The games industry has gone through its fair share of trends over the last few years, with the explosion of battle passes, battle royales, and subscription offerings. But perhaps the most wide-reaching trend of the bunch is consolidation.
Microsoft has been an especially conspicuous investor in the sector’s most talented teams in recent months. Before announcing plans to purchase Activision Blizzard for a staggering $68.7 billion earlier this year, Xbox Game Studios added Bethesda parent company Zenimax to its lineup for $7.5 billion in early 2021. Like many observers, Bethesda founder and games industry historian Christopher Weaver has some concerns about consolidation's impact on creativity — yet he also sees it as a unique opportunity.
“I'm always very suspicious [of] the more monolithic structure and industry, because what ends up happening is that all the things that are anomalies pretty much get moved out,” Weaver tells Inverse. “Anomalies are dangerous when you have these large public companies that have to satisfy shareholders 90 days hence.”
In Weaver’s mind, corporate culture and shareholder expectations often don’t mesh well with the creative, collaborative process that’s essential to making iconic interactive experiences.
“You can't tell a creative group, ‘We need this game by Black Friday, so you're going to have this game in four months from now come hell or high water,’ he says. “That's not a good way to get a quality product.”
At the same time, Weaver acknowledges the value of the kinds of deadlines and limitations a more traditional corporate environment can provide. It’s not feasible to allow a development team to endlessly tinker away on a project while the rest of the world moves on.
“It's not the nine-to-fivers in their Brooks Brothers suits who create these kinds of industries.”
“So much of that is dependent upon the kind of quality of the people who are managing the people who ultimately create something, '' Weaver says, “And that's my concern.”
In Weaver’s view, a harmonious studio environment depends upon management and creative knowing their lanes — and sticking to them.
“It's not the nine-to-fivers in their Brooks Brothers suits who create these kinds of industries,” Weaver says. “These are people who are a little bit off. They just happen to have a bug and they want to try and solve a problem or something like that.”
Weaver points toward Atari as a cautionary tale of the consequences of allowing businessmen to supplant free thinkers. A convoluted series of consolidations, mergers, and corporate restructuring left the once-iconic gaming brand a shell of its former self. (The company was valued at $32 million dollars in 1976, but sold in 1998 for just $5 million.) Today, the company’s ventures include the bizarre VCS console, dubious cryptocurrency initiatives, and a string of branded hotels.
“We have history to answer some of these questions. But assuming some of these people do know the history, then they're not going to repeat it,” Weaver says. “I'm hopeful that this is going to be a good thing. But time is going to tell.”
Jacob Kleinman contributed reporting to this story.