Microsoft Buys Bethesda, the World
File this under Holy Shit, Batman:
Today is a special day, as we welcome some of the most accomplished studios in the games industry to Xbox. We are thrilled to announce Microsoft has entered into an agreement to acquire ZeniMax Media, parent company of Bethesda Softworks.
As one of the largest, most critically acclaimed, privately held game developers and publishers in the world, Bethesda is an incredibly talented group of 2,300 people worldwide who make up some of the most accomplished creative studios in our industry across Bethesda Softworks, Bethesda Game Studios, id Software, ZeniMax Online Studios, Arkane, MachineGames, Tango Gameworks, Alpha Dog, and Roundhouse Studios. These are the teams responsible for franchises like The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Wolfenstein, DOOM, Dishonored, Prey, Quake, Starfield and many more.https://news.xbox.com/en-us/2020/09/21/welcoming-bethesda-to-the-xbox-family/?ocid=Parterships_soc_omc_xbo_fb_Video_buy_9.21.1
As it says, Microsoft is buying ZeniMax and all its subsidiaries, of which Bethesda is a part. Among other things, this means that Starfield, Elder Scrolls 6, Fallout 5, etc, will be coming to Game Pass on Day 1. That link also indicates the deal was for $7.5 billion. Which is like… 3.5 Minecrafts.
Another amusing detail is that Bethesda and Obsidian are going to be under the same roof again. Perhaps there could be another New Vegas-esque collaboration? Obsidian are good storytellers when they don’t have to build worlds from scratch. When they do, we get garbage like Outer Worlds.
What else could this mean? Well… since Microsoft is going all-in with the Game Pass, there’s a remote chance that Bethesda-specific subscriptions get rolled into Game Pass itself. For example, Fallout 76 has the Fallout 1st subscription and then there’s Elder Scrolls Online’s sub. Like I mentioned yesterday, Game Pass doesn’t include everything, like DLCs and such. That said, EA Play’s subscription is getting rolled into Game Pass for no extra charge. So who knows?
Overall, I am extremely excited. I feel the same way currently as I did way back in the day, when the first few Steam sales started. I hated that Valve was forcing me to download Steam just to play Half-Life 2 and otherwise jump through a lot of hoops. Then once the sales started, it all clicked that this was the future. Well, the future is happening again. And now instead a future heralding the sale of horse armor, we get a timeline where you can play AAA games on Day 1 for
I Bought the Thing
An hour or so after yesterday’s post, I went ahead and bought State of Decay 2. Life is short, I have the money, let’s do the thing.
Just as a warning though, Microsoft doesn’t make it easy.
State of Decay 2 is not on Steam. Further, there is no express PC copy. The game is apparently part of Microsoft’s “Play Anywhere” initiative, which means you end up having to buy the Xbox One copy, which can also be played on Windows 10 machines. I purchased on Amazon because of my 5% cash back card, but I suppose you could do so from the Microsoft store a bit more directly.
The problems were just beginning though. One of the first things I had to do was associate my PC with a Microsoft account. My copy of Windows 10 is legit, but I never bothered to register it or anything, so now apparently I had to reconfigure how I sign into my own damn computer just to get access to the storefront. Once that was done, I took my digital code, followed the links, and redeemed the code in the Microsoft store. But… where was my download button? Where was My Games? Every link I followed just took me around in circles.
In case you follow my lead, hopefully this link works:
That will hopefully take you directly to the game’s page. Be aware that you’ll probably still need to add your PC as a Device on Microsoft’s servers or whatever, but you should be able to eventually download it from there.
I cannot comment much on the gameplay thus far, beyond confirming that it’s definitely scratching the itch. I’m not a fan of the game giving me a mission to kill a Plague Heart, pointing me to an NPC that gives me explosives for free, and then surprising me with the fact that the very items it told me to use were not enough to actually kill said Plague Heart, but whatever. I’m looting things, building a base, and killing some zombies. That’s exactly what I wanted to do in this moment.
Games as Services
If you have forgotten, Scrolls is that one card game from Mojang that no one ever played. And after July 2016, no one else ever will.
