Microsoft has revealed it isn’t necessarily done acquiring new developers, although it won’t make any such announcements during TGS, shutting down rumors of a Sega purchase. Read on for a look at what the Bethesda acquisition could mean, and make sure to also check out our take on why buying Bethesda isn’t about exclusives.
The week is off to a busy start with the massive news that Microsoft has purchased ZeniMax Media and, by extension, Bethesda Softworks and its many game studios. That puts franchises like Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Doom, and others under the Xbox Game Studios umbrella, calling into question what exclusivity might look like for these big-name franchises as we enter the new generation. In the more immediate future, it also raises the issue of what happens with a pair of Bethesda-published games that were previously set to debut exclusively on PC and PS5: Deathloop and Ghostwire: Tokyo.
The official statements from Xbox, Microsoft, and Bethesda unfortunately don’t offer many answers at this point. One aspect of the $7.5 billion deal that has been confirmed is that future games from Bethesda will launch on Xbox Game Pass on the day of their release, whether that’s on Xbox or PC. Starfield is one such game explicitly confirmed to be hitting Game Pass on day one, and it seems safe to assume the same will be true for other, unannounced projects, like the inevitable Fallout 5 (and the Fallout: New Vegas 2 dream project that some are now clamoring for).
But those games are still far away. More pressing is what happens to Deathloop and Ghostwire: Tokyo, two games set for 2021 releases (following Deathloop’s recent delay) on PS5, but not Xbox Series X and Series S. Speaking with Bloomberg, Xbox boss Phil Spencer indicated the exclusivity arrangement for these two games will be honored, although specific details weren’t shared, including the prospect of them eventually making it to Xbox. More importantly, Spencer added that, when it comes to future Bethesda-published games, which would presumably include The Elder Scrolls VI and Starfield, “We’ll take other consoles on a case-by-case basis.”
We’ve reached out to both Microsoft and Bethesda for further details and will report back with anything we learn. But the fact that no news was shared about them as part of the announcement suggests that either nothing has changed or that nothing is going to be shared about the current exclusivity arrangement just yet, because the acquisition hasn’t yet closed. (The Elder Scrolls Online is one game that will continue to be supported on current platforms, including PS4.)
It’s All About Game Pass
It’s not inconceivable that future Bethesda games will continue to release on PlayStation or Nintendo consoles. While not a perfect point of comparison, Microsoft still supports Minecraft on third-party platforms despite having bought Mojang (and Minecraft Dungeons released on Switch). Maybe Bethesda games will release first on Xbox systems before later releasing on PS5–we saw this with The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, even when Bethesda was privately owned. Upcoming games slated for PS4 or PS5 will surely still do so: Psychonauts 2 was announced for PS4 before Microsoft bought Double Fine, and it’s still coming there. Alternatively, it’s possible that Microsoft will release future, unannounced games as they normally would be but emphasize that subscribing to Xbox Game Pass gets you access for free, so why spend more money to get it on PS5?
Xbox Game Pass is, without a doubt, a huge component for why this deal happened. Whatever exclusivity there may or may not be for Bethesda’s games, bolstering the Game Pass library with everything in Bethesda’s publishing library makes what was already an incredible service even stronger. And with next-gen games increasingly looking as if a $70 price tag could become the norm, being able to get a new Elder Scrolls or Fallout or Dishonored or whatever else as part of a subscription fee looks a lot better. That’s especially true knowing this is not some limited-time arrangement, where you’d only have access to these games for X number of months after their release. They’re coming to Game Pass, and they’re staying there, just like Halo, Gears, Forza, and so on.
It’s incredible to think that Microsoft and Bethesda were able to pull off such an enormous deal without it leaking. Aside from allowing them to shock everyone on a Monday morning, it’s also allowed Microsoft to maximize the impact of it: The news was announced one day before Xbox Series X and S preorders went on sale. That’s not a coincidence. The system sold out incredibly quickly when it became available for purchase on September 22. This included the digital-only Xbox Series S, which is likely to have a huge attachment rate with an Xbox Game Pass subscription.
Whether it’s true or not, there are people who are now going to assume Starfield, Elder Scrolls VI, and so on will be Xbox console exclusives. I’m personally skeptical of this; these are expensive games to build, and Microsoft might see enough long-term value in bolstering Game Pass and possibly making these games timed exclusives on Xbox. But leading into the next-gen console launches, it might push some people to choose an Xbox Series X or S over a PS5 and help to build some momentum.
We’ve seen momentum prove to be huge in the last two generations: The strong starts for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 4 helped to power those consoles and create a snowball effect during their respective generations. If your friend buys a particular console, that might push you to buy that console too. And buying an Xbox makes you that much more likely to subscribe to Game Pass, which is what Microsoft cares about most. Even if you don’t buy an Xbox, there’s still a new market of potential Game Pass subscribers on PC and mobile. Whatever the ultimate reality of the arrangement proves to be, it helps Xbox on all fronts.
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