As you now know, Microsoft set the world on fire, pun intended, just a few days ago by announcing they were planning on purchasing Zenimax Media and all of its properties for $7.5 billion. Yes, that’s right, BILLION. A better way to saying that is that Xbox now owns Bethesda Softworks, meaning that Xbox owns the publishing rights to a ton of top tier franchises. Most notably The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Doom, Wolfenstein, the yet-to-be-released Starfield, and whole lot more.
At first glance, one might be afraid that it is locking some gamers out of experiencing some great games, specifically PlayStation owners. I felt this way at first as well, because I just pre-ordered a PS5. The internet has gone abuzz, talking about how Xbox now has a lot more exclusives than before. But don’t fret, I don’t see the major Bethesda franchises becoming console exclusives just yet. Microsoft and Xbox announced that the PlayStation timed-exclusives Ghostwire: Tokyo and Deathloop would still be honored. In a September 23rd interview with Larry Hryb (known as Major Nelson), Phil Spencer stated that console exclusivity with Bethesda’s titles would be decided on a case-by-case basis.
My personal belief is that console exclusives are both good and bad for a number of reasons. On one hand, console exclusivity is good for the market, which makes companies more competitive and leads to a better product. One the other hand, this causes a division between gamers, when gaming is meant to bring us together. Nevertheless, I’m here to explain why I believe that this is good for not only Microsoft/Xbox, but for Bethesda and gaming as a whole as well.
Why This Deal is Good for Xbox
To start, this announcement was made the day before pre-orders for the Xbox Series X/S went live. That surely boosted the race to pre-order one of the new consoles if nothing else. But we need to consider the money to be made down the line. With one of the biggest and most successful gaming companies (even if they are a little controversial) under their dragon-sized wing, this will surely push gamers to buy their consoles. This is good for them regardless if they publish the games as console exclusives or not. If they do it is all the more reason to buy an Xbox, and if not they are boosting numbers for Game Pass either way. That’s not even mentioning the PC gaming platform, where Bethesda’s games shine. Getting Game Pass for PC just became all the more enticing with two of the most popular game franchises to be modded in The Elder Scrolls and Fallout, and even more enticing when games like Doom, Wolfenstein, and Dishonored all play and look better on PC.
This deal is also proving to players that Microsoft is all in on gaming. Phil Spencer has helped guide Xbox to being a viable alternative to Sony and the PlayStation, and while I think PlayStation will always outsell Xbox, Xbox is no longer the second place runner up. They are both in first place for different reasons. This showing of dedication to gaming can be proved by the fact that they are listening to the fans. It has been a running joke for years that the Xbox platform has no exclusives, which I never understood simply because of the fact that it houses some heavy hitters like Halo, Gears of War, and Forza Motorsports/Horizon as well as smaller but very popular titles like State of Decay, Ori, Sea of Thieves, and many more. Either way, that narrative has ended with Bethesda’s catalog being added to the lineup.
On that note, Microsoft has been criticized in the past for their first party titles being more multiplayer-oriented, that narrative has also changed since this deal and was already changing when Microsoft acquired RPG-darling developers like inXile Entertainment (Wasteland series) and Obsidian Entertainment (The Outer Worlds and really too many others to name) as well as bringing back the much missed Fable franchise. With this effort Microsoft has covered all the bases. They now have:
- top-notch shooters like Halo, Gears of War, Doom, Wolfenstein, and Quake (some with multiplayer, some without)
- expansive MMOs in Sea of Thieves, Fallout 76, and The Elder Scrolls Online
- big-name RPGs in the mainline Elder Scrolls and Fallout titles, Wasteland, Fable, The Outer Worlds, and the upcoming Starfield and Avowed.
- their best in-class racing franchises Forza Motorsports and Forza Horizon
- action-adventure titles like Dishonored, Prey, and Hellblade
- survival games like Grounded and State of Decay
- whatever horror games come out of Tango Gameworks and the mind of Shinji Mikami
It’s safe to say that Microsoft and Xbox got off on the right foot going into the next generation of consoles.
Why This Deal is Good for Bethesda
Bethesda Softworks holds the rights to some of the most legendary franchises in gaming history with the likes of The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Doom, Wolfenstein, and Quake. Their premier studio, Bethesda Game Studios, has birthed some of the most critically acclaimed RPGs ever made in The Elder Scrolls series (especially The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, geez it is a juggernaut) and the Fallout series since buying the IP in 2004. But in recent history, the games being published by Bethesda have not been financial successes. Games like Dishonored 2, Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus, Doom Eternal, Prey, The Evil Within 2, and Rage 2 (lot of 2’s). Let’s not forget the commercial and critical flop Fallout 76, even though the game has come a very long way to become a fan favorite. All of these titles are critical successes and are loved by fans, but they didn’t produce much revenue for Bethesda. Certainly not like the likes of TES V: Skyrim (~ 30 million copies), Fallout 4 (~ 13.5 million), Fallout 3 (~ 10 million), or even Fallout: New Vegas (~ 7.3 million). To be objective, Bethesda Softworks has yet to publish a Bethesda Game Studios title since Fallout 4 in 2015, and that’s because their titles take around 6-8 years to develop and release. So we have a pretty good idea of how their next games will do financially; games like Starfield (rumored to release in 2021), The Elder Scrolls VI (who friggin’ knows, 2024?), and whatever the next Fallout game is (the year 3000).