I actually had a Beta review up of Scrolls nearly two years ago, and that more or less marked the last time I spent any serious amount of time with it. I did pick it up again for a hot minute last year (I think), but the structural problems I already talked about were still present, so I stopped again. Probably because of Hearthstone. But, the CCG genre is not a genre one can go in half-assed anyway- it is strictly full-ass or bust.
While Scrolls getting an expiration date is not even remotely similar of an impact as an MMO shutting down, it is example #1765783 of the dangers of Games as Services. This is a game that I paid $20 for (two years ago, admittedly) that I will not be allowed to play in another year. Do you know what I played last month? Vampire: the Masquerade – Bloodlines, an RPG that came out in 2004. And while it certainly costs money to keep an MMO server running each month, Scrolls had a perfectly fine single-player experience against the AI. Hell, I’m not even sure what the cost of running Scrolls matchmaking software would even be. Surely not that much?
Alas, it is not meant to be. While we can question whether it was Microsoft swinging the ax or normal market forces, the fact remains that the ax was always there. A veritable Sword of Damocles hanging over every game-turned-service, not threatening mere removal, but extinction. Will there even be a museum where these games could be played in the future? Or will these orphaned blog posts be all that exists, a Google search result that becomes less relevant with each passing year?
Nothing is permanent. But clearly some things are more impermanent than others.
The final tally for Microsoft’s purchase of Minecraft is $2.5 billion. Markus Persson’s (aka Notch) personal take is reported to be $1.8 billion.
What is almost more interesting though is his thought process behind selling at all:
[…] I’ve become a symbol. I don’t want to be a symbol, responsible for something huge that I don’t understand, that I don’t want to work on, that keeps coming back to me. I’m not an entrepreneur. I’m not a CEO. I’m a nerdy computer programmer who likes to have opinions on Twitter.
As soon as this deal is finalized, I will leave Mojang and go back to doing Ludum Dares and small web experiments. If I ever accidentally make something that seems to gain traction, I’ll probably abandon it immediately.
It is almost funny, in a way. Can you separate the making of games from the business of making games? One can imagine some hobbyist painter who inadvertently crafts a masterpiece… that simply stays in the attic for decades. Or a writer who simply creates a book for themselves. The process is what they desired, not the outcome.
But games? Like information, games yearn to be free. A game without players is incomplete. So while I can understand the sentiment behind Notch’s desire, it seems somewhat futile. Being a game designer does not make one a good entrepreneur, true, but once released a game takes on a life of its own.
I will admit that my first reaction was to be a little petulant over Notch’s payout, because $1.8 billion. But looking at Minecraft itself and how it got there… who can really complain? This isn’t a game that preys on the weaknesses of the human psyche with microtransactions and cash shops (in the base game). This isn’t a game built around its business model. This is Old School purity in which a game relied on its own merits to sell more units. Sure, there is merch and movie deals these days but the core of the game remains the same.
So… good on you, Notch. This sale puts you around #1013 on Forbes’ billionaire list. Or to put it another way, Minecraft single-handedly made you equivalent to 2-3 JK Rowlings. Or about a Gabe Newell and a half.
Microsoft Likely Buying Minecraft for $2 Billion
That is $2,000,000,000.00 USD, for the record.
“The two companies quickly agreed on a framework and approximate price and have been working out the details since”, the Bloomberg report states. “Persson will help out with the transition, though he is unlikely to remain beyond that”.
The Kotaku article comments spend a lot of time questioning the wisdom of the move on Microsoft’s behalf, and I am inclined to agree. Hasn’t Minecraft reached the saturation point yet? Well, at $100 million in profit last year, maybe not. Still, it was originally hard for me to see the endgame here for Microsoft. In-game DLC? Pixelated horse armor? Banner ads on the title screen?
It is apparently much simpler than that: Microsoft is buying customers.
But Mr. Nadella has said that Microsoft views videogames as a way to expand the company’s footholds in PCs and mobile phones. In a letter to employees in July, Mr. Nadella called gaming the “single biggest digital life category, measured in both time and money spent, in a mobile-first world.”
[…] “Minecraft” could also help Microsoft appeal to a new generation of customers, especially on smartphones where Microsoft has struggled with both its homegrown Windows Phone devices and with apps on rival phone systems.
