After 3 years of 'hands-off' management, Microsoft is making Bethesda and ZeniMax report directly to an Xbox bigwig

Redfall key art
(Image credit: Bethesda Softworks)

Just a couple of weeks after finishing its acquisition of Activision Blizzard, Microsoft is making some changes to its Xbox studio structure. In an internal memo acquired by The Verge, Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer said Xbox Game Studios head Matt Booty is being promoted to president of game content and studios, a role that will put him in charge of ZeniMax and its subsidiary studios, including Bethesda Softworks.

"ZeniMax will continue to operate as a limited integration entity led by Jamie Leder, President and CEO, reporting to Matt," Spencer wrote. "All ZeniMax development studios and ZeniMax Central Services teams will continue reporting to Jamie to maintain and optimize current content development and production cycles. Also, to deepen our partnership and accelerate mutual learning, a number of ZeniMax leaders will now report to those Microsoft leaders with whom their work most closely aligns."

Spencer didn't mention it by name, but there's a feeling that this reorganization is at least in part aimed at helping avoid another Redfall situation. The multiplayer FPS developed by Arkane was one of the biggest bombs of 2023—less than six months after launch, only 30 people are playing it on Steam right now—and it came to light not long after it launched that Arkane was equally unenthusiastic about it. A Bloomberg report revealed that employees at Arkane Austin hoped the Microsoft acquisition would result in either a reboot of the project, or an outright cancellation. Neither happened: Instead, Microsoft allowed ZeniMax to go about its business, which resulted in a mass exodus of veteran employees from the studio and, well, Redfall.

It's clear that those days of cowboying around are over. "Great games are fundamental to everything we do," Spencer wrote. "We believe that an expanded gaming content organization—one that enables Xbox Game Studios and ZeniMax’s development studios to collaborate effectively together—will empower those world-class studios to do their best work in growing our portfolio of games players love."

I'm not a big fan of too much direction from the top, but in this case it might be the right move. It's not as though Microsoft is immune to stumbles (just look at Halo: Infinite) but 2023 has not been a good year for Bethesda. Redfall is the obvious blot on the ledger but even Starfield didn't live up to pre-release hype: It's a perfectly fine Bethesda open-world RPG (and, to be clear, we liked it) and by all reports a big sales hit. But it was also routine, and didn't deliver the expansive sci-fi epic we were looking forward to.

The restructuring comes just over a week after the retirement of Pete Hines, formerly Bethesda's head of publishing and its most public face—basically the Bethesda version of Larry Hryb. Among various other promotions, Spencer also announced that Sarah Bond, previously Microsoft's Xbox corporate vice president, is being promoted to president of Xbox, which will include Devices, Player & Creator Experiences, Platform Engineering, Strategy, Business Planning, Data and Analytics. and Business Development.

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.