Yesterday, a lengthy interview made the rounds between Kotaku and Phil Spencer which included some pretty random stuff (the Series S can load games faster than the Series X due to lower scale textures?), but it’s also the closest Microsoft has come to saying that yes, its upcoming big Bethesda games will be Xbox exclusive and not on PlayStation.
And that’s probably the closest they will come to saying it, at least before the Series X launches.
The breakdown of the exchange is that Kotaku asked Spencer if they could still recoup a $7.5 billion investment with huge games like Elder Scrolls VI that are not sold on PlayStation, which will no doubt move 100M+ units this coming generation.
Spencer replied point blank, “Yes,” before elaborating:
“This deal was not done to take games away from another player base like that. Nowhere in the documentation that we put together was: ‘How do we keep other players from playing these games?’ We want more people to be able to play games, not fewer people to be able to go play games. But I’ll also say in the model—I’m just answering directly the question that you had—when I think about where people are going to be playing and the number of devices that we had, and we have xCloud and PC and Game Pass and our console base, I don’t have to go ship those games on any other platform other than the platforms that we support in order to kind of make the deal work for us. Whatever that means.”
So what does that actually mean? What Spencer is saying without saying it outright is that yes, big games like Elder Scrolls VI and Starfield and whatever Bethesda makes next outside of existing deals in place like with Deathloop will likely be Xbox exclusive.
But the definition of “Xbox exclusive” at this point does not mean just the box. Microsoft is evolving Xbox, this generation especially, to represent an entire ecosystem that includes Game Pass and xCloud streaming. So going forward, “Xbox” will be thought of less as a physical box and more of an entire platform ecosystem like Netflix. As in, you will play your “Xbox exclusives” on actual Xboxes, but also PCs, laptops, tablets, phones, smart TVs and whatever else can run them. Or is willing to run them.
By default, that would seem to leave out rival consoles like Nintendo Switch and PS5. I can maybe see Nintendo agreeing to run Game Pass/xCloud on Switch, but Spencer seems to indicate there might be some issues with that. But Sony? Yeah, I don’t think so. And so by that definition, no, you will not be able to play those huge Bethesda games on PS5 in the future, and Microsoft seems to think they can afford that.
And I mean, they can. Even if Microsoft goes down the Netflix model and spends way, way more on content than they actually bring in, Microsoft is also one of the biggest companies in the world and can afford to do things like that. They want to be the Netflix of this space, whatever that costs, and they want to make Elder Scrolls and Starfield be assets to them like Stranger Things and Cobra Kai are for Netflix, a motivating factor in signing up.
But again, do not expect Phil Spencer to flat out say things like “No, Elder Scrolls and Fallout and Starfield will not be on PlayStation in the future.” That would play too much into the console war narrative that Spencer says he hates, even if that is literally the action most likely to be taken in order to better position Microsoft in this market. It’s just business. And yes, there probably will continue to be some Bethesda games that make their way to other consoles, but I would absolutely expect Microsoft to save the biggest releases for the Xbox ecosystem so they can at least attempt to match Sony and Nintendo on exclusive parity, which has been the Xbox’s main problem for three generations now.
We’ll learn more about all this after the launch of these new consoles, when the gloves really come off. For now, this is the most we’ll hear on the matter.
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