stay, and they undoubtedly yelled their intentions across the room. 

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Joey Lampe

Joey Lampe

I am passionate about games and the gaming industry as a whole and am excited to be able to share it with all of you. So let's have some fun! Feel free to add me on psn.
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