The absolute state of Bethesda

Image Credit: Laoise Tarrant

Keogh discusses what the Microsoft buyout means for the future of fan favourites like Fallout and Skyrim

On the 21st of September 2020, in a shocking move, Microsoft acquired Zenimax media, the parent company of the better-known publisher Bethesda Softworks. The buyout cost Microsoft a hefty 7.5 billion USD. Bethesda has produced some of the best games in the last twenty years, but with each new release comes a series of bugs, glitches and overall unfinished games. Regardless of this, titles like Fallout, The Elder Scrolls series, Doom, and Wolfenstein have become fan favourites over the years. There have been exceptions to the rule however, such as the garbage-fire that was Fallout 76.

Cofounder of Bethesda, John McCarmack, says that he might be able to re-engage with old games now that Microsoft has acquired the parent company, also stating that they have been very good to intellectual property that they’ve acquired in the past. For executives in both Bethesda and Zenimax, the deal was amazing, as they will be keeping their jobs, but whether the lower ranks of the developers will be reshuffled has yet to be seen. 

So how will the surprising buyout impact the future if these games? As of now, it’s unlikely that already announced titles will be an Xbox exclusive. However it is a possibility that Microsoft would do this in an effort to get customers to purchase an Xbox to play their new additions to their ever-expanding library of games, which seem to be mostly comprised of games with a niche following. The smarter choice for Microsoft, and the most likely choice for them, is that the newer games will be available on both PS5 and Xbox series X and S. What will get consumers to invest in a next gen Xbox is adding all the previous instalments and the newer games to Xbox Game Pass. The more attractive 14.99 dollar a month for Xbox Games Pass Ultimate would mean that players can play their games on phone, pc and Xbox, and includes Gold Membership. 

Consumers will almost definitely prefer to pay the fee for the streaming subscription over buying a whole other console just to play a few select titles, and for the included price, you can play Xbox games completely without a console. Not to focus too much on the Xbox side of things, but Microsoft’s profit margin will be benefited by adding more games to its game pass, rather than by selling consoles.

The more important aspect of the buyout is will these games survive under the new ownership of Microsoft? Or will they fall victim to the same issues that plagued Minecraft once Microsoft gained control? Well, the games released by Bethesda have oftentimes been released unfinished. Riddled with bugs and glitches, Fallout, for example, utilised very clever ways to make the game work, as do many other games. The metro train in Fallout 3 was actually a man, wearing the train like a hat, running along the tracks. It’s not strange to see game developers use smart tactics like this to cut production corners. 

For this, past examples of buyouts and games made by Microsoft need to be examined. The biggest example that everyone would know is the acquisition of Mojang on November 6th, 2014. Fans were divided on the decision, as the future for the game wasn’t certain. Rumours of the game being a PC and Xbox exclusive ran rampant. Microsoft knew this wasn’t the direction they wanted the game to go, and making it exclusive would mean millions playing on PS3 and PS4 would no longer be able to purchase skins and maps in game currency. If anything, the acquisition has improved Minecraft. Although it was roughly the same developing team that stayed on, functionality and cross play improved a lot. PS4 doesn’t play as well with Minecraft, since it doesn’t support realms and updates arrive slower, but for the most part, Minecraft has become so much of a better game since the acquisition. There was a brief period for the Switch version of the game where the online was inaccessible due to the high volume of users having to register their accounts with Microsoft, but here’s hoping they’ve learned from this blunder.

Bethesda’s games don’t always play-nice with consoles. Thousands of users complained that some of the Fallout games were unplayable, with game-breaking glitches riddled throughout. Bugs and glitches are ever present in all of Bethesda games; the Elder Scrolls and Fallout are the most well-known games to suffer from Bethesda’s laziness. Bethesda rarely jumps to fixing their games, with many gamers saying the only thing that could get them to play any Bethesda game was the modding community, as they were players who modded their way into making such titles playable. Bethesda still uses a twenty-one-year game engine on Fallout 76. The studio did nothing for a long while and refused refunds for people who bought the game, despite Bethesda advertising the game in a false manner. Gamers ended up with a pay-to-win game rather than what they had promised fans of the series. The effort that the studio does (or doesn’t) put into their games speaks volumes, and the takeover by Microsoft hopefully means that there will be a quicker response to issues players have with games. After all, Microsoft has a reputation to uphold here. 

The more classic Halo and Gears of War games are regarded as masterpieces in their own right, and while they have received negative reception at the time, like Halo 2, they’re now regarded as the best games in the series. No game studio has a clean record in terms of a game’s reception. This goes for double if their fanbase is comprised of gamers who grew up on their games, and play for pure nostalgia, but Bethesda’s is awful, with all evidence pointing to negligence in development. It’s hard to predict the future of a company, but hopefully Microsoft will be able to salvage Bethesda’s planned releases and will do the games justice in the future.