Just a few months before the launch of the new PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, Microsoft has put together what could be the video game industry’s equivalent of Disney buying Lucasfilm for $4 billion—only this deal cost nearly double that. As reported by Bloomberg, Microsoft is going to acquire ZeniMax Media, the company that owns video game publisher Bethesda Softworks (which controls what is arguably the single most impressive stable of critically acclaimed video games this side of Nintendo), for $7.5 billion. That’ll buy a hell of a lot of sweet rolls, bottle caps, and demon skulls.
For those who don’t closely follow video game publishers, ZeniMax is the parent company that owns the various studios behind Doom, Prey, Wolfenstein, Dishonored, The Evil Within, Fallout, and The Elder Scrolls (the series Skyrim is a part of), meaning Microsoft will now own easily a half-dozen hugely successful video game franchises, plus some smaller titles that still have a nice following and whatever future things that these studios come up with. Speaking of future things: The Bloomberg story notes that upcoming games will be available through Microsoft’s Game Pass service, meaning anyone who pays for that service (which is increasingly becoming hard to avoid, if only because it’s a damn good deal) will be able to play Wolfenstein 3 or Skyrim 2 or whatever for free on Xbox and PC.
As the Bloomberg story also points out, the timing of this is interesting because Bethesda has recently shown a much stronger interest in Sony’s PlayStation 5 than Microsoft’s new Xboxes, with “timed console exclusives” already in place for two games (Deathloop and Ghostwire: Tokyo). Those will still be launching on PlayStation first, as Microsoft says it will honor those deals, but the availability of future games on non-Xbox consoles will be determined on a “case-by-case basis.” In other words, Wolfenstein 3 and Skyrim 2 might not be available on Playstation at all—though it’s worth noting that Microsoft owns Minecraft and continues to happily make buckets of cash by pushing that game out on every platform imaginable, so there is a precedent for Microsoft to not put too much stake in Xbox exclusivity. Then again, Microsoft recently had to delay Halo Infinite and doesn’t have much else on the horizon (have they announced a new Forza Horizon?), so it might be hungry for some games that you can only get on the Xbox family of systems.
The deal is expected to be finalized next summer, though, so it might be a while before we start to see a lot of concrete changes as a result of this, but it’s a certified big deal and will definitely have some big repercussions for the gaming world.