Microsoft officially kickstarted its transition into the next generation a few months back, but no day since has compared to the past 24 hours, arguably one of the most significant in Xbox history.
Mere hours before Xbox Series X / S pre-orders opened around the world, Microsoft lifted the lid on a staggering $7.5 billion USD deal to purchase ZeniMax Media, the parent company of Arkane (Dishonored, and PS5 console exclusive Deathloop), Bethesda (of Fallout and Elder Scrolls fame), id Software (Doom), and MachineGames (Wolfenstein).
I know exactly what you’re thinking, and you’re not wrong: that is a huge acquisition by Microsoft, and not just on the financial side. This is a business move — long rumoured — that significantly enhances the pulling power of Xbox.
One simply cannot understate not only the current catalogue this purchase brings with it, but also the future catalogue, which may well eventually include the likes of Deathloop, previously celebrated as a PS5 console exclusive. That’s not just a huge dent in appeal of the PS5: it would have to be utterly demoralising for a team seemingly so close to yet another early-generation victory, just as they had with the PS4.
The aforementioned games come before anyone even mentions Starfield, Bethesda’s much anticipated albeit mysterious sci-fi RPG. And then there’s the Elder Scrolls VI, a game that now appears incredibly likely to be an Xbox exclusive. As I mentioned above: staggering.
Taking it purely on face value, Microsoft — and therefore, Xbox — now owns some of gaming’s most popular franchises. You’re hard pressed to find a single bad game in the lot across every one of those developers. Let’s also take a moment to acknowledge Doom Eternal, quite arguably the most innovative and memorable FPS engine that the industry has seen in years. It is now Xbox IP.
None of this talk includes confidential and yet-to-be-revealed IP, engines and tech. We can all debate endlessly about whether or not Elder Scrolls and Starfield will be Xbox exclusives (hint: they will be), but there are mystery clouds over what else these studios can bring to Xbox.
The good news for PlayStation fanatics is that this is not the first time Microsoft has purchased a big player, and they have form when it comes to having said player’s games appearing on PlayStation platforms. Minecraft, for example, will never leave PlayStation 4, and it’s also highly unlikely The Elder Scrolls Online will ever, either.
So signs point to some form of support for PlayStation even after the purchase, but there’s still a lucrative incentive here — and tough decision — that Microsoft needs to make. Zenimax games coming to PC, for example, is a given, because they always have. We also now know that these future releases will hit Game Pass, boosting that service significantly. The Master Chief Collection has hit Steam, and Microsoft, per Phil Spencer, has no interest in snatching already established PS5 exclusives away from the console.
That begs the question: what truly is the most lucrative long-term proposition for Microsoft under this scenario?
Let’s say Elder Scrolls VI is released tomorrow. It comes to Xbox Series X, hits Game Pass early. It’s reasonable to assume that the game has the potential — if it isn’t already — to be a system seller. Does Microsoft bank on the game boosting hardware sales and thus enhancing investment in the Xbox ecosystem? Or does it look to maximise software sales and simply spread the love?
My honest opinion is that it will go one of two ways, with nothing in between.
One way is that games are console exclusive for at least 12 months. The other is that they’re Xbox exclusives. Full stop. That’s unfortunate for PlayStation fans, but a bonanza for the Xbox faithful.
It just seems like good business: considering Microsoft’s shifting focus towards an Xbox service rather than an Xbox platform, it still ultimately needs people invested in its ecosystem. This will achieve that, and why I feel the full 100% exclusivity road feels more likely (sorry, PlayStation fans).
Additionally, while Microsoft is promising a “case by case” analysis of each future Zenimax title when it comes to PS5 availability, we all know what that means: likely downloadable content and expansions for already-available games, and those already announced an confirmed for the platform.
This is ultimately less a Xbox vs PlayStation thing, and more just a further growth of additional services. So far leading into this generation, everything Microsoft has done seems calculated and planned, rather than reactive to the competition.
This might not be enough to propel it above said competitor this generation, but it certainly sets the foundation for an epic finish.
What are your thoughts on Microsoft’s purchase of ZeniMax and the impact to Xbox and PlayStation? Sound off in the comments below!