Microsoft Finally Confirms That Bethesda Will Make Exclusive Games For Xbox And PC But Many Questions Remain
Microsoft finally makes it official: some of Bethesda's future games will be exclusive to Xbox and PC.
The big news in gaming this week was that Microsoft's blockbuster $7.5 billion deal to buy ZeniMax has gone through, following approval from regulators in the US and Europe. Included in Microsoft's announcement were some high-level details on what the acquisition means for the future of Bethesda games, and one part of this was that some titles will be exclusive to Xbox and PC. [Update: Microsoft has officially announced a roundtable video with Bethesda to discuss the deal and more. As rumored, the event is held today, March 11, starting at 10 AM PT]
Xbox boss Phil Spencer stressed that Microsoft is working ahead with an eye toward Xbox, PC, and Game Pass being the "best place" to play Bethesda's new games. That Microsoft would give preferential treatment to its own platforms is no surprise. But Spencer's next line is perhaps more telling. His statement also confirmed that "some new titles in the future" from Bethesda will be exclusive to Xbox and PC.
One of the biggest unanswered and ongoing questions about Microsoft's acquisition of ZeniMax was what it would mean for Bethesda's future games. Games that already had deals in place before the acquisition, like Deathloop, won't change course--that game will still launch as a timed-exclusive on PlayStation. But for future games, like The Elder Scrolls VI, Starfield, and others, questions remain about their release strategy.
Spencer's statement didn't include any details on the specific games that may be exclusive to Xbox and PC in the future. He also didn't say if "exclusive" means timed-exclusive or full-exclusive. But whatever the case, Microsoft didn't make the second-biggest acquisition in video game history to completely play nice with Sony and its other competitors.
While Spencer often talks about the futility of the idea of a console war, make no mistake: he wants Xbox to outperform PlayStation and Nintendo, and buying ZeniMax is a path toward doing that. With the buyout, Microsoft takes hold of major franchises like The Elder Scrolls and Fallout, along with eight game developers, and thousands of employees. The monumental nature of this day in gaming history is difficult to overstate--this is a huge deal with ramifications that will shake the industry overall for years to come.
Releasing some future Bethesda games as exclusives on Xbox and PC is a further step toward convincing the masses to choose Xbox over PlayStation. It's not a personal attack against PlayStation or Nintendo--it's business. But until Microsoft or Bethesda shares specifics about their future plans, we can only guess and speculate as to what future Bethesda games may be exclusive to Xbox and PC.
One strategy that many have brought up is that Microsoft could release games like The Elder Scrolls VI and Starfield on PlayStation and present consumers with an option: pay full price for those games on PlayStation or get them for no extra charge on Xbox/PC with Game Pass. Price is a highly motivating factor.
That leads to the next major point--Game Pass. Microsoft has been loud and clear that the company is all-in on building Game Pass to become a core pillar of its strategy going forward. Bringing Bethesda's games into the fold goes a long way toward achieving that ambition. Bethesda develops some of the most highly sought-after titles in the business--Skyrim prints money, after all--and bringing all of those games to Game Pass for no extra charge further enhances the value and appeal of Game Pass.
Personally speaking, I would be shocked if The Elder Scrolls VI and Starfield become full Xbox exclusives. After buying the Minecraft series, Microsoft did not pull the franchise off competing platforms--instead, it kept those games on PlayStation and Nintendo and is now reaping the benefits. Spencer has said that Microsoft is in fact one of the largest publishers on PlayStation by revenue thanks to Minecraft. It's not too far of a stretch to envision a similar situation with future games from Bethesda on non-Xbox/PC platforms.
Going back to Spencer's comment, his wording about "some new titles in the future" is weirdly and ambiguously couched. We don't know if this is in relation to games that have already been announced or future titles to be revealed later. It's a bummer that there continues to be a serious lack of depth and clarity about what this deal means for the future of Bethesda and Xbox. It is surely a complicated, involved, and nuanced matter, but when Microsoft keeps quiet about the specifics, people understandably gravitate toward theories and speculation.
Another element at play here is that Bethesda Game Studios has arguably been an Xbox-centric studio for some time already. The RPG The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind was exclusive to Xbox and PC, while The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion launched as a timed-exclusive on Xbox 360. More recently, Fallout 76 had several exclusive arrangements in place with Xbox, including a special-edition console. There is also the matter that players have reported that several Bethesda-developed games in the Fallout and Elder Scrolls franchises have performed poorly on PlayStation hardware compared to Xbox. All of this contributes to the marriage of Microsoft and ZeniMax being less of a surprise and more of an extension of their ongoing relationship.
What's more, the scope of this deal with Microsoft and ZeniMax covers much more than just titles in the Elder Scrolls and Fallout universes developed by Bethesda Game Studios. ZeniMax's other internal studios--including id Software, Arkane, ZeniMax Online Studios, Machine Games, Tango Gameworks, Alpha Dog, and Roundhouse Studios--all now belong to Microsoft. With so many studios developing what must be numerous games all at the same time, Microsoft will seemingly have an array of titles to choose from when it comes to which will be exclusive to its own platforms. There may be a specific consideration or business case for a title to be exclusive instead of multiplatform, like one that takes advantage of a specific piece of hardware or technology that Microsoft has and others don't. Perhaps there may be a more experimental title that Microsoft wants to bring to its platform exclusively, as was the case for Fallout Shelter back in 2017--it came to Xbox a year before other consoles.
Simply put, we just don't know what these exclusives will be. But what we finally know for sure about the Microsoft/Bethesda deal is that there will absolutely be future Bethesda games that are exclusive to Xbox and PC. Microsoft is rumored to host a video presentation this Thursday, March 11, where it may divulge more details about the future roadmap for Bethesda games, but don't expect much. If the reports are true, Microsoft and Bethesda are likely holding back their bigger announcements for sometime this summer around the time of E3.