As is becoming regular occurrence this year, a huge bit of gaming news was announced out of the blue on 21st September, in the form of Microsoft planning to acquire ZeniMax Media Inc. for the price of $7.5 billion (wowzas); for those unaware, ZeniMax owns the renowned games publisher Bethesda Softworks, who are behind such iconic game series as The Elder Scrolls and Fallout. Whilst we are currently unaware of the full extent of how this might play out – it is feasible that now future Bethesda games could be Microsoft-exclusive – it is clearly a statement of intent, especially with pre-orders for Series X/S going up just one day after this news, on the 22nd September. Could this sway people away from PlayStation 5?
Now, regular Let’s Chat co-writer Ashley Harrison is busy and going to be away for the short-term, so we have multiple new voices this time around to discuss this news: friends and fellow gamers Jordan Senior, Jed Harling, and Toby Court. Read on…
William Robinson: There’s been sudden gaming news during 2020, but still, I wasn’t expecting this from Microsoft and Bethesda! Before we get more into the details of this revelation, it might be a suitable idea for each of you to concisely introduce yourselves. Let us know where you currently do most of your gaming, and your favourite game series!
Jed Harling: Thanks for asking for my input Will. I’ve basically been on the PlayStation train since I was a youngun, but I’ve dabbled on the Wii and the Switch, and recently made the big jump to getting a PC. Though, I would still describe myself as a console gamer through and through! I really couldn’t say what my absolute favourite game series was; that’s such a tough question! But let’s just say that if you wanted to avoid a deep-dive into Metal Gear Solid lore, you shouldn’t invite me to your party.
Toby Court: Hey! I am primarily an Xbox gamer but am finding myself playing more and more on the Switch. I think we can all agree (pre-COVID-19) that adult life can make it difficult to park yourself before a console for any lengthy amount of time! My favourite game series has to be The Legend of Zelda. Few games have impacted me as those have; I still vividly remember the first time that I plucked the Master Sword from its plinth in Ocarina of Time. Nothing gets the blood pumping like picking up a magic blue sword that turns you into an adult! That, and the fear that my parents could return home from the pub quiz at any moment and send me to bed.
Jordan Senior: Gaming has been a huge part of my childhood, and has taken me through to the present. Growing up, my earliest experiences have been playing my Dad’s original PlayStation, and spending countless hours of classics like Tekken and Crash Bandicoot, so Sony’s been in my blood since I was a kid. Between my Dad, brother, and I, we’ve owned every PlayStation console – although I did rebel and get an Xbox 360. So, PlayStation has been the only console I’ve considered for the most part; however, last year I bought a Switch as there’s too many games I want to play, Breath of the Wild being one on it that I love. For me it’s all about the games, so hardware doesn’t bother me as much as other gamers. Sony and Nintendo always knock it out of the park in terms of first party games. Instead of series, my favourite game of all time is a toss up between The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion or Hitman: Blood Money!
WR: Awesome, great to get that intro from all of you, thanks for that! Now the formalities are done, it’s time to get into the Bethesda news proper. Firstly, were you at all predicting this happen? Microsoft has been purchasing many studios over recent years, but Bethesda is quite the acquisition.
JH: There’s no doubt that Xbox’s acquisition of Zenimax and Bethesda is a seismic move, but I can’t say that it was wholly surprising? If we park the discussion about teraflops and tech-specs regarding next generation hardware, I think there is a huge elephant in the room for Xbox. What games has it got? Purchasing studios is a response to that.
JS: With Microsoft buying Bethesda, this is a great move for them and will give them a slight edge on Sony. It’s hard to predict what exactly they will do from here on out, but I have a few theories: firstly, that The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, and Starfield will not be exclusive to Xbox and PC, but they will perform better on Xbox consoles than PlayStation consoles. Even if PS5 sales of the games are high, Microsoft will benefit greatly as they now own Bethesda. This can also put Bethesda Game Studios themselves in a better direction; they have been on a slippery slope, especially with Fallout 76 not doing as well as expected. Secondly and alternatively, I can see new Bethesda-published games being exclusive, as it will make Microsoft a formidable foe in years to come. So, games like Dishonored, Wolfenstein and Doom will become exclusive.
