Microsoft buying up ZeniMax Media — the parent company of US-based Bethesda Softworks — for $7.5 billion, was one of 2021’s major events in the gaming industry. Until now, the acquisition has been seen as Microsoft’s efforts to wrest control from Sony over the number of first-party game studios and dominate the market. While that was the major goal overall, we now know the real reason why the Bethesda acquisition became a top priority for the software giant, thanks to Xbox chief Phil Spencer.
As per a report by The Verge, the Xbox boss, at the FTC vs Microsoft hearing, revealed one of the major reasons the Redmond-based tech giant left no stone unturned to add Bethesda Softworks to its kitty. That one huge reason is Starfield, the hugely-anticipated Bethesda game that’s being seen as the next equivalent to The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
What Makes Bethesda Lucrative for Microsoft
Bethesda Softworks is known for expansive open-world games, the likes of which people can get so immersed that they do not wish to come out of the game. Yep, franchises like The Elder Scrolls and Fallout come from Bethesda’s camp. And they feature vast worlds where you can roam around for hours. While such a deep immersion into the game world is both a good and a bad thing, the appeal of such games has not waned over the years. This means people will look forward to more open-world adventures, with plenty of mysteries to unravel and items to acquire.
Then there are franchises like Wolfenstein, Dishonored, Doom, and Quake, first-person action games that have also been successful. These are big titles we are talking about, and they draw a lot of the gaming crowd. So, in short, Bethesda is a studio of importance. No wonder Microsoft shelled out $7.5 billion for it.
With the Bethesda acquisition, the tally of Microsoft’s first-party games studios for Xbox became 23, as opposed to Sony PlayStation’s 19. Still, Xbox has a long way to go.
What Xbox Chief Phil Spencer Said
According to the Xbox chief, Sony had entered into a deal with Bethesda to make Deathloop and Ghostwire Tokyo PlayStation-exclusive titles. Starfield was also “potentially going to end up skipping Xbox”, the report quotes Spencer.
This would have been too much for Microsoft because it is not PlayStation that keeps losing out to Xbox in terms of the number of sales, but vice-versa. The PS4 sold twice as many Xbox One units, Microsoft itself had admitted in a court document presented to Brazil’s Administrative Council for Economic Defense (CADE). The company submitted the document in August 2022, when it was being investigated by the Government of Brazil over the Activision-Blizzard buyout.
“So the discussion about Starfield when we heard that Starfield was potentially also going to end up skipping Xbox, we can’t be in a position as a third-place console where we fall further behind on our content ownership. So we’ve had to secure content to remain viable in the business.”, Spencer reportedly adds.
History: The PS4 Outsold Xbox One
If we go by an old report by Ampere Analysis, Microsoft sold about 51 million Xbox One units by the end of Q2 2020. The tech giant itself admitted to selling about 58.5 million units, which comes close to what’s claimed in the report. If we shift our focus to the rival camp, Sony’s final sales figures for PS4 amount to 117.2 million. Sony clearly won in the number-of-units-sold game.
And though the next-gen consoles of Xbox Series X|S have entered the fray, old PS4 loyalists are not going to be so easily swayed. It would be easier for them to switch to the PS5. Hence, in its efforts to supplant Sony from the throne and to capture more gaming turf, Microsoft took the path of a quick buyout of Bethesda. Microsoft is also bullish on acquiring Activision Blizzard, with the proposed deal going to cost the American tech giant $68.7 billion. This ‘game of thrones’ is on.
Why Starfield is So Important for Microsoft
In all likelihood, Starfield is going to be the next Skyrim, at least for now. This means that it has the power to entrance adventure game enthusiasts for a very long time, making them forget about the other games out there. Remember that open-world adventure games form a big chunk of the worldwide player base and rarely go out of style. A few smash-hit examples include GTA V, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Minecraft, Read Dead Redemption 2, Ghost of Tsushima, Elden Ring, etc.
Another factor that could work in Starfield’s favor is that The Elder Scrolls VI is still a few years away, at least a couple of years, by our estimation. So, there will be very few games to compete with the scale and depth of Starfield. After all, you are going to get to explore a thousand planets in Starfield, and we haven’t even started extrapolating on the other features of the game! Starfield is looking to be an open-world game lover’s dream come true.
Moreover, it isn’t that far away; it has got a confirmed launch date of September 6, 2023. Those who opted for the Deluxe Edition can start playing from September 1 in early access. The launch is roughly two months away. And considering Microsoft has got the game safely under its grasp (the whole studio, in fact), it remains to be seen whether Starfield performs as per expectations.
Utkarsh has been in the ‘serious’ business of gaming for a long time and especially loves FPS and tactical shooters, co-op adventures, story-rich RPGs and RTS titles. Armed with a degree in engineering, he is passionate about writing, music,… read more