While there are other articles out there stating that Notch would never sell, the information we seem to have now is that, despite Notch having turned down similar offers in the past, it appears he is willing to sell this time around. Good for him. If you are wondering at what price point I would sell out to The Man, $2 billion is plenty. Hell, I’d settle for $2 million.
Especially if it meant I could just go do something else immediately. Or stop before I turned into another M. Night Shamamalamalan.
Xbox One Eighty
I take no credit for either the title nor the picture:
If you had not already felt the Earth’s sudden wobble from the magnitude of Microsoft’s about-face, allow me the pleasure of informing you: the Xbox One no longer has its ridiculous DRM. Namely:
- No internet connection is required to play games.
- No 24-hour online check-in.
- You can buy/sell/gift/rent/lend game discs just like on the 360.
- You can purchase digital versions of games on Day 1 and play offline (once downloaded).
One of the “casualties” of this Lance Armstrong-level backpedaling is that you can’t have that whole “10-person family sharing” plan or the ability to “take your games anywhere by logging in.” Often lost amongst the Apologist tears though was the simple fact that logging on from a friend’s Xbox One basically meant you would have had to wait for a 10+ GB download before playing anyway. And what were the odds that more than one member of the family could play the same game at the same time? In other words, you are not any worse off than the present system of just taking the disc with you.
Plus, you know, used games.
On a semi-related bit of interesting news, apparently Valve snuck some interesting code into the Steam software: shared libraries, e.g. lending digital games. Obviously nothing is formally implemented yet, but the premise seems to be that once you lend a game to a friend, they can play it until you log on to play it yourself (which then bumps them off). Which is… pretty remarkably clever if you think about it. Valve could just as easily went the other way, where you couldn’t play until your friend “gave it back,” which would probably discourage people from using the feature at all. Assuming there is no transaction fee or anything, I would feel comfortable giving one or two of my Steam buddies access to everything.
Regardless of which way the shared library plays out – if it plays out at all – today was a huge win for consumers everywhere. I am not quite ready to declare victory yet, but the future sure is looking considerably brighter than it was, oh, two weeks ago, eh?
Beach and the PS4
So, I have been and will continue to be on vacation at the beach with family until the end of the week. The internet service down here is absolutely abysmal – we’re talking 5 Mbps shared across 40 rooms – which is why I have not been on top of the comments and general news. I suppose that might sound bad, caring about frivolous internet things while at the beach. But honestly, if I knew it was going to be vacation back to 1994, I might have passed. Also, the ocean seems saltier this year and there was a fly in my soup.
That said, how ’bout that PS4 news?
If you have not been keeping abreast of the latest developments, Sony basically “won” the show. You can read Liore’s coverage of the event or even similar things in this CNN article. Bottom line?
- No new restrictions on used game sales.
- No internet connection required.
- $399 vs Xbox One’s $499
It wasn’t all good news – a Playstation Plus membership is required for all multiplayer, just like Xbox Live today – but it was a fantastic PR coup for Sony to have been quiet all this time before launching into these consumer-friendly revelations.
A couple Apologists skeptics from around the web have tried to paint Sony with the Xbox One brush over the used games quote though:
“The DRM decision is going to have to be in the hands of the third parties. That’s not something that we’re going to dictate or mandate or control or implement.”
“Aha!” the Apologists cried. “Same thing as Xbox!”
Not really. In fact, not at all. The key point here is that Sony’s strategy is unchanged from the current generation. Remember Online Passes? Those were 3rd party attempts at mitigating secondary game sales, all of which happened in this generation. If EA suddenly changes their mind vis-a-vis reintroducing Online Passes, Sony isn’t going to stop them, but at least it isn’t turned on by default as it is in the Xbox One scenario. As Destructoid put it:
The major difference between PS4 and Xbox One, of course, is that Sony hasn’t made it easier for corporations to control the behavior of their customers, because the PS4 doesn’t tie your copies to your accounts, or initiate checks to scrub traded game data off your system. Basically, Microsoft designed the Xbox One to make it as easy as flipping a switch to eradicate any possibility of sharing your games, while Sony is maintaining its policy of this current generation.
