Regulators need to approve the sale still
Ever since the morning where Microsoft dropped a bigger bombshell than the nukes in Fallout‘s lore, everyone has made a singular sweeping statement: Xbox acquired Bethesda.
That’s not technically true yet. Microsoft and ZeniMax have completed negotiations and agreed upon terms. However, a sale isn’t finalized until regulatory agencies that oversee mergers and acquisitions (likely the Securities and Exchanges Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, and/or the Department of Justice) approve the deal.
In a recent interview with GameReactor, Xbox head Phil Spencer explains that he cannot yet start to direct Bethesda from a creative or business standpoint. Doing so would be illegal. “We haven’t acquired ZeniMax,” Spencer says. “We have announced our intention to acquire ZeniMax. It is going through regulatory approval and we don’t see any issues there. We expect early in 2021 the deal will close.”
He continues “I want people to know, I’m not sitting down with Todd Howard and Robert Altman and planning their future. Because I’m currently not allowed to do that, that would be illegal… But I get a lot of questions right now: ‘is this game exclusive? Is this game exclusive?’ And right now, that is not my job in regards to ZeniMax. My job is not to sit down and go through their portfolio and dictate what happens.”
This is the exact arc Double Fine went through following the announced Microsoft acquisition at E3 2019. A few months later, we interviewed Double Fine founder Tim Schafer and he likened the process to the studio being in escrow. “The deal was agreed upon but there’s this due diligence period. It’s like we’re in escrow,” Schafer explained. “It’s gonna be finalized later [in September 2019] and then we’ll find out what it’s really like. Right now, there’s still a lot of business stuff to do to wrap it up. To officially stitch the companies together.”
Soon enough Phil Spencer will be able to mandate that Elder Scrolls VII take place on the moon or that Arkane open five more studios because it’s such a good developer. Or that Fallout 76 be officially renamed Fallout: This One Didn’t Count. But until the deal actually closes, he’d be breaking the law if he started influencing Bethesda’s direction.