Regulators from both the European Commission and US Securities Exchange Commission approved Microsoft’s $7.5 billion acquisition of Bethesda Software’s parent company, Zenimax Media, on March 8. The massive deal netted Microsoft a slew of popular video game franchises such as Doom, The Elder Scrolls, and Fallout to fold into the Xbox ecosystem. With the paperwork out of the way, Microsoft has laid the groundwork for Xbox Game Pass to dominate this generation of consoles – and future ones.
Xbox Game Pass is essentially Netflix for video games, allowing subscribers to access, download, and play a large variety of games from across generations. The service has received special attention from Microsoft, with new games seemingly added all the time – from juggernauts like the EA Play library to breakout indie titles such as Among Us and Undertale. This push has seen success, with Game Pass attracting over 18 million subscribers to date.
But the service has still been lacking in one main area: Xbox exclusives. This is a sore spot for Microsoft, having cancelled multiple exclusive titles that were in development during the Xbox One generation like the ill-fated Scalebound. Some well known exclusives, like Halo: The Master Chief Collection, have made their way onto the service but don’t have the shiny allure of new titles. Game Pass has added some exclusive games, like The Medium, the same day they released. But these sorts of titles lack the star power that established franchises inherently bring to the table.
The Bethesda acquisition solves both of these problems for Microsoft, giving them a host of new, recognizable titles to launch on Game Pass. Before the acquisition was finalized, Xbox executive vice president Phil Spencer had said that upcoming Bethesda games would launch on the subscription service the same day they were released. Now, Spencer is a little more confident in his wording.
“With the addition of the Bethesda creative teams, gamers should know that Xbox consoles, PC, and Game Pass will be the best place to experience new Bethesda games, including some new titles in the future that will be exclusive to Xbox and PC players,” Spencer wrote in a blog post.
Instead of paying in full for a new title like The Elder Scrolls VI, players can spend a fraction of that price and get the same game plus hundreds of others. It’s also a ticket to every unannounced Bethesda title that’s bound to be in the works. Fallout 5 is rumored to be in development, and while nothing is certain, it’s bound to land on Game Pass. A trademark application for a “Fallout New Orleans” was once submitted to the European Union Intellectual Property Office, but has since been taken down. A Louisiana themed Fallout 5 may very well be around the corner, and available day one for Game Pass subscribers.
The acquisition may also breathe new life into other, less pronounced Bethesda franchises, meaning a Dishonored 3 or even a Prey 2 could be possible. With Microsoft’s backing of other studios like inXile entertainment, any and all of Bethesda’s series are fair game. It’s a deal that seems too good to be true, and that’s just what Microsoft wants.
When Microsoft launched the Xbox Series X and S last November, one of the ways they allowed players to purchase the new consoles was through a payment plan. Called Xbox All Access, this bundled either of the new consoles with two years of Game Pass for a monthly fee that wasn’t too far off the normal subscription cost. Here, Microsoft showed that it was thinking about the players who are more cost-conscious, and would be reluctant to buy a new game let alone a new console. With the price of AAA video games also pushing towards $70 this generation, this shift in focus is perfectly timed.
Netflix pioneered the streaming landscape with a service populated with content from outside sources, then began releasing its own TV shows and movies to keep their customers around month after month. With Zenimax, Microsoft has increased its first-party studio count to a whopping 23, giving them the potential to have a seemingly constant schedule of new releases – all available on Game Pass.
Microsoft’s acquisition of Bethesda shows that they’re not only thinking about how they want this generation of consoles to look, but how they want the future of gaming to look. Their main competitor, Sony, has adopted the same strategy as their last console with their new PlayStation 5: a steady stream of exclusives over time. But if Microsoft is able to compete with Sony on exclusives while also being more affordable, this traditional approach may no longer be enough. Game Pass is the deal that keeps on getting better, and if Microsoft makes more show-stopping moves like their Bethesda acquisition, it won’t be long before Game Pass is the deal in gaming.
Nicolas Perez is a journalist who has played way too much Civilization 5. He’s rambling on Twitter @Nic_Perez_.