This unites a significant number of video game titles under the Microsoft banner. The Zenimax/Bethesda portfolio includes franchises such as The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Doom, Quake, Wolfenstein, Dishonored, Prey and The Evil Within, as well as a slate of new titles being released over the next few years which may or may not launch larger franchises: Starfield, Deathloop and Ghostwire: Tokyo.
Microsoft declared its intent to buy Bethesda in September, but the deal had to wait until regulatory approval had been given by the relevant authorities in both the United States and Europe before it could proceed.
The deal is worth $7.5 billion and is the second-largest video game acquisition in history (behind only Tencent's acquisition of Finnish mobile developer Supercell in 2016, for $8.6 billion). The deal expands Microsoft's portfolio of video game development studios to 23, representing a formidable concentration of creative firepower.
Microsoft's existing studios include 343 Industries (who handle the Halo franchise), the Coalition (Gears of War), Double Fine Productions, inXile Entertainment (Wasteland), Mojang Studios (Minecraft), Obsidian Entertainment (The Outer Worlds, Grounded, Avowed), Rare (Sea of Thieves), Playground Games (Fable), Turn 10 (Forza Motorsport), Undead Labs (State of Decay) and World's Edge (Age of Empires).
According to Microsoft, the acquisition is primarily designed to enhance and increase the appeal of their X-Box Game Pass service, a subscription service that gives gamers access to a large library of games for a nominal fee every month (essentially a Netflix for video games) via PC and X-Box consoles. This has left some Bethesda fans who game primarily on Sony's PlayStation platform concerned that future Bethesda games will not launch on their console. Microsoft have confirmed that Bethesda games they were exclusively contracted to Sony on console will still launch on that machine, including Deathloop and Ghostwire: Tokyo, but the fate of other Bethesda games will be decided on a game-by-game basis. In particular, PlayStation gamers fear that future games in the mega-popular Elder Scrolls and Fallout series will be X-Box-exclusive.
The first test of Microsoft's plans may appear sooner rather than later. According to rumour, Bethesda are planning to launch their new IP, Starfield, either this year or next, likely to be confirmed at the virtual E3 convention this year (or - hopefully - an in-person convention next year). Whether that game - an open-world RPG like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Fallout 4 - will launch on PlayStation or not may represent a statement of intent over Microsoft's plans moving forwards. Previously Microsoft's highest-profile IP was Halo, but The Elder Scrolls and Fallout are even larger franchises and making them exclusive to the X-Box and PC platforms would give them formidable added value.