A few weeks ago, Microsoft completely shocked the world by announcing that Zenimax Media, parent company of the studios Arkane, Id, Zenimax Online, Alpha Dog, MachineGames, Roundhouse, Tango and, of course, Bethesda Game Studios would be joining the Xbox family. This grew the growing first party roster from 15 studios to 23, and over 30 teams among them, a sharp contrast from a mere two years ago when Xbox Game Studios was no more than Mojang, Turn 10, Rare, 343i, The Coalition and Global Publishing. However, this move did not come cheap, costing $7.5 billion in cash, and the deal still needs to overcome basic regulatory review before it closes in 2021. What this means, in execution, is things will likely be the same for Bethesda in the near future. However, it is what comes after that which has been the subject of much debate in recent times.
Beginning with what we know, Microsoft will honour the existing deals Bethesda has in place. What this, unfortunately, means for Xbox gamers is that we will still have to wait for the highly anticipated Deathloop from Arkane Lyon and Ghostwire Tokyo from Tango Game Works. Meanwhile, PS5 players will get to enjoy these games alongside PC players for the previously agreed-upon one year period. While Microsoft could conceivably violate or buy out this contract, the cost is likely too high for what amounts to two smaller, unestablished titles. It is also worth noting that one or both of these titles may release before the ink dries on the deal anyways. However, not all is lost for players in the Xbox ecosystem, as those with a capable PC may be able to enjoy these titles day one on Game Pass PC, but this remains to be seen.
We also know that certain titles will remain multiplatform without a doubt: Elder Scrolls Online and Fallout 76. It’s not hard to see why these titles will carry forward across generations as, like Minecraft, they already have an established (and profitable) player base across all major non-Switch platforms, and prematurely retiring the title for PlayStation players could have an incredibly adverse effect on the sustainability of these live games. This especially applies to Fallout 76 which has spent the last couple of years repairing its broken reputation into a decently respected live game with a cult fanbase. Removing updates from PlayStation consoles makes no sense logistically, and Microsoft is absolutely making the right call here.
Also worth noting is that, at least on paper, this acquisition will not lead to any job losses, which is an incredible positive in today’s economic environment. Bethesda will continue to publish their games, although it wouldn’t surprise me if Bethesda Softworks is itself folded into Xbox Game Studios Publishing to maintain a consistent publication label. This means the teams you know and love will likely not only stay intact but also staff up in the months and years ahead like other acquired studios Obsidian, inXile, Double Fine, etc. have.
Finally, the last thing we know is a basic idea of the roadmap ahead. Currently, Zenimax Online, MachineGames Arkane Austin and Arkane Lyon are busy hiring for their next projects. Bethesda Game Studios is hard at work on their upcoming single-player epics Starfield and The Elder Scrolls 6. Roundhouse Studios and Alpha Dog are hard at work on their next titles, while Id Software and Tango Gameworks are finishing up their current commitments. Needless to say, the future of these studios is positive, and better yet, all of these titles will release day one into Xbox Game Pass. If you haven’t subscribed to Xbox Game Pass, first of all, why not? But, secondly, the value of this service has just gone up substantially.
Now onto what we can guess, I suspect that this move will spell the end of Bethesda accounts and the launcher. This will not mean a lot for most console players, but for PC, it takes another launcher off the market, with the games likely all migrating to Steam and, of course, the Windows Store. I also suspect players will no longer have to link their Bethesda accounts to console titles, with the exception of Fallout 76 and ESO, which I suspect will maintain them due to Sony’s aversion to Xbox Live. This does mean Steam players will likely need to sign up for Xbox Live, as will Nintendo Switch players, for any subsequent Bethesda releases, a move that works to increase Xbox Live’s player base.
