Microsoft is buying ZeniMax Media and its subsidiary, publisher Bethesda Softworks — giving it ownership of wildly popular game franchises including Fallout, The Elder Scrolls, Doom, and Wolfenstein, as well as others like Dishonored, Prey, and The Evil Within — for a price of $US7.5 ($10) billion.
Technically, Microsoft now has the power to make the iconic Master Chief from the Halo franchise and the technically unnamed protagonist of the Doom series team up smooch.
The deal includes Alpha Dog Games, Arkane Studios, id Software, Bethesda Softworks/Bethesda Game Studios, MachineGames, Tango Gameworks, and ZeniMax Online Studios. It’s also a major power move, as Microsoft is releasing its next-generation Xbox Series X and S in November, and preorders for the consoles open on Tuesday. Per Bloomberg, that should go a long way towards reassuring gamers critical of the new consoles’ somewhat uninspiring title lineup on launch, and ensures that its heavily promoted Xbox All Access/Game Pass — which gives access to a rotating lineup of games on a subscription basis — will have a steady stream of content. Microsoft wrote in a press release that Bethesda’s future games will launch on Game Pass the same day they do on Xbox or PC.
“Like us, Bethesda are passionate believers in building a diverse array of creative experiences, in exploring new game franchises, and in telling stories in bold ways,” Xbox head Phil Spencer wrote on the official Xbox blog. “All of their great work will of course continue and grow and we look forward to empowering them with the resources and support of Microsoft to scale their creative visions to more players in new ways for you.”
The deal also strikes a blow against Sony, which has worked closely with Bethesda in recent years and secured deals for timed exclusivity on buzzy titles Deathloop and Ghostwire: Tokyo.
It’s not clear whether Sony just lost out on exclusivity to those titles or if the deals are unaffected. (We’ve reached out to Sony and Zenimax for clarification.) According to Bloomberg, Microsoft expects the acquisition to close in the second half of fiscal year 2021, so sometime between January 1 and June 30. That likely means any ZeniMax/Bethesda deals currently on the table are too late to change.
Consolidation in the video game industry raises serious issues — including labour exploitation, sustainability, interference in the creative process, and pricing — and Xbox Game Studios has been on a buying spree as of late. In 2018 and 2019, it acquired Double Fine Productions, Obsidian Entertainment, Playground Games, and several other smaller studios, nearly doubling its roster of subsidiaries from eight to 15. With this new round of purchases, the company now has ownership of 23 different creative studio teams.