Microsoft this morning announced plans to acquire ZeniMax Media Inc. for $7.5 billion in cash. The gaming holding company is the parent to a number of high-profile publishers, including Bethesda Game Studios, id Software, ZeniMax Online Studios, Arkane, MachineGames, Tango Gameworks, Alpha Dog and Roundhouse Studios.
Once approved, the deal would bring some of the industry’s highest-profile titles under the Microsoft banner, including Elder Scrolls, Doom, Fallout, Quake, Wolfenstein, Dishonored, Prey and Starfield.
“All of their great work will of course continue and grow and we look forward to empowering them with the resources and support of Microsoft to scale their creative visions to more players in new ways for you,” Xbox head Phil Spencer said in a blog post announcing the news.
Bethesda SVP Pete Hines addressed the acquisition on the publisher’s own blog, writing, “The world, our industry, and our company has changed a lot in the 34 years since Bethesda Softworks was first founded. Today, it changed again. And I know that brings up questions. But the key point is we’re still Bethesda. We’re still working on the same games we were yesterday, made by the same studios we’ve worked with for years, and those games will be published by us.”
With both a new a Xbox and PlayStation due in the coming months, the closing of such a deal could put Microsoft in a key position in terms of title exclusivity. The parties have yet to discuss how such a move will ultimately impact how big franchises like Elder Scrolls and Doom will be approached on competing systems.
In his own post, Bethesda Executive Producer Todd Howard suggests that such a deal will actually increase the publisher's ability to make titles more accessible. "Like our original partnership, this one is about more than one system or one screen. 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."
The move will expand Microsoft’s portfolio from 15 to 23 studio teams. It will also bring Bethesda’s titles to Xbox Game Pass — that’s a big win for the cloud gaming service that is currently being positioned as a major piece of Microsoft’s gaming future. Bethesda titles like the upcoming Starfield will be available as part of Game Pass on day of launch. Microsoft also noted this morning that the service has hit 15 million subscribers -- that's up from the 10 million it reported back in April.
In 2014, ZeniMax sued Facebook, following id Software co-founder John Carmack’s move to Oculus. The suit sought $4 billion in damages, alleging stolen trade secrets. A court found in ZeniMax’s favor over copyright infringement and breach of contract, but not trade secrets. The parties settled out of court.