Xbox dropped a bombshell when it announced that it had acquired ZeniMax Media for $7.5 billion. ZeniMax Media is the parent company of Bethesda Softworks, publishers of beloved series’ such as The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Doom, Dishonored and Wolfenstein.
It would be an understatement to say ]nobody expected this. Xbox’s purchase of Bethesda is one of the most expensive (and could be the most impactful) in video game history, superseded only by Tencent's $8.6 billion acquisition of Supercell. Not even Disney’s $4.05 billion purchase of Star Wars can top what Xbox just pulled.
So what does this acquisition mean for Sony and the PS5? Xbox has brought in a collection of beloved developers that could easily double the value of its platform. Not only could this drastically shift what games are available to players on PlayStation, but how does Sony intend to respond to this power play from Xbox?
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Will Bethesda games still launch on PlayStation?
Bethesda games have always been playable across multiple platforms, with titles like The Elder Scrolls, Fallout and Doom previously launching on PlayStation as well as Xbox. Now that Xbox owns Bethesda and all of its developers, this could change. Let us quickly put into perspective how many gigantic franchises Xbox owns now:
Xbox’s acquisition of Bethesda includes developers Bethesda Game Studios (The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Starfield), id Software (Doom, Quake, Rage), Arkane Studios (Dishonored, Prey, Deathloop), MachineGames (Wolfenstein), Tango Gameworks (The Evil Within, Ghostwire: Tokyo), Zenimax Online Studios (The Elder Scrolls Online), Alpha Dog Games (Monstrosity: Rampage, Wraithborne), and Roundhouse Studios, a developer acquired by Bethesda in 2019 that has not yet announced its first project.
That’s around a dozen AAA franchises across eight developers with more than 2,300 employees. Xbox now has the power to take this away from PlayStation, and it would be a great business move to do so if the company was still concerned with selling consoles.
However, Xbox is playing a different game now. Its platform isn’t solely reliant on selling a box, but rather, Xbox Game Pass is the primary focus. What’s most appealing to consumers about this acquisition is that subscribers of Xbox Game Pass will now get access to every Bethesda game on launch day through the service.
It’s possible that Microsoft will launch all Bethesda titles exclusively on Xbox and PC, but it’s equally as likely that the company drives home the point that Bethesda games are all available on launch day through Xbox Game Pass while simultaneously making $70 for each PS5 game purchase.
In a Bloomberg article, Xbox head Phil Spencer confirmed the company will honor the timed exclusivity commitment for Deathloop and Ghostwire: Tokyo on PS5. Otherwise, future Bethesda titles will be available on PC, Xbox and Xbox Game Pass. As far as availability elsewhere, he confirmed that they’ll take to “other consoles on a case-by-case basis.”
This doesn’t confirm that Bethesda games will launch on PlayStation, as titles like Skyrim and Doom had previously been released on Nintendo Switch. However, if Xbox intends to keep some of Bethesda games on PlayStation, the quote implies that certain series’ will become exclusive to Xbox and PC while others will remain available elsewhere.
Will Sony respond to Xbox?
Xbox, backed by the deep pockets of Microsoft, has taken a gigantic step forward in its competition against Sony, causing many PlayStation fans to call for the company to do something in response. Specifically, there’s a strong desire within the community for Sony to acquire Konami.
But calling for even more exclusivity within a console market could potentially be unhealthy. The last thing any reasonable consumer wants is a bidding war between Microsoft and Sony where both companies buy out as many third-party developers as possible.
Thankfully, this likely won’t happen. Sony has been historically hesitant to acquire studios unless they deem it necessary. For example, Sony purchased Insomniac Games in 2019 for $229 million because Marvel’s Spider-Man was such a resounding success, even though Insomniac Games had been developing PlayStation exclusives for over 20 years.
However, if Sony were to acquire a third-party studio in response to Xbox’s insane purchase of Bethesda, what benefits could that reap for consumers?
It’s difficult to deny that the PlayStation Studios stamp is now heavily associated with high-quality content. Sony acquiring a third-party studio with independent properties of importance could mean those games receive the quality assurance required to create a compelling experience.
For example, Konami hasn’t worked with Silent Hill, Castlevania or Metal Gear Solid in a way that does justice to these franchises in many years. Konami did attempt to cash in on Metal Gear Survive back in 2018, but it was a critical and financial flop.
If Sony were to acquire Konami, it could produce quality games utilizing these beloved franchises and the resources it provides all of the studios under its banner. Additionally, it would give Hideo Kojima access to Metal Gear Solid, which is something many fans have desperately longed for.
However, it’s hard to imagine why an acquisition is necessary for Sony to publish Konami exclusives. Final Fantasy XVI was announced as a console exclusive even though Sony does not own Square Enix. Similarly, Sony could strike a deal with Konami to get an exclusive Silent Hill game without needing to spend a ridiculous amount of money to purchase the studio outright.
It seems as if the call for Sony to strike back at Xbox is nothing more than a needless desire for “revenge,” as many fans assume these companies are friends worth rooting for. I would bet Sony won’t acquire a developer any time soon, especially not in response to Xbox’s purchase of Bethesda.
Exclusivity isn’t always worth celebrating
Exclusive games are treasured because companies like Sony, Nintendo and Xbox can provide quality assurance to their titles to prove their respective consoles or platforms are worth the money. This is typically the reason why we get beloved titles like God of War, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Marvel’s Spider-Man.
However, console exclusivity is not always worth celebrating. Xbox’s purchase of Bethesda is a miracle of accessibility because the company releases its games on Xbox consoles and PC. Not only that, but every future Bethesda title will launch on day one on Xbox Game Pass, which allows fans to dive into these games for a pretty low price.
But we shouldn’t ignore the fact that PlayStation players are potentially being excluded. Plenty of gamers have only the budget for one console, and if they’ve decided to stick with PlayStation, new installments for many beloved franchises will become inaccessible.
Unfortunately, this is how the business functions. Xbox wants to heighten the value of its platform and the Bethesda acquisition is a surefire way to do so. Those who are a part of the Xbox ecosystem will reap the benefits of this purchase while PlayStation players could be left behind. If Xbox truly does continue to publish Bethesda games on PlayStation, I’ll be incredibly impressed.
However, even if Xbox refuses to release Bethesda games on PS5 and beyond, it's still a better outcome than if Sony had purchased Bethesda. Not only is Sony jumping into $70 price tags for its next-gen games, but the company would never release an exclusive on Xbox or put it up immediately on its games subscription service, the PlayStation Plus Collection.
Sony’s PC versions of games are also quite rare and the ones that do exist release with quite the delay. Horizon Zero Dawn took three years to come to PC after its PS4 counterpart.
This is why Sony’s hypothesized purchase of a third-party developer is something to be afraid of, not celebrated. Sure, if Sony were to acquire Konami, it could potentially take a beloved set of independent properties and re-introduce them into the mainstream with high-quality games, but many third-party developers are already creating incredible experiences that are available across multiple platforms.
Sony’s acquisition of most third-party studios would change nothing except limit who can play those games. Xbox’s purchase of a third-party studio would exclude PlayStation users, but it also means players can access those games for a relatively low cost across Xbox consoles and PC through Game Pass. Regardless of which way you spin it, Xbox acquiring a big third-party studio is less detrimental to consumers than if Sony started doing the same.