from the womp-womp dept
Almost exactly a year ago, Microsoft acquired Zenimax Media, a parent company for several video game publishers, including Bethesda. When that occurred, some sizable percentage of the gaming community asked the immediate and obvious question: does this mean games from Bethesda and others would be Microsoft exclusives? Xbox chief Phil Spencer was the first to weigh in on the question by giving a total non-answer.
“I don’t want to be flip about that,” he added. “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.”
Whatever that means, indeed. On the one hand, yes, Microsoft had clearly thought about delivering new games to Microsoft-centric platforms… but none of this was done to keep other players from playing these games. To anyone paying attention, that sounded like exclusives wouldn’t be a thing. Todd Howard of Bethesda made many of the same noises.
But then came Xbox CFO Tim Stuart, who’s messaging was a bit less vague but a lot more concerning.
Speaking at the Jeffries Interactive Entertainment Virtual Conference last Friday (as transcribed by Seeking Alpha), Stuart said directly that “in the long run… we don’t have intentions of just pulling all of Bethesda content out of Sony or Nintendo or otherwise. But what we want is we want that content, in the long run, to be either first or better or best or pick your differentiated experience, on our platforms.”
“That’s not a point about being exclusive,” Stuart continued. “That’s not a point about… adjusting timing or content or road map. But if you think about something like Game Pass, if it shows up best in Game Pass, that’s what we want to see, and we want to drive our Game Pass subscriber base through that Bethesda pipeline.”
Still vague, but less so. So, no Bethesda exclusives, but perhaps timed exclusives, timed releases, or content differences on Microsoft platforms. Maybe. Kinda? It’s all very confusing.
Except no it isn’t and it turns out everyone was simply lying. Because Elder Scrolls VI, a Bethesda title, was just announced as a PC and Xbox exclusive after all. And it’s Phil Spencer who is back to drop that bad news.
This week, Microsoft put probably the final nail in that conversational coffin, with Xbox chief Phil Spencer confirming in an interview with British GQ magazine that the upcoming Elder Scrolls VI will be available only on Xbox consoles and the PC.
In a quote that doesn’t seem likely to soothe many PlayStation owners, Spencer said the exclusivity is “not about punishing any other platform, like I fundamentally believe all of the platforms can continue to grow.” Instead, Spencer was focused on “be[ing] able to bring the full complete package of what we have” with the company’s games, meaning integration with Xbox Live, Game Pass, Xbox Cloud Gaming, etc. “And that would be true when I think about Elder Scrolls VI,” he added. “That would be true when I think about any of our franchises.”
Now that clears multiple things up. First and foremost, that Microsoft and/or Bethesda simply lied to the public after the acquisition. And, secondly, that in fact at least some Bethesda titles will in fact be Microsoft exclusives! It’s hard to know for sure, but all those previous statements sure read like cowardice to me. And I will damned well say that Tim Stuart should be very pissed off at how this all makes him specifically look. “We’re not looking to pull Bethesda games out of Sony or Nintendo” some how morphed into the exact opposite.
And so it goes. We have a major gaming hardware manufacturer now buying up a game studio that released its most famous titles on the Sony PlayStation in a way that sure looks like it is purposefully trying to pull those PlayStation owners over into buying Microsoft hardware. I sure hope this was all worth it to those that made money from the acquisition at Bethesda, because this isn’t going to be good for that studio’s reputation with its most dedicated fans.