XMicrosoft priciest video game acquisition, a $7.5 billion purchase of Xbox Bethesda Softworks parent company ZeniMax Media, shocked the industry on Monday.
The deal puts Bethesda, one of the industry’s biggest publishers and owners of some of the most successful gaming series, under the Xbox brand. It also raises a simple but powerful question: how does buying Bethesda fit into Microsoft’s overall Xbox strategy?
The immediate and inevitable reaction from consumers focused, naturally, on competition, and whether future Bethesda titles will become Xbox exclusives. It’s a sensible concern — why, after all, would any company in an industry as cutthroat as gaming purchase a major entertainment brand if not to deprive its primary rival the ability to distribute coveted intellectual property on competing hardware? But that’s a question for the old Microsoft, the one that tried competing with Sony in an exclusivity game that ultimately kept it perpetually lagging behind throughout the Xbox One generation. (Xbox chief Phil Spencer tells Bloomberg the immediate plan is to evaluate multiplatform releases on a “case-by-case basis.”
MICROSOFT’S BETHESDA ACQUISITION MAKES XBOX GAME PASS AN EVEN BETTER DEAL
Every major publishing decision Microsoft has taken in the last three years, since the launch of its Xbox Game Pass subscription service, indicates it no longer sees much value in exclusivity — or even in selling full-price games, for that matter. One of the biggest franchises in gaming, Halo, isn’t even exclusive to the Xbox platform anymore. Thanks to xCloud, you can play Halo on an Android phone if you like. The next major release in the series, Halo: Infinite, will be free on Game Pass for console and PC when it launches next year.
Microsoft is no longer playing the same game as Sony, and the Bethesda purchase may well make that point clearer than ever before. Sony has followed a tried-and-true strategy of acquiring promising developers and nurturing them over many years to produce large sequel-friendly franchises like Spider-Man and Horizon Zero Dawn. It also maintains strong relationships with independent Japanese partners, like From Software and Square Enix, to help maintain its edge so that the new Final Fantasy game or a Demon’s Souls remake comes to PlayStation first.
Instead, the question we should be asking about Microsoft is what Bethesda brings to Xbox Game Pass, and how owning that library helps Microsoft achieve its vision for its subscription service going forward. What’s immediately clear is the Bethesda acquisition makes Game Pass an even better deal, which is, without question, Microsoft’s most pivotal priority headed into the next console generation this November.
Spencer made sure to make mention of Game Pass in the company’s announcement post this morning. “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,” Spencer wrote. “We will be adding Bethesda’s iconic franchises to Xbox Game Pass for console and PC.”
Bethesda Game Studios director Todd Howard echoed similar sentiments, saying that it’s Microsoft’s vision that convinced the company to agree to join the Xbox platform. “Why does it matter where the screen is or what the controller is?
There are many people without the same access, and we can bring it to them,” he wrote in a post on Bethesda Game Studios’ website. “Like our original partnership, this one is about more than one system or one screen. We share a deep belief in the fundamental power of games, in their ability to connect, empower, and bring joy.”
“And a belief we should bring that to everyone — regardless of who you are, where you live, or what you play on. Regardless of the screen size, the controller, or your ability to even use one.”