TC: I think, oddly enough, this news comes as both surprising and unsurprising. Had this not happened during the current height of the console war (and a day before Xbox pre-orders are made available), I don’t think this would have been as groundbreaking. I say it’s no surprise because I feel that Bethesda has always favoured Xbox over PlayStation. My one and only argument for that is how the DLC for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was released earlier on Xbox than it was PlayStation. Though, when you think about it, that doesn’t make much of an impact. Maybe I’m biased! Regardless, I go back to my initial point; as exciting as it is because of the console war hype, I don’t think we’re going to see the ramifications anytime soon. PlayStation will draw first blood and win on initial sales; they have such a brilliant library of exclusives. That being said, there is a new The Elder Scrolls on the horizon, and everyone is asking the same question: will it be an Xbox exclusive? Answer: probably not. That would be a serious hemorrhage of money, but it does leave that tiny nibbling thought in the back of your mind of what DOES this mean? I think the likelihood is that Xbox will get certain priorities and benefits. Anything from earlier releases maybe even to minor exclusive games (Fallout: New Vegas remaster anyone?). Yet, hey, nothing stays exclusive forever (we’re looking at you Cuphead) – none of it is off the table.
WR: As we have been referencing, announcing this after a very strong PlayStation 5 showing recently, and a day before Series X/S pre-orders, has to be a statement of intent right? For me, it doesn’t actually sway me that much, because I am – relative to you three – not that much of a Bethesda fan; my plan remains to get a PlayStation 5 first, as that is where most of my friends play, and it has exclusives such as Horizon Forbidden West that are system sellers in my eyes. However, with all of the pro-consumer moves and the exclusives on the way for Series X/S, I am confident that I am going to invest into that ecosystem again – I mean, Everwild, The Gunk, Fable… The future is exciting! My question is, then, whether this Bethesda news is going to alter your purchasing plans?
JS: As mentioned before, it’s all about the games. As I’m becoming time poor and not having lots of disposable income, I feel like I need to be more selective over my choices. While this news will change a lot of things, I’m still sticking to the PS5! Spider-Man, Horizon, Ratchet & Clank, as well as God of War are games I would love to play, so there is more incentive there. Getting both consoles would be quite difficult for me, but I could work around this by getting the cheaper Xbox Series S. I might strategise and get the PS5 as my main console for exclusives and third-party games, and then the cheaper Xbox purely for the first-party games. The hardware is great on both sides, so either is a worthy purchase; it is mainly considering what is a priority. Whilst exclusives are a driving force, there are also other factors such as technical performance and quality of life aspects to consider. If, for example, The Elder Scrolls VI is a better experience on the Xbox, then it is clearly going to be better to get it on that platform and vice versa.
TC: I am nothing if not a Bethesda fan. I’ve poured hours of my life away to The Elder Scrolls and Fallout, and I plan to again in the future. In the unlikely event that Bethesda comes out and says that all future games would be Xbox exclusives, I would go Xbox without hesitating. I don’t plan on getting either console on day one, I need time to make my decision, and will probably get one a year or so down the line. Aside from seeing how each console performs and continues to perform after its release, it will give me opportunity to see how this new partnership will pay off.
JH: Likewise with Toby, my time in Oblivion and Fallout 3 have no doubt crafted me into the washed-up freak I am today. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’m sure Xbox PR has been loving the industry-shake-up juice this announcement provides; I think this merger doesn’t technically finalise until the end of next year, though such a big move will have been planned and talked about behind closed doors for a while. Perhaps even why Xbox might have been pulling their punches a little recently, knowing their “one more thing” this year was actually one of the largest acquisitions gaming has ever seen? If things are kept multi-platform, and Microsoft try and hit me with the marketing line that “Bethesda games play best on Xbox”, the simple truth is that they won’t. The Elder Scrolls & Fallout are PC games through and through – they simply can’t try that route. So, we’re in danger of them starting to get into the realms of imposed differences instead. If an Xbox is able to get a better technical performance out of the games than a PS5, by all means, go for it and market that. I don’t think that’s enough to make me change systems. If all future Bethesda titles do turn console exclusive on Xbox, in a sense I’m entirely immune to that being damaging to me through having access to a PC. However, that would be such a heart-breaking blow to all PlayStation owners everywhere. It would also be monumentally contradictory to all the Xbox press releases and philosophies stating that bridging players wherever and however they play is now a high priority. Side note: notice how that ideology has only really come to the forefront since they were trailing behind this generation – I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
WR: I do reckon that Microsoft will try and keep that pro-consumer feeling going; it would indeed go against recent messaging to suddenly take Bethesda games away from PlayStation owners. I see more of a Minecraft situation here, where they make lots of money from it across platforms, but it doesn’t necessarily become a lead exclusive in the way Halo is. This news takes on different meaning depending on whether you play on PC or not, as for those such as Jed who have that option, they know that version is there. But for those who are focused on console, there is more uncertainty of whether future Bethesda releases are going to be on the machine they own or not. There are potential downsides, but I imagine Microsoft is going to play this very carefully. Let us go glass-half-full for a bit; in your ideal situation, where does this go? For example, could Microsoft actually help Bethesda with some of the issues they have had in recent years with glitches and problematic releases? Are we suddenly going to see other first-party Microsoft studios working on Bethesda intellectual properties – such as, y’know, having Obsidian Entertainment return to Fallout?