But why is this acquisition good for Bethesda? Well for one, it allows a much easier entry point into their games with Game Pass on Xbox and on PC. Money is hard to come buy, and many players don’t have the dough to buy every $60 title that comes out in a year. So they have to pick and choose which games they buy, and if they are looking for the biggest game releases, they are going to choose the likes of Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, or say a Cyberpunk 2077 that releases this year. While many of those gamers would buy an Elder Scrolls or Fallout title, they may not choose a Doom, Wolfenstein, or Prey; in fact, they didn’t choose those games. That’s why Game Pass will boost the number of players of those titles. If you pay $10-$15 a month for hundreds of titles, why wouldn’t you play the most critically acclaimed games on the service.
Another thing to mention is the fact that Bethesda has a long-lasting relationship with Microsoft and Xbox. That doesn’t mean that there is bad blood between Bethesda and Sony, but Bethesda and Microsoft worked together for the release of TES 3: Morrowind on the OG Xbox back in 2002. In fact, that game didn’t even release on the PS2. BGS’s next big game, TES IV: Oblivion, was a console seller for the Xbox 360 and was already a smash hit for the system by the time the PS3 even came out. Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas were better optimized for the 360 (even if they were still buggy as hell), and Fallout 4 and Skyrim had mod support for the Xbox One long before the PS4 did. Todd (Godd) Howard, Bethesda Game Studios’ Director and Executive Producer has said this about the relationship between Xbox and Bethesda, “With each new console cycle, we evolved together…” “From bringing mods to consoles with Fallout 4, now over a billion downloads, to the latest technologies fueling Xbox Series X/S. These new systems are optimized for the vast worlds we love to create.” The two companies certainly have time to grow together now.
Bethesda Game Studios has made some amazing games, that come with some amazingly terrible and funny bugs/glitches. It’s kind of what they are famous for. Morrowind, Oblivion, Fallout 3, and Fallout: New Vegas all ran on the Gamebryo engine. Considering how long between each release those titles were, the games looked a little outdated (and played like it too), especially in 2010 with the release of Fallout: New Vegas. That sparked Bethesda to create the Creation Engine for Skyrim and subsequently Fallout 4 and Fallout 76. Though this engine is an improvement on the original Gamebryo engine, it is already at the end of its life. BGS games aren’t known for looking photorealistic… but they could be. Microsoft and it’s gaming sector have literal throw away money. They are more than capable of helping Bethesda fund and create a viable engine for their titles to truly look “next-gen” and fully encapsulate BGS’s vision for each of those titles. I’m not saying that the next major BGS title will be on the level of The Last of Us 2 or Gears of War 5, but in years to come, I fully expect their games to be generally less buggy, nicer to look at, and more optimized for any platforms they come out on.
Why This Deal is Good for the Players
As I previously mentioned, I truly believe that the games that come from BGS and the other studios acquired in this deal will be better games than they would have been without the deal. They will have substantially larger budgets and more freedom to build the games they truly want to make. Want The Evil Within 3? Prey 2? Wolfenstein 3? Dishonored 3? Rage 3? All those titles are more possible now the funding and backing of Microsoft and Xbox. What about bigger, better, more immersive worlds and stories from The Elder Scrolls or Fallout? Or Master Chief vs. The Doom Slayer? All possible thanks to this deal. And yeah, I know if these games don’t come out on PlayStation that it’s a huge bummer. But the value of Game Pass, hell even the $35 a month Xbox All Access payment (that gives you a Xbox Series X and Game Pass), gives players a cost friendly opportunity to play these games. That’s not even considering the black magic that is Xcloud, where you can play these games on your phone, tablet, PC, and possibly your TV all without downloading them. This deal will also fuel much needed market competition between Sony and Microsoft, which will award players with better deals and better games.
My closing remarks are more wishful thinking than anything. Xbox now owns Bethesda Game Studios, Obsidian Entertainment, and InXile Entertainment. Three of the biggest and best western-RPG developers out there. BGS brought the Fallout franchise to new rocket-reaching heights when its parent company acquired the rights to make new games in the series, that deal birthed Fallout 3 and Fallout 4, the two best-selling games in the franchise, and two amazing games in their own right. Obsidian Entertainment is made up of many of the original developers, writers, etc. of the first two Fallout games from back in 1997 and 1998. While BGS was working on Skyrim, Bethesda Softworks made a deal with Obsidian to allow them to develop a new Fallout game, built on Fallout 3’s Gamebryo engine. That game became Fallout: New Vegas, which is widely considered to be the best Fallout game out there. Obsidian also developed what is believed to be a true spiritual successor to that game in The Outer Worlds. It has been noted in the past that Bethesda and Obsidian had a fallout (pun intended) of sorts after Fallout: New Vegas’s release when Obsidian failed to reach an incentive-based Metacritic score of 85 by one point (84), and didn’t receive the bonus. InXile Entertainment on the other hand, is widely known for the Wasteland series which was created in 1988 by Brian Fargo, and is the inspiration behind the Fallout series, which also involved Fargo as executive producer of the first two games. Now that all three studios that have a history with the Fallout franchise fall under Xbox’s umbrella, it is possible that they could collaborate on a future title in the franchise, and maybe, juuust maybe, birth a sequel to Fallout: New Vegas. Want more fuel to the fire? Look at Obsidian’s tweet response to a fan asking this very question:
Crazy right? With all that Phil Spencer and Xbox is doing for gamers recently, it isn’t too wild to think that he could broker a deal between Bethesda and Obsidian, or even better all three studios, to make the ultimate Fallout game.