Wait, did I just say Switch? Yes, I do believe that future Bethesda titles may come to Nintendo’s handheld hybrid, and any future successors it may have. Nintendo and Microsoft have become increasingly friendly over the years, with the former supporting Xbox Live integration on their systems, championing crossplay and, of course, adding Minecraft characters and Banjo Kazooie to Smash. The latter has released titles such as Ori and the Blind Forest, Minecraft Dungeons and Ori and the Will of the Wisps on the Switch. This symbiotic relationship actually goes as far back as the first generation of Xbox when Microsoft allowed Rare to release titles for the Game Boy Advance and DS. Now, given the power disparity between the two systems, I do not see frequent Bethesda releases on Nintendo’s platform, but when they can be appropriately downscaled, I could see a port six months to a year down the line. After all, as hungry as Phil Spencer can get, even he wouldn’t dare break apart the beautiful friendship between Isabelle and Doom Slayer, would he?
As for PlayStation, this is where things get interesting. I cannot see Microsoft willingly releasing any new IPs on PlayStation devices unless they underperform wildly, which, mind you, is a lot harder to do under the Game Pass model. What this means is Starfield, Zenimax’s New MMO, Arkane’s New IP, etc. are likely to be tied to the Xbox family. To put it bluntly, why would Microsoft drop $7.5 billion on a company if not to use it to boost their own ecosystem. There is nothing stopping them from snatching up these titles for Game Pass in a long-term deal like the one they signed with EA. This move is done to create groundbreaking exclusive content for the system, and continue their strategy of being the place to play for fans of Shooters and Western RPGs.
As for existing IPs, I think this ultimately comes down to Sony and Microsoft. Having exclusive titles such as the next Doom, Fallout, Wolfenstein and Prey may anger fans in the short-term but could create new Xbox fans in the long-run. It makes a lot of financial sense for Microsoft to make these titles exclusive, especially as $7.5 billion is a small amount in the grand scheme of the company. However, these titles also make for a fantastic bartering chip for the folks in green. With Sony going on a timed exclusive buying streak specifically designed to make Xbox players worse off (see Final Fantasy XVI, Spider-Man in Avengers, Ghostwire, Deathloop, Godfall, Call of Duty locked content, etc.), Microsoft could leverage Bethesda’s IP as a means to putting an end to this practice. Phil Spencer is outspoken in his disdain for timed exclusive DLC, and this could be a means to put an end to this. It could also be used to finally get Sony to budge on cross-play and Xbox Live integration within their ecosystem, but whether Sony wants this is another matter. However, in the short-term, I do not see the staunch majority of these titles coming to PS5.
This news will likely come as undeniably disappointing to many PlayStation fans, and I can definitely sympathize. As someone who did not grow up with an Xbox in the house, I remember falling in love with titles such as Fallout New Vegas, Oblivion and Skyrim on my PS3, regardless of the lack of optimization. These worlds, stories and characters genuinely changed the type of gamer I wanted to be and the games I wanted to play. However, the exact same could likely be said of many Xbox fans who fell in love with titles such as Street Fighter and Final Fantasy just to lose them to PlayStation. This is where it is incredibly important to realize the barriers to entry MS has broken down into the Xbox ecosystem. For the price of one new Bethesda game, gamers can subscribe to four months of Game Pass Ultimate and play these new titles on their mobile devices, and maybe even PCs down the line. Xbox All Access makes gaming more affordable than ever with a 0% interest monthly plan. Series S delivers next-gen quality at a current-gen price, and Series X packs more power than most high-end PCs into a shockingly affordable package. PC players can enjoy all these games on both Steam and the Microsoft Store. Oh, and Game Pass delivers hundreds of quality games, including brand new releases, to gamers for a fraction of the cost. This may seem like I’m shilling (and I may well be), but to play timed exclusives on the PS5, I need to pay for a console, the game and Ps Plus just to be able to enjoy, a hefty investment. Meanwhile, to play Xbox titles, the barrier to entry is so low, it rivals only that of Netflix in terms of price.
So, what does all of this mean in the end? For existing Xbox gamers, this is the start of an incredibly exciting journey, and is a showcase of how committed Microsoft is to the brand. For other players, this might just be the push needed to join the Xbox family. No matter what your stance may be, one thing is undeniable: the future of Xbox has never been brighter.