ZeniMax Online Studios

Bethesda Sells to Microsoft as Xbox Tries to Secure Meaningful Game Pass Titles

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Recently, news broke that Microsoft acquired gaming giant ZeniMax, and, with it, all of their subsidiaries. That includes once-legendary developer and publisher Bethesda, of Fallout and The Elder Scrolls fame.

However, this has left a lot of gamers scratching their heads. Why did ZeniMax sell to Microsoft, and what does this mean for the future of Bethesda’s games?

Will Doom, Fallout and Elder Scrolls become Xbox exclusives? Will Microsoft help right the ship at Bethesda to get them back on track making good games? And, most importantly, does this mean Todd Howard is no longer in charge of Bethesda? Let’s get into it.

Why Would ZeniMax Sell?  

Let’s be blunt: Bethesda’s games haven’t been selling too well lately. Dishonored 2 released in 2016 to lackluster sales and somewhat positive reviews. Prey, which had been delayed a comical number of times before its 2017 release, sold poorly.

The Evil Within 2 never found a target audience and limped away with sales that indicated a loss for the publisher. Fallout 76 was, and still is, a complete mess and a horrible mockery of the once-revered franchise.

Following the 2018 release of Fallout 76, people began questioning what Bethesda was doing. Their biggest successes, Doom and Doom Eternal, were outliers in a field of Skyrim re-releases and under-performing first-person shooters like Rage 2 and Wolfenstein 2.

As such, by 2020, it makes sense that Zenimax would be looking to sell the company. And, from Microsoft’s point of view, the sale makes perfect sense.

Why Would Microsoft Buy?

Microsoft makes video game consoles and personal computers, and they want people to buy those electronics and play the video games that are released on them. Fallout, Doom, and The Elder Scrolls are storied franchises, and making those in-house is a huge bump for the company in their ongoing battle against Sony in the gaming world.

Sony banks heavily on its exclusive games. Spider-Man, God of War, and Horizon: Zero Dawn stand as some of the best games on the PlayStation 4, while Microsoft has had primarily third-party, cross-platform games as its best-sellers recently.

While Microsoft owns Halo, Forza, and Gears of War, those series don’t command the same respect they once did.

Why This is Weird

However, this is a bit weird when squared with Microsoft’s biggest focus of late: Game Pass. For ten dollars per month, PC gamers and Xbox owners can get access to Microsoft’s huge stable of games on Game Pass.

The company has recently acquired numerous smaller publishers to work on games, providing a constant stream of new stuff for Game Pass holders to play. This runs counter to the Bethesda and Sony style of making enormous games that might not make their budgets back.

For Sony, those games are loss leaders, allowing the company to sell PlayStations and get people into their ecosystem. For Bethesda, those massive games make their money back eventually, after being ported to every conceivable system and VR, to boot.

So, how will Microsoft make Bethesda’s games make money if they make them exclusive to the Xbox and PC?

They won’t. They’ll release the games on PlayStation 5, but the game will be available through Game Pass on Microsoft’s platforms. That alone will incentivize many gamers to pick up an Xbox, just to play the newest Fallout or Elder Scrolls for ten dollars per month instead of sixty dollars upfront.