Microsoft is buying Bethesda – Bethesda to still publish games, but they could be Xbox Series X|S & PC exclusives

In a huge move, Microsoft have just announced that they are acquiring ZeniMax Media, the parent company of publisher Bethesda Softworks, for $7.5 billion in cash. This means that when Microsoft complete the acquisition they will own a slew of new major franchises that include Doom, Fallout, Wolfenstein, The Elder Scrolls, Starfield, Dishonored, Prey and more.

Update: In a blog post by Pete Hines of Bethesda, he has clarified that the publisher will still publish games independently of the Xbox Game Studios brand. We have amended the story below. Additionally, the deal is expected to close by the end of June 2021, which is the end of Microsoft’s fiscal year.


Update 2: Speaking to Bloomberg, Phil Spencer has confirmed that existing deals will be honoured, so Deathloop and Ghostwire: Tokyo  will still have timed exclusivity on PS5, but that future games will all be on Xbox and PC and “other consoles on a case by case basis.”

The acquisition signals a vast expansion of Microsoft’s game development business, as Bethesda Softworks, Bethesda Game Studios, id Software, ZeniMax Online Studios, Arkane, MachineGames, Tango Gameworks, Alpha Dog and Roundhouse Studios all join the company.

Bethesda games will be added into Xbox Game Pass over the coming months, and future releases will be added to Game Pass on day one, as with all other Xbox Game Studios titles. With the rising cost of games on next-gen, it’s yet another massive draw into Microsoft’s game subscription.

What’s not clear is what this means for their games on other platforms. Bethesda’s Pete Hines explains that Bethesda’s studios “are still working on the same games we were yesterday, made by the same studios we’ve worked with for years, and those games will be published by us.”

This will certainly mean that existing partnerships and deals will continue, so Deathloop and Ghostwire: Tokyo will remain PlayStation 5 timed exclusives when they launch in 2021, while The Elder Scrolls Online and Fallout 76 will continue as cross-platform games. The real question is whether or not the next Elder Scrolls game, the next Doom, the next Wolfenstein or the highly anticipated Starfield will shift to being Xbox and Windows 10 exclusives.

Phil Spencer wrote in the announcement:

Bethesda’s games have always had a special place on Xbox and in the hearts of millions of gamers around the world. Our teams have a close and storied history working together, from the amazing first DOOM, and its id Tech engine, innovating games on PCs to Bethesda bringing their first console game to the original Xbox, the groundbreaking The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. Over the years I’ve had many deep conversations with the creative leaders at Bethesda on the future of gaming and we’ve long shared similar visions for the opportunities for creators and their games to reach more players in more ways.

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. We will be adding Bethesda’s iconic franchises to Xbox Game Pass for console and PC. One of the things that has me most excited is seeing the roadmap with Bethesda’s future games, some announced and many unannounced, to Xbox console and PC including Starfield, the highly anticipated, new space epic currently in development by Bethesda Game Studios.

Source: Xbox, Bethesda

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  1. That’s good news for everyone on the green side, they need more exclusives, but if I wanted to play one of their games I wouldn’t buy a next gen Xbox I would buy the pc version.

  2. Game Pass gets better and better

  3. MS haven’t got much confidence in the studios that aren’t Bethesda? Instead of “we just spent lots of money on 9 different studios”, it’s just “we bought Bethesda. And 8 others. But Bethesda! Whose last game was shit!”

    Maybe because buying the odd studio here and there doesn’t look so bad (Sony have done it too), but buying all those studios at once when you’re trying to look all consumer friendly isn’t a great look.

    We’ll have to see how independent they keep them. MS at least seem more concerned about making money than keeping things away from competitors consoles. And the bad publicity if they took all those games and made them XBox exclusives might be something they want to avoid.

    And if they did make them exclusives and put them on Game Pass, where’s the incentive to throw enough money at developing the games as people would be expecting, rather than just knocking out something like Fallout 76 and stuffing it full of microtransactions?

    Might all be good if you’re after a Series X/S, but not great for the whole industry in general, really.

