What makes games company Bethesda 6.2 billion worth?


Last week it may have seemed a curious piece of news: Microsoft is going to buy software publisher ZeniMax Media for a whopping $ 7.5 billion (6.2 billion euros), as long as the authorities approve it. For the gaming world, the purchase was an earthquake that still dominated media and industry days later. Microsoft, which is buying up Bethesda Softworks’ parent company? Where is this going?

Bethesda: For gamers, it is one of the most famous game companies on the planet. The American company from the city of Bethesda, Maryland, has been a publisher and maker for 34 years, managing six of its own game studios, including the historic id Software (Doom, Quake, in Wolfenstein) and baroque sneak game creator Arkane Studios (Dishonored, Prey).

The takeover is a special demonstration of power. In the gaming industry, there is a sharp line between the ‘AAA’ blockbuster studios and the rest of all game companies. “AAA” means that a company has the hundreds of millions in cash that are needed today for a game at the very highest level, the superhero movies of the game industry.

Supreme gods and lesser gods

There is also a line within that group. The supreme gods are the platform holders: Nintendo (Switch), Sony (PlayStation) and Microsoft (Xbox, Windows). They determine the direction of the industry with hardware and door policy. Below that are lesser gods: the major publishers with multiple studios that deliver blockbuster games every year.

Bethesda is such a lesser god. Smaller than Sony or Microsoft, but too influential to be swallowed up like smaller studios in the war for the best game makers. Everyone thought. However, Microsoft rightly identified Bethesda as a weak link in the AAA world, due to its relatively low value. The next weak link, Ubisoft, is currently worth $ 8.9 billion; similar Electronic Arts has a market capitalization of 31 billion euros.

Microsoft and Bethesda already had good relationships, so the move “seemed logical,” Microsoft boasted. It is clear that the company mainly wants to boost its own subscription service GamePass: without big games, you cannot create Netflix pre-games. With the promise of free access to Bethesda games, Microsoft can bring in millions of new subscribers in one fell swoop.

Wolfenstein in Doom are two of the most recognizable game series for outsiders – that’s a nice bait. Bethesda gave them a new look: Wolfenstein became satire on Nazism and fascism, Doom a nostalgic adrenaline trip.

Yet it is not these to outsiders famous names that Microsoft is all about. From Doom (2016) an estimated 3.6 million copies flew over the counter in the first year – respectable, but nothing compared to the first 24 hours of Fallout 4 (12 million copies) or the first week of The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim (7 million). These series are the heart of the modern gamer.


In 1994 was Elder Scrolls: Arena a cult hit. The format of freely explorable worlds full of secrets, with characters that you have defined yourself, quickly caught on. Morrowind (2002) pushed the series into the mainstream. But no one foresaw the impact of Skyrim (2011), with its enormous Scandinavian playground and bombastic music that is as recognizable to modern gamers as the Mario tune. Bethesda’s policy of releasing the game on every possible platform earned the company 30 million copies sold within five years – and several jokes.

Fallout is unique, instantly recognizable to gamers. What if The Jetsons’ 50s future became real – and then nuclear war broke out? How is humanity recovering from the remnants of unhinged capitalism?

Bethesda bought the rights around 2004. The approach was ambitious. True Fallout had always consisted of dingy images, shown from above, it now had to be a three-dimensional playground à la Elder Scrolls turn into. The player no longer dangled above the action, but was in the middle of it.

Fallout 3, the first part under Bethesda, was a resounding success, just like New Vegas. But with online title Fallout 76 (2018), the company lost sight of the lone explorer fantasy the fans wanted.

Now lies the fate of Fallout in Elder Scrolls owned by Microsoft. The game industry is watching with compassion. Is this the start of deep consolidation, in which the lesser gods will disappear? The beginning of a new era of fantastic Bethesda games? Or both?

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