Bethesda, Microsoft Make Conflicting Statements About Game Exclusivity After Studio Purchase

from the please-don't dept

Several weeks ago, Microsoft bought Zenimax Media, the parent organization of Bethesda Softworks for over $7 billion. Bethesda is a celebrated studio best known for its Fallout and Elder Scrolls titles. Both series have long histories of being published across a wide range of gaming platforms, including the PC, PlayStation, and Xbox markets. Almost immediately after the deal, however, many gamers openly worried that Microsoft would warehouse the properties to either the PC or Xbox markets exclusively.

The worry didn't cease when Kotaku interviewed Xbox chief Phil Spencer about the implications of the deal and Spencer's remarks were decidedly noncommittal.

“Is it possible to recoup a $7.5 billion investment if you don’t sell Elder Scrolls VI on the PlayStation?” I asked.

“Yes,” Spencer quickly replied.

Then he paused.

“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. Well, what it means is that there has been enough conversation of how Bethesda franchises will be distributed and sold that Spencer felt confident saying that those games didn't need to be multi-platform in order for the deal to still be profitable. Couching this all in the fact that the specific language of the acquisition didn't mention exclusivity is all fine and good, but Spencer had this answer ready to go. That likely means that there has been at least some discussion about taking those games exclusive to the Xbox, or Microsoft's forthcoming game-streaming services. Coupled with a growing trend in exclusivity both in the console and PC gaming spaces, this wasn't exactly encouraging for those that think exclusivity deals are a terrible idea and terrible for the industry.

Todd Howard, one of the creative leads at Bethesda, was at least a bit more forceful in his remarks to Ars Technica when asked if this was about to become a thing.

"I would agree that is hard to imagine" The Elder Scrolls VI restricted to Microsoft platforms, Howard said in response to a direct question on the matter.

Elsewhere in the interview, Howard admits that the parties haven't fully discussed the details of multiplatform publishing as part of the purchase deal, which won't be finalized until next year. "We haven't gone through all of that, to be honest," he said.  Howard also stressed Bethesda's autonomy to "[run] our games and [push] everything the way that we have," even as a Microsoft subsidiary. "We felt very strongly about their view of access; games for everybody that we can bring to anybody regardless of where they are, what devices they're playing on. We're very, very passionate about that, and at the end of the day we're convinced we'll make better products and get them to more people easily by being part of Xbox as opposed to being just a third party."

But that's still not really a firm answer. Bethesda's vision can be whatever it wants, but its part of Microsoft now. If you're into reading industry tea leaves, it doesn't look like there are any serious plans by Microsoft for locking up these beloved franchises. But sans a commitment by the company to not do so, there is still much worry that access to them may go away for many.

Why anyone would think that would push more people to buy an Xbox in significant numbers is an mystery.

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Filed Under: acquisitions, competition, consoles, elder scrolls, exclusivity, fallout, playstation, studios, video games, xbox
Companies: bethesda, microsoft, zenimax media


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  • icon
    shared_prophet (profile), 2 Nov 2020 @ 8:46pm

    third option

    There is a third option besides M$-exclusive or not: zero-rating. Minecraft is free on Windows now. Giving away free (or "free") games with online play subscriptions (Xbox Live, Playstation Network, Nintendo Online), and game stores (Epic, Steam, gog). Even Apple Arcade could be considered an offshoot of this model. I'd honestly be surprised if they didn't at least float using some of Bethesda's biggest games this way.

    Want The Elder Scrolls 6 on your PS5? Have at it, that'll be $70. But if you have an Xbox Series X it's free.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      shared_prophet (profile), 2 Nov 2020 @ 8:48pm

      Re: third option

      Ugh, I just checked the price on the store before posting and deleted the part about Minecraft being free but I missed one line. It seems to be free on the Oculus store but I guess not on Windows? I thought it was pre-installed when I set up Windows 10 on this machine but I guess I was mistaken. Anyway the point still stands. :D

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Nov 2020 @ 9:35pm

      Re: third option

      Well, HZD is $50 on Steam (with almost 30k reviews now), and $20 on the PS Store, so we know a $30 difference would likely be fine with most gamers. If you're going to buy 10+ games this way, it's cheaper to buy the console.

      To think about it some more, if Steam takes 30%, that's $15, and there's likely some cost for porting to PC, so +$30 almost sounds reasonable for a 1st party console port.

      I think 30% is too high, so maybe differently priced games on different stores will bring that tax into focus even more.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      zyffyr (profile), 2 Nov 2020 @ 9:51pm

      Re: third option

      I think 'timed exclusive' is more likely. You can have it today on Xbox or you can wait 6 months to get it on Playstation.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 2 Nov 2020 @ 10:30pm

        Re: Re: third option

        There's all sorts of possibilities here. I'd guess the most likely is that it's on XBox and PC first, plus given away as part of Game Pass (as all current first party MS published games are), then other platforms at full price later on. But, now that they own the studio they might decide not to do any exclusivity rubbish as that sort of thing will often not get most people to simply switch platforms, and they get paid no matter which platform it's on.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 3 Nov 2020 @ 5:28am

        Re: Re: third option

        "I think 'timed exclusive' is more likely."

