With every acquisition comes more exclusives…
Xbox has notoriously acquired multiple studios over the last few years in a frighteningly aggressive fashion. They have bought up developers like Obsidian Entertainment, Ninja Theory, Playground Games, Double Fine, and Bethesda.
Their acquisition of Bethesda in March of this year was one of their most notable acquisitions. It came as part of their $7.5 billion purchase of Bethesda’s parent company, ZeniMax Media.
ZeniMax owns multiple developers, including id Software (developer of the Doom, Quake and Rage series), Arkane Studios (developer of Dishonored and Prey), MachineGames (developer of the Wolfenstein series), Tango Gameworks (developer of The Evil Within), ZeniMax Online Studios (developer of The Elder Scrolls Online), and publisher Bethesda Softworks with its critically acclaimed Bethesda Game Studios (developer of The Elder Scrolls and Fallout series).
Image credit: Xbox Game Studios
As a result of these purchases, Xbox can now dictate whether new titles produced by these studios are exclusive to their console; unless there is any prior agreement with Sony or Nintendo. For example, the recently acquired Obsidian Entertainment’s Outer Worlds 2 (revealed at E3, 2021) will be an Xbox (and PC) exclusive, despite its predecessor being available on PlayStation.This makes their acquisition of Bethesda even more significant due to the widespread popularity of Bethesda games. We are now seeing big upcoming Bethesda titles such as Starfield (also revealed at E3, 2021) being released as Xbox (and PC) exclusives and, dare I say it, the much-desired Elder Scrolls 6 could also follow suit.
Of course, it is unlikely that this will be the case for every title from one of their owned studios due to the missed revenue opportunities from selling games on PlayStation and vice versa with PlayStation acquisitions/exclusives. However, in terms of Bethesda titles, why wouldn’t Microsoft make Bethesda games Xbox exclusive? You wouldn’t spend $7.5 billion on one of the world’s top game studios and not utilise it in bolstering your competitive advantage wherever possible. These games are enormous customer draws, and sadly, for such games, this means a lot of console exclusivity.
In a recent interview with IGN, Xbox boss Phil Spencer discusses some of the controversies regarding acquisitions and ultimately, details why he believes it to be a “natural and healthy” part of the industry:
“Sometimes I see dialogue out in the industry about, ‘Well, are acquisitions a good thing or a bad thing?'” Spencer says. “I saw Sony just announced a couple acquisitions and saying congrats to those teams on that,” he adds, referring to the news of Returnal developer Housemarque joining PlayStation Studios.
He goes on to say, “I understand some of the sentiment from the community when acquisitions happen, but one thing I’ll put out there is that starting a new studio – starting any small business, frankly – is a very risky proposition. Starting a video game studio even more so. And if a team actually takes the risk of starting a new company, starting a studio, building that over the years, building value in that, to say that they shouldn’t sell, I think, is just short-sighted.”
He quickly adds, “it doesn’t mean every team has to end up selling their studio” but described the “cycle” of new studios growing to the point that they can find success, whether through an acquisition or independence, as a “natural and healthy part of our industry.”
He is seemingly viewing acquisitions solely from an economic perspective. Whether they are good news or not depends on what lens you look through. The truth is that with every acquisition comes the increased probability of more exclusives and whether exclusives are, in fact, “healthy” is up for debate. They are healthy for the industry from a business/economic viewpoint in that they drive up competition, which is good for the market. However, from this perspective, too many acquisitions from one company could damage the industry in the long run. Similarly, from an economic perspective, you could argue the exclusive-fueled intensified competition benefits the customer, as competition translates to increased quality, quantity and better prices.
A simple gaming fan’s viewpoint is dependent on the acquiring company and the console you have previously sided with. As Spencer mentioned, Sony themselves have also made their own acquisitions (although not on the same scale as Xbox and none of the magnitude of Bethesda). They have their own blockbuster exclusives maintaining their prestigious platform. Whether you miss out on certain games is dependent on the acquiring company and your console.
In this particular case, PlayStation or Switch owning Bethesda fans are in an undesirable position. Xbox now holds the keys to some of the most influential titles ever through acquiring Bethesda, and it is hard to see why Xbox wouldn’t make these titles exclusive. This seems even more probable when you consider that Xbox has lacked attractive exclusives compared to PlayStation in recent years. Spencer’s response that it is “healthy and natural” does little to nothing in easing the concerns of non-Xbox gaming fans. Bethesda games, which often represent true gaming craftmanship, should be experienced by all. What it comes down to is excluding people from experiencing historical games. Ultimately, therefore, I believe acquisitions of this magnitude, yes, could be healthy from an economic perspective, which is what I believe Spencer was referring to. However, from the point of view of a fan, who simply wants to experience all titles like these, it is the complete opposite.
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