It’s not even noon on Monday, and the “slow news week” has been slaughtered faster than a low-level zombie in Fallout. Microsoft has announced that it has entered into an agreement to acquire ZeniMax Studios, the parent company of of Bethesda Softworks, makers of the Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Doom, Wolfenstein, and many other well-known gaming properties, including upcoming sci-fi RPG Starfield.
In the letter announcing the news from Xbox chief Phil Spencer, Microsoft mentioned Bethesda’s long-running partnership as a developer, going back to Doom and the Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind on Xbox. As part of the deal, Bethesda’s “iconic franchises” will be coming to Xbox Game Pass for console and PC.
In a letter posted on the Bethesda website, Todd Howard admitted he was “dubious Xbox Morrowind would be worth the time” back in 1999, but the game went on to become “one of the best-selling Xbox games of all time.”
Bethesda’s VP of Marketing Pete Hines offered his thoughts as well, calling Microsoft a “perfect fit” and saying that “we’re still Bethesda” and that the developer is working on the same games it was working on before the acquisition. The deal “allows us to make even better games going forward,” with the help of Microsoft’s resources.
The official press release is located under Hines’ letter and says that the deal is for $7.5 billion in cash, and will see Bethesda’s 2,300 employees worldwide now fall under the Microsoft banner. The company’s corporate structure and leadership will remain in place.
As usual, when a deal like this is announced, there’s plenty of speculation about what will change about the acquired company’s games — with most people assuming things will be worse. 90% of the time, things are exactly the same, or at the very least play out as they would have if there hadn’t been an acquisition, as was likely the case with this news and this news and this news (which may or may not have happened).
I’ve got the same opinion regarding this news. While it’s big and successful, Bethesda isn’t without its cracks and well-deserved critics. The Elder Scrolls V came about just before early access, rampant microtransactions, and loot boxes became ubiquitous, and I’ve long speculated that The Elder Scrolls VI could include any or all of those elements in manners that gamers find unsatisfying. If that turns out to be the case, don’t blame Microsoft; the notion has probably been bandied around the Bethesda offices for years. I mean, take a look at Fallout 76.
For once, let’s try being a little positive. It’s a long-running joke that Bethesda’s games are buggy to the extreme, so maybe, just maybe, some of those “resources” Hines mentions could help make that less of a downer for TES VI or Starfield or whatever else comes next from the company. Or maybe TES VI will actually just launch sometime this decade.
As for the free-to-play aspect of this news … well, there isn’t much. Bethesda’s current F2P offerings are pretty meager, and I don’t feel like any of its existing franchises are due for a F2P makeover. The Elder Scrolls Online seems satisfied with its current structure, and Fallout 76 has recovered following its horrendous start. Maybe the latter title could go F2P at some point, but I don’t think it would be for a few years, at least, and would have nothing to do with Microsoft’s presence.
In the end, this is big news, which will be colored by your feelings regarding big studios being bought by even bigger studios. All in all, though, I think it’s going to have relatively little impact on the end product going forward — unless The Elder Scrolls VI and/or Starfield become exclusive to the Microsoft Store on PC. Then we riot.