For quite a while there’s been a lot of buzz around the potential acquisition of Bethesda, and all their subsidiaries, by Xbox and Microsoft. Now that they’ve jumped through all of the regulatory hoops in the United States and the European Union, the deal is official, and the next phase can roll forward for both sides of the deal. For those interested in seeing a bit of the background of Bethesda, and what this deal could mean going forward, there was a presentation from the key players posted, which you can watch down below. It’s an entertaining 75 minutes, but if you want to get to some of the meat of it, we’ve got some of our key takeaways right here for you.
First, what does the deal mean for Bethesda and their studios?
Will they be cannibalized into the Xbox infrastructure? Nope. They’re a part of the team, but they’ll still retain a lot of their existing organization and autonomy, as we’ve seen happen with Mojang (Minecraft), Obsidian (Outer Worlds), and others. On the other hand, Bethesda will now have access to the resources of Microsoft, as well as the ability to work more closely and share assets with the other studios under the Xbox umbrella, and vice-versa.
Todd Howard put it like this: “Doing this together in this kind of partnerships…we have a firm belief that we’re going to make the best games we could possibly make by doing this…For us, they’re going to be even better than the way we were doing them. And that’s the ability to tap into everything at Xbox, to tap into everything that we’ve done in the past and solve those problems really together.”
What does this mean for existing titles?
The quick answer is that there are now twenty Bethesda published titles out now on Xbox Game Pass (a couple were already there, but now there’s a bigger bevy from which to choose). Beyond that, backwards compatibility means that quite a few games from previous generations that you can now play on modern platforms (Doom ’93, Oblivion, or Morrowind, anyone?). Over time, more titles are going to become available, at higher resolutions than previously available, and the Xbox team is also going to do framerate boosts for a significant portion of the library. This is just day one, so we expect more and more titles to be added and upgraded over time. While we shouldn’t hold our breath for full-fledged remasters, it’s not outside the realm of possibility either.
What does this mean for upcoming games?
Phil Spencer wanted to clarify and reiterate that existing contracts would all be honored, as they’ve done in the past. The deal Sony made for Deathloop is still in place, just like PlayStation and Nintendo owners can still play Minecraft. “I’m going to try to be as clear as I can…so obviously I can’t sit here and say every Bethesda game is exclusive. We know that’s not true. There’s contractual obligations we’re going to see through as we always do in every one of these instances. We have games that exist on other platforms, and we’re going to go support those games on the platforms they’re on…But, if you’re and Xbox customer, the thing I want you to know is this is about delivering great exclusive games for you, that ship on platforms where Game Pass exists, and that’s our goal.”
So it’s entirely possible that Elder Scrolls VI might be multi-platform, but Starfield could be exclusive to Xbox and Windows PC, as well as Android devices. A caveat to that is that Spencer didn’t specifically say anything about Xbox or PC. He said platforms where Game Pass exists. Going forward, maybe not tomorrow, maybe not next year, but it’s at least theoretically possible that Game Pass could be added to the PlayStation or the Switch, as well as Apple products (with Apple, given their stance on their storefront, it’s more likely that Microsoft’s browser-based solution is going to be the entry point rather than an app in the store). If that ever happens, then players who subscribe to Game Pass would be able to play on their preferred platform, wherever they are. Would that be a wise bet to take? Maybe not, but stranger things have happened.
A different wrinkle about games going forward, as discussed by Todd Howard is that Game Pass opens creative doors for developers. Before, to stay in business, Bethesda had to sell games. If a game doesn’t sell, then that’s wasted time and resources. On the other hand, they recognize that if gamers are buying a game, and it’s not their cup of tea, then not only is that wasted money, but it also fosters a sense of betrayal. With Game Pass, developers don’t necessarily have to bank directly on sales in the same way, but also, if folks try a game, and it’s not what they’re expecting, then they aren’t out $60 dollars. Bethesda looks to be really excited to explore some new avenues for games, without tying themselves or their fans down to the $60 gamble.
Other Outlets Are Saying Elder Scrolls VI Will Be Xbox Exclusive
Maybe it will. But those outlets should know better than to say that definitively, because that’s absolutely not what Phil Spencer said. to add a bit more detail (expanding on the specific quotes we already posted), “We have games that exist on other platforms, and we’re going to go support those games on the platforms they’re on. There’s communities of players. We love those communities, and we’ll continue to invest in them. And in the future, there might even be things that have either contractual things or legacy on different platforms that we’ll go do.” With that in mind, are there communities of fans of Elder Scrolls games on PlayStation and Nintendo? Is there a legacy of having Elder Scrolls games on PlayStation? With both of those things in mind, it seems irresponsible to definitively claim that Elder Scrolls VI will be an Xbox exclusive. Spencer neither explicitly nor implicitly said that. The door was left open to both possibilities.
The Agency Brief – Our Takeaways
While we still have a few questions, and there’s a lot to find out as time goes by, they laid out the groundwork for what’s changing, what’s staying the same, and what to look forward to down the road. Oh, and over the summer there’s going to be more big announcements with specific games and projects, so if you didn’t feel this was heavy on news (their presentation wasn’t meant to be “newsy”), hopefully we’ll get some more meaty details later.