TC: If all this meant was Obsidian returning to Fallout, it would be a worthy partnership in my eyes! Last year The Outer Worlds showed us just exactly what Fallout 4 was missing, and reminded us what it was about New Vegas (which Obsidian developed) that we fell in love with. If we could marry those two together again in the future I would die a happy man. Microsoft bought Obsidian back in 2018 and with the likes of New Vegas being a Bethesda IP, a sequel wasn’t possible. With Microsoft now owning both parties, they’d be fools not to develop a sequel to one of the highest rated games not just in the Fallout franchise but in the genre. Overall, I’m optimistic. I think this will help Bethesda make cleaner, tighter games. But hey, let’s face it, barring the game-breaking/crashing kind, silly glitches are what gives these games character.
JS: Going forward, I would like to see Microsoft help Bethesda fix their ongoing issues and make sure that their games are of a really high quality. Prior to this deal, Bethesda were their own company and relied too much on the name of their IPs. In 2020, that is not enough, and they have to make sure that their games are fluid, seamless, and most importantly playable at launch or soon after. With Microsoft there, they will be a fresh pair of eyes, and also new ideas can be implemented as they’re not relying on the same talent as before – a shake up will be a good thing. Not saying that they should ditch their core gameplay values, but instead evolve and adapt the brand and games for this new generation. What excites me about, say, Starfield, is that it is a new IP and doesn’t have the same expectation and recognition as Fallout and The Elder Scrolls. They have a chance to be really experimental and implement mechanics that will feel distinct yet familiar. I want to feel like I’m playing a Bethesda game with Starfield, but don’t want it to just be Fallout in space. They can do something very special with this, and hopefully this will inject new life into Bethesda and make them a more trustworthy company again.
JH: If you’re thinking that the acquisition will mean the end of Bethesda glitches, I think you’re in for a bad time. It really depends on how much control (or meddling) Xbox is going to have. The fear is that they own it, so they can do what they want; they have all the control. Hypothetically, if Microsoft decides they want Bethesda to work on Kinect 2, then they will work on Kinect 2. Don’t assume that just because they’re big companies with similar values that everything with be fine. Look at Bungie/Activision: after their split, Bungie came out of the basement and spoke about how Activision was bullying them into business models they didn’t approve of, but were powerless to do anything. That’s all worst case scenario though, and I don’t see that happening. I’m getting hopeful! If we can get Obsidian to work on Fallout again, I think that’s really exciting. Not sure how Todd will feel about letting someone else show him up on stage with a better game (again), but I don’t see Bethesda coming out with anything more Fallout related for a very long time, bar those updates for Fallout 76. So, maybe they can bounce development off someone else in the interim. Going by Obsidian’s Twitter (see this post), I think there’s hope for this going forward. But again, this is going to be a long way down the line, with Avowed taking their attention. I’ve got to be honest, I struggled to get into The Outer Worlds on first try, but I’m excited to give it another go.
TC: I will say in rebuttal that the Kinect is dead, Xbox Series X/S offers no support for the camera or the games that required one, so fear of a Bethesda Kinect 2 Electric Boogaloo is RIDICULOUS Jed, what were you thinking?!
JH: Hypothetically, if Microsoft decides… That’s all worst case scenario though. I don’t see that happening.
