Microsoft has recently been on a bit of a buying spree, like a stereotypical teenage girl at a shopping centre who buys every cute top they see on sale. Xbox Game Studios has increased their roster by adding smaller studios such as Compulsion Games (We Happy Few) and Obsidien Entertainment (The Outer Worlds). Presumably, this is to allow themselves to have much more exclusives for the launch of the new console generation.
However, their latest purchase is not a smaller studio, but rather the parent company for a number of big AAA studios. Microsoft’s purchase of Zenimax media was not a small move, costing them $7.5 Billion, almost double the amount that Disney paid for Lucasfilm, and means that Bethesda Softworks (Fallout/Elder Scrolls), Zenimax Online Studios (Elder Scrolls Online), Tango Gameworks (The Evil Within), Machine Games (Wolfenstein), Arkane Studios (Dishonored) and ID Software (Doom) are now a part of the Xbox Game Studio’s family.
This is a huge blow to Sony, as while Zenimax is liable to their agreements over Playstation exclusives such as Deathloop and Ghostwire: Tokyo, beyond these agreements anything goes. If Microsoft wants every new game published by Bethesda to be an xbox exclusive, then thats what it will be.
While this is obviously good for Microsoft, buying up big competitors is potentially harmful to the industry as a whole. Prior to Microsoft purchasing Zenimax, Sony purchased Insomniac Games for $229 Million to try and combat Microsoft’s buying up of smaller studios, and in a recent corporate report they expressed their interest in “invest[ing] in, or acquir[ing], firms with abundant creativity and cutting-edge technologies to build up Worldwide Studios, an association of first-party title production studios”. Now that Microsoft has bought Zenimax, will Sony go after Devolver, Konami or Take Two?
This trend will only end up hurting the consumer. With lots of exclusives on both consoles, consumers will be compelled to purchase both, effectively doubling the price they would have spent on one console.
However, there is a ray of hope for the industry’s future. The industry has also found itself on another trend of releasing its exclusives on other consoles. Microsoft’s exclusive Cuphead was re-released on the Nintendo Switch and Playstation 4, and Xbox’s own flagship franchise Halo has been made available on Steam, with the new Halo Infinite also coming to PC at launch. Sony has started to follow this trend too, with Horizon: Zero Dawn and Death Stranding both making their way to PC through Steam. It’s a generally known fact that consoles are sold either at a loss or very little profit, so perhaps we may start seeing more and more exclusive making their way to new platforms in the future.
It’s also important to talk about the potential of game streaming in the future. While it might still be a ways off being fully functional (especially with Australia’s notorious internet speeds), it’s entirely possible that the industry as a whole will move away from consoles and more to services such as Xbox Game Pass. This would drastically reduce the entry price to access exclusive games, after all, most people dont just settle for Netflix.
However, it’s entirely possible that this buying spree isn’t yet over, and with the release of the new generation of consoles around the corner, both Microsoft and Sony will likely be looking for that console selling exclusive.