        This is Bethesda we're talking about. My take is that whatever game they make will be launched as a bug-riddled mess of pure awesome and they'll cover for a failed port by claiming it was indeed a "timed exclusive". The playstation version will then be coincidentally issued along with the first major patch.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bloof (profile), 3 Nov 2020 @ 5:35am

    They'll be timed exclusives on PC and XBox, with the Playstation port a year down the line. If a game can run on the Switch, it may get a release between the two because MS don't see nintendo as a direct competitor and seem happy enough to work with them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Nov 2020 @ 6:48am

    Microsoft know the value here

    Microsoft are no strangers to the value of competitors as a tool for their own ends. there's a reason they helped keep Apple afloat while they themselves were facing a monopoly investigation.
    They know that they can rake in the cash from cross-platform releases of games AND that every time a Playstation gamer pays full price for a new Bethesda game on their platform they'll see the value proposition of their friend with an XBox and Game Pass who got the game as part of their subscription on launch day. It's win-win for them to keep selling the games on the other platform, especially if they carry on integrating things like cross-save across more and more titles as a further enticement to switch over.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Nov 2020 @ 9:26am

    I gave up on Xbox. There were some older games I'd like to play again. However to do so, you have to pay for the game and then turn around a pay a monthly subscription in order to access the game.

    Pretty obvious, you don't pay the monthly vig, you don't play the game you purchased. Given that I have refused their offers to pay for something that won't work without paying still more for access.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Nov 2020 @ 10:40am

      Re:

      I think you are misinformed, Sir.
      If you own the old game disc, you put it in the Xbox Series X/S and play the game. In some cases, you can buy the digital copy of the old game (if you lost the disc per se) and play it. Neither of these options require a subscription.

      https://www.pocket-lint.com/games/news/xbox/135875-how-xbox-one-backward-compatibility -works-the-xbox-360-and-xbox-games-list-and-more

      Full disclosure: I own a PS4

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Nov 2020 @ 1:05pm

        Re: Re:

        Actually they are old games that were done on the PC with earlier OSes.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 3 Nov 2020 @ 11:29pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Then why mention the XBox? There's no games on that platform you have to pay a subscription for unless they're part of Game Pass (in which case you're renting, not buying) or you need Gold to access online multiplayer (in which case you're paying for the servers to be kept open years after you bought the game). If you have a standard single player game, you can still use the original disc and might even have access to backward compatibility on newer consoles.

          But, I'm also confused as to what you mean with PC games on older OSes. If the game is available through GoG, it should be compatible with newer OSes without any kind of subscription. You can get games running on older OSes by using things like ScummVM and DOSBox without any kind of charge. What monthly fee are you thinking you're being forced to pay, unless again it's some kind of rental service?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 4 Nov 2020 @ 11:13am

        Re: Re:

        Indeed, I have a large DJ file containing all my original XBox, 360, and XBox One discs. All of which I can happily play as and when I please on my new Series X, I don't need any subscriptions for (Game Pass is not a good value proposition for me as I own almost 600 games for the platform, installed on my external 16TB drive, so all the games available through it that I might want to play I already own), and even if XBox Live were to be shut down TOMORROW, all my physical games would still work.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Nov 2020 @ 10:32am

    My dream is that eventually consoles will be like PCs:
    -modding is allowed
    -no exclusives based on PC manufacturer, only based on required specs
    -lower prices
    (full disclosure: I'm not a PC gamer, but I am peeking over that fence)
    Hardware optimization and fun game-play are most important.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Nov 2020 @ 10:20pm

      Re:

      Not gonna happen unfortunately. Build yourself a PC!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 4 Nov 2020 @ 2:40am

      Re:

      "My dream is that eventually consoles will be like PCs:"

      Will not happen, ever. The stuff you describe as negatives are the core qualities console manufacturers cling to in order to have a market.

      The PC is superior to the console because of it's flexibility. Mods don't have to conform to a set standard because there will be those which reduce the specification to run the game, enabling it to flow on a less powerful PC...and the other way going full 4K and enabling numbers of objects in memory way beyond what the original devs thought. This presents many options and similarly a lot of "opportunities" for endless tinkering to make sure the modded game can even launch.

      The console's advantage is standardization - every copy the same, running on identical hardware. The drawback, naturally, is severe restriction.
      The exclusives are intended to lock people into that specific console. You'll take that from Sony when you pry it from their cold, dead, hands. Less so for the Xbox which has feet in both console and PC market.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 4 Nov 2020 @ 3:11am

        Re: Re:

        "The console's advantage is standardization - every copy the same, running on identical hardware. The drawback, naturally, is severe restriction"

        I wouldn't call it "severe" restriction nowadays, it's just that you won't get 100% of every title ever released that generation on the machine you chose. The trade-off is a much cheaper machine that you know will run every game made for that console with no additional cost or modification on the hardware side, while development costs for the game developers are reduced because they know the exact hardware and OS specs they're dealing with on every console they develop for.

        There's no way of removing the "disadvantage" of lock-in without removing all the cost and performance benefits of the console format. If you want customisation and freedom from lockdown, pay the extra money and build yourself a PC.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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