Microsoft Bought ZeniMax to Stop Sony From Poaching ‘Starfield’ and Other Bethesda Games

The tech giant’s $7.5 billion acquisition was a preventative measure, Xbox chief Phil Spencer says

Starfield screenshot by Bethesda

Microsoft’s 2020 acquisition of ZeniMax was, at least in part, to stop Sony from paying the company to skip Xbox releases of its games, according to a statement by head of Xbox Phil Spencer during the FTC v. Microsoft hearing.

“When we acquired ZeniMax one of the impetus for that is that Sony had done a deal for ‘Deathloop’ and ‘Ghostwire’… to pay Bethesda to not ship those games on Xbox,” said Spencer. “So the discussion about ‘Starfield’ when we heard that ‘Starfield’ was potentially also going to end up skipping Xbox, we can’t be in a position as a third-place console where we fall further behind on our content ownership so we’ve had to secure content to remain viable in the business.”

For context, “Deathloop” and “Ghostwire: Tokyo” were both major game releases that skipped over Xbox at launch. In the case of “Deathloop,” the title was also a critical darling, garnering Sony exclusive prestige despite the game being a third-party release.

The difference with “Starfield” is that it’s a mega blockbuster — the kind of ultra-lucrative, supersized game that ZeniMax’s Bethesda Game Studios only releases once every few years. As such, while it may have stung Xbox to miss out on well-received titles like “Deathloop,” Xbox not receiving “Starfield” would’ve been a serious black eye for the platform.

Spencer went on to sidestep the question of whether “The Elder Scrolls VI” (another ZeniMax/Bethesda mega blockbuster game) will be Xbox exclusive, saying it’s hard to tell for “a game that’s five-plus years away.”

This all comes after the hearing revealed just how small Microsoft’s console market share stats are compared to Sony’s and Nintendo’s, with Xbox controlling only 16% of the pie. That puts it in third place behind its two console rivals but doesn’t account for Xbox’s overall brand presence on PC.