WR: Yeah, with Avowed their focus, if we do see Obsidian on Fallout it may not be for years, but the possibility is there to keep us excited! Though, don’t give them ideas with Kinect and such, see what happened with Rare when they became owned by Microsoft… On the other hand, Rare is recovering now with their gameplay-focused creations of Sea of Thieves and the upcoming Everwild, showing that perhaps Microsoft has learned a lesson there. This also adds even more value to Game Pass going forward, as if the Day One availability on Game Pass for first-party games continues, this means games such as Starfield are going to be there immediately to play through that service. If Game Pass is the area Microsoft is pushing, the whole console-exclusivity idea may not be their priority. Even considering that I lean towards physical copies of games, it is evident how amazing Game Pass is.
JH: There’s no doubt about Game Pass’ value for money. It’s a great offering, and I’m able to play some past Xbox offerings right now on the computer.
TC: I think both Xbox Game Pass and the new features of PlayStation Plus have a lot to offer both consoles. I was having this conversation with Jed the other day; I’m slightly underwhelmed with Game Pass, but that would only be because I’m used to and aware of the games in the Xbox library – even when the games on there are impressive. When I look at the PlayStation Plus library, it looks amazing because I’ve never had access to these games, having never owned a PlayStation past the PS2. So there will no doubt be people like me on both sides that will be impressed by the other consoles’ games, and that’s nothing but a good thing.
JS: In the future, I can see streaming services such as Game Pass and PlayStation Plus Collection (a library of PS4 games available to play for Plus subscribers) be at the forefront in years to come. As concepts, I really like them, but I haven’t yet utilised the services to their full potential. What makes it enticing is the fact that you can play a bunch of games for a certain amount a month rather than individually buying games – prices will have to accommodate this though. Everything is becoming more streamlined and adopting a one size fits method, which I think is great. It won’t be a complete overhaul instantly, but I can see it becoming more commonplace than not. In all honesty, I’ve never explored Game Pass, but if I get an Xbox, I might dabble. I’m quite slow to new tech surprisingly (I still use wired headphones) but if the streaming approach is explored more, then the convenience plus quality will equal a rich and easy gaming experience!
WR: I’m right there with you Jordan on the wired headphones, aha! Your comments on how it isn’t an instant change, but is certainly going in that service direction, are apt; you can see how the industry is gradually going that way, similar to how streaming services are emerging as progressively prominent for TV and films. You could say that Microsoft are a key part of pushing that and making the rest of the industry go with them; without Game Pass, would a PlayStation Plus Collection have happened? I am not so sure, it seems a response to Game Pass – which is great for gamers as there are options on either side. Healthy competing! As mentioned previously, if Microsoft keeps adding well-known names to connect to Game Pass – be it Halo or now Bethesda – then that push is going to get stronger and stronger. We have covered quite a lot here, so I may close us out now. Has been fun getting new voices in here! Any closing comments from each of you before we go?
JS: To close off, I think it’s a great time to be a gamer in 2020, despite challenging times. New gamers will not have an alienating time getting into the medium, as it seems more accessible now then ever before. I can’t wait for the next generation of console gaming and to see its development in the future!
TC: It’s true everything seems to be going to a premium streaming service nowadays, all you see online and on TV are adverts for some new collective service. And in respect to gaming, a solely digital console being pushed more as a viable option could see the death of physical games at some point in the near future. Thank you for having me Will! Been interesting hearing everyone’s points, and I think overall the prospect of Bethesda and Microsoft’s partnership should be exciting no matter which console you play on.
JH: Yeah, just as a closing comment, it is strange to see that Will seems to be swayed so much by the prospect of Game Pass, given your dedication to physical media. I’m looking forward to being able to play more and more games that have not been accessible to me in the future, but I am aware that all of these digital libraries are, at best, temporary. I guess we just can not afford to be complacent.
WR: It is an internal debate for me; I have such a connection to collecting physical games, but I can see how much value Microsoft are putting into Game Pass – including now acquiring Bethesda – and trying to recognise it, even if I am not sure whether or not to dive in. What it may do is, similar to how you say, get me to try games that otherwise I may not have because they are there and so efficiently accessible, in which case the Series S could be a fun machine for experimenting with that library. The physical side is my priority, so my head and heart are clashing slightly here. So, I am gonna go and see if I can make a decision, aha! Thanks for joining me everyone; until next time!
These guest editions of Let’s Chat may become more frequent, especially in the immediate future with Ashley busy. He will be back, though! You can click here for previous entries in the Let’s Chat series.