    • Bethesda Softworks (publisher) and Bethesda Game Studios (developer) are both colloquially called Bethesda. Either way, the announcement imagery clearly promotes all of the studios and the company’s biggest franchises over the last decade, so I’m sure people could figure it out.

  4. Perhaps Sony will make a move towards some developer next. Probably not a publisher, I don’t think they have that kind of money.

  5. That is a huge acquisition but i expect the most it will mean is that some games will see timed-exclusivity for Xbox. I believe Sony were actually already negotiating with Bethesda for some sort of exclusive deal on Starfield so i guess that’s off the cards now.

  6. So here’s the thing. Bethesda are multiplatform. This gen, around 60-70% of their sales come from PS4. You cut that out and they are no longer profitable. It all depends on how the next round of console wars go, if Sony race ahead again then Bethesda will release first on Xbox but the games will definitely come to PlayStation as well. They can’t afford for them not to.

    • You’re probably right there.

      MS clearly have plenty of money to throw at Game Pass. And if that had 10m subscribers at $10 a month, that’s over 6 years worth to cover the billions they’ve spent. Longer if they want to spend anything else on buying things for Game Pass.

      So they’ll need the money from sales to non-subscribers and other consoles. 7.5 billion dollars would still take a long time to earn back though. At a rough guess, each of those 9 studios would need to sell around 5 to 10 million games a year for the lifetime of the Series X/S before they made a profit.

      They’ll be wanting those PS5 sales too then. Possibly some as timed exclusives, and maybe the odd one or 2 as actual proper exclusives.

      • There’s a different between buying a small dev like Ninja Theory and a massive behemoth like Bethesda. Bethesda/Zenimax will have hundreds, thousands of employees and they have to make money themselves to pay for them all. MS will help out, but to a point, if they are a massive black hole constantly requiring cash from MS the shareholders will get them binned very quickly.

      • Oh yes. They’ve got employees that need paying too. So that’s a bit more than 6 years of Game Pass to cover the cost. Or a few extra copies on top of those millions they’d need to sell to make a profit.

        So absolutely not going to affect most of their games coming to other consoles.

        Unless… does MS have a decent accountant working for them? 9 studios and however many separate bits of MS are involved, they’ll be charging each other all sorts of things and then paying themselves to license the games to go on Game Pass, and most of the money will end up in some unrelated country that conveniently isn’t that keen on tax.

  7. Wonder if this will spark an arms race of consolidation in the industry…

    And quite funny how some of the first Bethesda games launching since this deal will be PS5 timed exclusives!

  8. That’s pretty damn huge. A lot of big franchises now in the control of Microsoft. Elder Scrolls 6 with timed or total exclusivity to xbox (& pc) will be a big system seller.

    • You’re totally correct, I’ve even been thinking of buying an Xbox if Elder Scrolls goes exclusive.

      However, saying all that, it does seem a hell of a gamble. So they will put it on gamepass which is an amazing service. But they don’t make money Fromm dorect sales.
      They also will increase sales of the Xbox. However, we have seen so little of ES that it is likely 2-3 years away. Hell it could be 4 even although I doubt that.
      So now they get a boost of sales of their console when it is 40-60% through its lifecycle (roughly) and will undoubtably be selling at a reduced cost at that point.
      Now it could mean they manage to get some new customers for other stuff but it all seems like it may be they won’t reap the benefits as quickly as people may expect.

      • I think a lot of their acquisitions are planned for long term, in that they know they won’t reap the benefits for a long time. Game pass profitability is reliant on bringing in more xbox users, but it’s going to be offering such great value it’ll be hard for the more frugal gamer to turn down xbox. I actually think Elder Scrolls 6 isn’t as far away as it seems. Xmas next year I think, though I’m being optimistic because I want it ASAP ha ha.

  9. Ouch. Just read this now in the evening and it feels quite bad to see this happening. Looks like MS noticed too they were becoming less relevant in the games market, so they seem to take a pay to win approach.
    I hope they either keep some games multiplatform, or suffer financially from it. It’s definitely not good for consumers, as it limits choice.

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