Or you can go with the Game Front article for even further clarification:
“The Online Pass program for PlayStation first-party games will not continue on PlayStation 4. Similar to PS3, we will not dictate the online used game strategy (the ability to play used games online) of its publishing partners. As announced last night, PS4 will not have any gating restrictions for used disc-based games. When a gamer buys a PS4 disc they have right to use that copy of the game, so they can trade-in the game at retail, sell it to another person, lend it to a friend, or keep it forever.”
This is good news for gamers, indeed. In a nutshell, you can buy a used single-player game for the PS4 and play it all you want. If you want to go online with it, you may have to deal with some sort of publisher-determined DRM, be it an Online Pass or whatever.
Not that I’m going to buy one anytime soon – I just bought a PS3 last Christmas. But it’s nice to know that whenever I do hop aboard the next console generation, I will have the opportunity to catch up on all the games I’ve missed by hitting up Amazon or some local place and not be paying full MSRP out the ass for 2+ year old games.
MFST and ATVI Sitting in a Tree
Posted by Azuriel
… M E R G I N G.
Sorta. More like Activision Blizzard being bought by Microsoft for about $70 billion. You already knew that though, because your news feed was probably about as filled as mine was yesterday. And now I’m adding this one to the pile. At least I went with a different title, eh?
There are really just two thoughts I wanted to examine, and leave everyone else with the more mundane (IMO) details.
First, this does interesting things for Game Pass. From the Microsoft article:
Will we really see the next Call of Duty come out as a Day 1 Game Pass release? The franchise has been a cash cow forever, and almost never sees a discount of any appreciable amount. It’s a given that Overwatch will be on there. Probably Diablo 2 Resurrected, along with all the StarCrafts.
But… what about WoW?
My guess is that WoW will remain off of the Game Pass, assuming the merger occurs. It’s cute to imagine the possibilities of a Game Pass subscription taking the place of a WoW subscription, but The Elder Scrolls Online is not currently on the PC version of the Game Pass, and maintains its separate subscription option even for consoles (according to this). Then you would have issues with what happens with WoW Tokens and game time. EA Play is currently included as a free bonus in Game Pass, but that is more of a general subscription service and not something for a specific game.
The second thought came from Tobold’s take on the news:
As pointed out by others, Blizzard is really the third wheel to the cash motorcycle that is Activision and King. Blizzard ain’t nothing, but they clearly weren’t the draw here.
It does raise an interesting point about studios and rockstar talent though. Is the current state of Blizzard, and WoW specifically, due to the immense brain drain of talent over the past few years? Greg Street in 2013, Chris Metzen in 2016, Mike Morhaime in 2019, Michael Chu in 2020, Jeff Kaplan in 2021, and
Alex Afrasiabi. The last one was a bit of a joke… but do we actually know what he contributed (beyond sexual harassment)? We would hope nothing, but there are certainly plenty of examples of famous artists with fantastic output that we then pretend is meaningless after finding out how awful they are IRL. Mel Gibson, Keven Spacey, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Louis CK, and so on.
Don’t be too smug – Joss Whedon is next, by the way.
Comment bait aside, it’s an open question as to whether WoW can, literally, ever be as good as it was (to us) again. Was it only ever good because of these specific frat boys in this specific Cosby room? Shadowlands represent a new low from a narrative standpoint, and Blizzard’s “reinvent the wheel every patch” systems floundering looks especially amateurish as the flagship burns. Many games are a product of their time, groundbreaking because they broke ground first. So there’s a time, a place, and then there’s specific people too. Can it actually ever be recreated with competent, nameless devs?
I suppose the existence of WoW Classic is a testament to the bones remaining solid, for at least X amount of people. And the present state of FF14 proves that MMOs can still thrive and grow its playerbase years later. But can the latter’s success be attributed to the committee of devs that surely exists, or to specific rockstars like Yoshi-P, aka Naoki Yoshida? Would a hypothetical acquisition of FF14 be moot if it did not include him?
I don’t know. A lot of this may be Survivorship Bias – these individual devs are famous because their games were successful and they made themselves the face of it. Who is the face of Hades? Or Doom? Or GTA5? But perhaps in the final tally, having the right person in the right place at the right time does make all the difference.
And then you get bought by Microsoft for $70 billion.
Posted in Commentary
Tags: Activision Blizzard, Buyout, Developers, Microsoft, Xbox Game Pass