Microsoft has already revealed some massive news within the month, like EA Access joining in with Game Pass Ultimate. But at 6:00pm today, September 21, they dropped a huge bombshell that really changes the math and the appeal for Xbox. That bombshell is the acquisition of XeniMax Media and the studios under their umbrella. This includes Bethesda Softworks, Bethesda Game Studios, iD Software, XeniMax Online Studios, Arkane, MachineGames, Tango Gameworks, Alpha Dog, and Roundhouse Studios. But what does this really mean?
One of the first things to note here is that regardless of what Microsoft does with this acquisition, this is a win for them. They could use it to increase their exclusive content. If they keep things multiplatform, they increase their reach beyond just Windows and Xbox. They can increase what can go on Game Pass, increasing the already ridiculous amount of value being thrown at us. This isn’t even covering all of the benefits for both Microsoft and the developers they acquired.
One of the biggest things to consider is this. What happens with the content from any of the studios that have already been announced as exclusive to the PS5? Things really won’t change for those new IPs like Deathloop and Ghostwire: Tokyo. Since they’re timed exclusives, they’ll still follow the same plan of being a timed PS5 exclusive. However, Microsoft will likely use the time between the PS5 launch and launch on other consoles to design a more fluid gameplay experience for the Xbox and Windows platforms. Microsoft has already announced that announced timed exclusivity will be honored, but things could change for things that haven’t been officially announced yet and Phil Spencer has already said that bringing games from these developers to other consoles will be taken on a case-by-case basis.
Here’s what I’m thinking will happen. Where it makes sense to go beyond the Microsoft platform, they will. So, established lines that have a decent history of being multiplatform will likely remain multiplatform. This means that The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, and any new MMOs will likely remain multiplatform. Partially because Microsoft would get money either way, whether people went to Xbox or Windows to get the games. Another reason is the fact that it would still grant Microsoft Studios more cachet by allowing some of those games to remain multiplatform. On top of that, there’s also the added benefit of being able to try to dictate the terms of how the games show up on other platforms outside of the Windows/Xbox ecosystem.
While the games that have been multiplatform for a while will likely remain multiplatform, there is going to be something that will likely remain a Microsoft ecosystem exclusive. New IPs, like Starfield, or, like Senua’s Sacrifice, the sequels will be Microsoft exclusives. It’ll be something that they can build up from. Since I brought up Deathloop and Ghostwire, if those turn into series, that’s where I see them going. Multiplatform for the first game to honor the existing contract and build visibility of what being under the Microsoft umbrella could do for the IP, Microsoft exclusive for the series. After all, they won’t change the current plans for existing contracts unless it’s something Microsoft wants solely for Xbox and Windows. However, renegotiating the contracts for the first games in a series could cost a lot, especially if a competitor is already banking on it being on their console.
Since I brought up the fact that the typically multiplatform games might remain multiplatform, there’s one other gambit that Microsoft might employ. Added value and incentive to getting the Xbox or Windows version. For the lines that end up remaining multiplatform, they can mix timed exclusivity with Game Pass and lessons from EA Access. Namely, just for an example, The Elder Scrolls 6. Timed exclusivity could also TESVI on Xbox and Windows around six months without any competition and the game could end up on Game Pass, but if someone also has Game Pass Ultimate, the game could be a title ready to load and play commercially up to 72 hours prior to release with a preorder.
These are just some ideas, but one thing that Microsoft should do, with Bethesda in particular, is offer guidance and QA support. Part of the reason why Bethesda occasionally runs into trouble is they release games without adequate QA testing. While not perfect, a lot of Microsoft Studio games release with minimal bugs, especially minimal game breaking bugs. They tend to put out generally solid experiences, regardless of the shortcomings, at launch. It’s mostly because they try to give their developers adequate QA support.
One last thing. Microsoft has regularly been steering into the skid of consoles being essentially highly specialized gaming PCs, especially after they started making Xbox a Windows machine during the Xbox One years. There is one thing that I can see coming with mod-heavy games like The Elder Scrolls now being under Microsoft’s wing. Even though Bethesda started bringing mod support to at least Xbox this generation, it’s been pretty minimal in comparison to the PC and Steam spaces. With the proposed versatility of the Xbox Series S/X, I can see Microsoft helping Bethesda deliver a more robust mod community to at least Xbox in the console space. Even if it doesn’t rival the PC space, they might be able to get a leg up on the PlayStation editions just by having a more robust and active modding community.