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Microsoft to acquire publisher of ‘Doom,’ ‘Elder Scrolls,’ ‘Fallout’ for $7.5 billion

(The Washington Post illustration)

In a stunning announcement Monday morning, Microsoft is paying $7.5 billion to buy ZeniMax Media, the parent company of game publishing giant Bethesda Softworks. Bethesda is the publisher of popular franchises such as Doom, Fallout and The Elder Scrolls.

The move comes just before Microsoft will introduce its next-generation console, the Series X, to the market Nov. 10. The acquisition gives Microsoft control of the aforementioned popular franchises, and bolster its offerings for its highly-touted game streaming service, Xbox Game Pass. In a news release, Microsoft signaled its intent to bring “Bethesda’s future games into Xbox Game Pass the same day they launch on Xbox or PC.”

Microsoft has positioned its strategy around serving consumers by attempting to reach them wherever they are, introducing Project xCloud, which allows users to stream their game library on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. It has also sought to give Microsoft users access to hundreds of games for a monthly subscription fee, via Game Pass, allowing users to sample games rather than shelling out $60. The acquisition of ZeniMax will bolster those offerings.

“Quality differentiated content is the engine behind the growth and value of Xbox Game Pass — from ‘Minecraft’ to ‘Flight Simulator,'" Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in the release. "As a proven game developer and publisher, Bethesda has seen success across every category of games, and together, we will further our ambition to empower the more than three billion gamers worldwide.”

The planned acquisition adds 2,300 employees to the Microsoft roster, stationed at a number of studios under the ZeniMax umbrella: Bethesda Softworks, Bethesda Game Studios, id Software, ZeniMax Online Studios, Arkane, MachineGames, Tango Gameworks, Alpha Dog and Roundhouse Studios.

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Bethesda game director Todd Howard alluded to how his studio would take advantage of the new technology offered by the Series X in a blog post Monday, noting it will aid their new franchise, “Starfield,” and “The Elder Scrolls VI.”

“Like our original partnership, this one is about more than one system or one screen,” Howard wrote. “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.”

While the news release notes the link between Bethesda and Game Pass, it stops short of saying whether Bethesda’s titles — particularly future games — will be offered to PlayStation users. For example, Arkane Studios’ “Deathloop” and Tango Gameworks’ “Ghostwire: Tokyo,” two games published by Bethesda, are primed as timed exclusives for PS5. The Washington Post has reached out to Microsoft and Bethesda for clarification.

In the competition between the two popular gaming consoles, Sony has always had a stable of strong exclusive game titles, such as “The Last of Us,” “God of War” and “Marvel’s Spider-Man.” The acquisition, which is subject to regulatory approval and is expected to be completed in the second half of 2021, figures to deliver Microsoft some similarly heavy-hitting franchises.

Bethesda’s structure and leadership will remain in place, according to the news release. This is a developing story and will be updated.

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