Microsoft made the shocking announcement Monday morning that the company had acquired ZeniMax Media, the parent company of Bethesda Softworks, the game studio behind major franchises like Elder Scrolls, Starfield, Fallout, Doom, The Evil Within, Wolfenstein, and Dishonored. Now, all of these franchise are part of Xbox Games Studios. What exactly does that mean for upcoming titles like Elder Scrolls VI and Starfield?
The short answer is if you're interested in these games, you'll probably have to have Xbox Game Pass Ultimate in some capacity if you want to play it.
What did Microsoft just acquire? The acquisition was announced via Xbox Wire and various social channels on Monday morning. "Today is a special day, as we welcome some of the most accomplished studios in the games industry to Xbox," Phil Spencer wrote in the article. "We are thrilled to announce Microsoft has entered into an agreement to acquire ZeniMax Media, parent company of Bethesda Softworks." A press release confirmed that the deal is worth $7.5 billion.
The post goes on to highlight many of the aforementioned famous franchises from Bethesda, all of which are now technically owned by Xbox.
Every developer within Bethesda is part of this acquisition. That means the likes of id Software (Doom), Arkane (Dishonored, Prey), MachineGames (Wolfenstein), Tango Gameworks (The Evil Within), ZeniMax Online Studios (The Elder Scrolls Online), Bethesda Softworks (the publishing arm), Bethesda Game Studios (Elder Scrolls, Fallout), Alpha Dog (Monstrosity Rampage), and Roundhouse Studios are now owned by Xbox, bringing its number of owned developers up to 23 from 15.
What does this mean for The Elder Scrolls 6 and Starfield? When it comes to Bethesda Game Studios' big upcoming RPGs, it initially seems that The Elder Scrolls 6 and Starfield will eventually be released for PC and Xbox. This would give the Xbox Series X and S some major open-world exclusives to bolster their upcoming exclusive lineup alongside Obsidian's Avowed, but comments from Executive Producer Todd Howard do muddy the waters on that situation.
"Like our original partnership, this one is about more than one system or one screen," Howard said. "We share a deep belief in the fundamental power of games, in their ability to connect, empower, and bring joy. And a belief we should bring that to everyone — regardless of who you are, where you live, or what you play on. Regardless of the screen size, the controller, or your ability to even use one."
This seems to indicate that Bethesda Game Studios titles could come to more consoles other than Xbox, though Microsoft and Bethesda have not directly stated if that's the case yet. A far more likely explanation is that Microsoft may urge Bethesda developers to develop with current- and next-gen consoles in mind so as to make games more accessible to a wider variety of gamers. Which is to say that Elder Scrolls 6 and Starfield might never land on PlayStation 5.
While Bethesda does have some multiplatform titles announced or actively support like Doom Eternal, Deathloop, and GhostWire, those games should still be released on their confirmed systems before coming to Xbox if Microsoft follows the precedent set by previous acquisitions of inXile Entertainment and Compulsion Games. Hopefully, this acquisition won't result in any delays for either game.
What we know for sure is that any future games from Bethesda will be on Xbox Game Pass on the day that they launch, which means you won't need to purchase the likes of The Elder Scrolls 6 or Starfield separately if you have an Xbox Game Pass subscription. It also means that a robust backlog of Bethesda games will likely hit Xbox Game Pass in the coming months.
Todd Howard also teased that Bethesda has made its "largest engine overhaul since Oblivion, with all new technologies powering our first new IP in 25 years, Starfield, as well as The Elder Scrolls VI."
The Inverse Analysis — The fact that games like The Elder Scrolls 6, Starfield, and whatever's next from studios like MachineGames and id Software might be Xbox exclusives is a gigantic loss for Sony and a major win for Microsoft. The most common criticism thrown at Xbox is that they don't have enough compelling franchises and exclusives to draw people to its platforms, but now it has the market cornered on AAA open-world RPGs.
While the fruits of this acquisition might take over a year to finally muster, it nets Xbox some highly anticipated major exclusives. Hopefully, Xbox won't be as secretive as Bethesda has historically been, and we'll learn more about these games as soon as possible once the $7.5 billion acquisition is complete.