Microsoft has officially completed its $7.5 billion acquisition of Bethesda's parent company ZeniMax Media, bringing its total first-party studio count to 23.
The deal now means Microsoft owns not only Bethesda Softworks, but DOOM developer id Software, Prey's Arkane Studios, Machine Games and a few other studios.
But Microsoft is promising business as usual in the near future, and is even committing to honour existing timed-exclusivity deals for games on PlayStation consoles.
This isn't totally surprising, as Head of Xbox Phil Spencer told Kotaku last year that he fully intended to keep making games available to gamers regardless of what console they were playing on.
"We want more people to be able to play games, not fewer people to be able to go play games," Spencer told the publication in an interview. Spencer continued to say that future games would be determined in a case-by-case basis and this week's announcement that the deal was finalized clarified that a bit more.
As part of that announcement, it was revealed that "some new titles in the future" would be exclusive to Xbox and PC. Whether that's Starfield, the upcoming Indiana Jones game or something entirely new and unannounced is not totally certain.
But this isn't surprising, because it's clear that Microsoft is aiming for something beyond exclusivity with this acquisition.
Phil Spencer has made it clear in the past that Microsoft isn't completely interested in console exclusives, but it's more interested in how first-party games can enhance its Xbox services—more specifically how studios like Bethesda can enhance Xbox Game Pass.
Microsoft expands gaming as a service
When I think about subscribing to a service like Netflix, Amazon Prime or Disney+, I'm not really making a decision completely based on the type of entertainment I'm trying to consume.
I know each platform is going to offer movies and television shows. I know the stream quality is going to be the same regardless of where I'm watching—all services have 4K content and support some variation of high-quality audio—and I know I'll be able to watch on all of my connected devices.
I make my decision based on the library of content available, and you probably make your decision the same way, too.
That library of content is what Microsoft is aiming for when it makes a big purchase like its acquisition of ZeniMax—Microsoft wants people to sign up for Xbox Game Pass.
We've talked about Xbox Game Pass before, and it has improved significantly adding a few dozen AAA games in the past few months. For those that need a reminder, Xbox Game Pass is Microsoft's premium gaming service. For $11.99 a month, Xbox Game Pass unlocks access to 100+ games, including Microsoft's first-party games.
It's an incredible deal. I've been subscribing since it was first offered and I've never regretted it because not only is it an easy way to access my favourite games, but it's also an opportunity to play games I might have normally missed.
And having studios like Bethesda or id Software developing games for Xbox Game Pass is a huge deal for Microsoft. It gives them the same kind of industry hype that Disney gets every time it releases some new Marvel or Star Wars content on Disney+.
We're being trained as consumers to expect a nearly unlimited amount of high-quality entertainment for $10 or $15 a month, and Microsoft is one of the only companies that is able to actually successfully expand this to gaming content.
The best deal in gaming
That's why Microsoft's ownership of Bethesda is such a big deal for Xbox gamers, and why I think that Phil Spencer is likely telling the truth when he says it won't disrupt how people can play The Elder Scrolls in the future.
Microsoft's continued support of Minecraft on competitor platforms hasn't hurt its ability to sell Xbox consoles, nor has the release of games developed by Obsidian Entertainment on the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch.
I don't think it's likely that we'll see a huge number of exclusive Bethesda or id Software games on Xbox in the future. There might be some timed exclusives or exclusive deals, but having ZeniMax on Xbox Game Pass might be enough to make the $7.5 billion investment worthwhile.
The promise doesn't need to be exclusive content because there's a huge value in telling consumers that if they join the Xbox family, they'll never have to shell out another $80 for a Bethesda game again.
And by joining that family, they might find some new games to play they might have otherwise missed.