Following approval from a number of regulators in both Europe and the United States, it’s official: Microsoft’s $7.5 million deal to buy ZeniMax is over and done with. Naturally, Microsoft had some things to say about the acquisition and what it means for the future of Bethesda, the well-known name behind immensely famous series like Fallout and The Elder Scrolls. The most important bit of information for gamers is the confirmation that Bethesda will indeed be making games that are exclusive to Xbox and PC in the future. Before PlayStation fans freak out, don’t worry: only some games from the studio will be exclusive, not all of them.
Boss of Xbox, Phil Spencer, is adamant that Microsoft’s vision is to have Xbox, PC, and Game Pass as “the best” places to play Bethesda’s future games. This does not guarantee that such games won’t be available on PlayStation, but it certainly makes it clear that Microsoft’s main concern is their own platforms. That said, Bethesda games that had deals in place before getting bought –such as Deathloop– will not change in regards to available platforms. However, the release strategy of anticipated future titles like Starfield and The Elder Scrolls VI is unclear.
Unfortunately, Microsoft and Spencer weren’t entirely straightforward about things. Spencer didn’t mention any specific titles or series when mentioning future exclusive Bethesda games, and on top of that, he didn’t specify whether “exclusive” meant timed exclusive or full exclusive. This would all be immensely nice to know, as not only does this buyout of Zenimax mean Microsoft has gained control of eight more game developers and thousands of employees, but they have also gained control of two of the most famous series in RPG gaming ever: Fallout and The Elder Scrolls. Needless to say, it would be a huge deal if those titles became exclusive to Xbox and PC, to the extent that Sony could actually suffer a huge blow in their endless competition with Microsoft.
Making those huge series exclusive to their own platforms could certainly put PlayStation under a lot of strange, as that would have a lot of influence over gamers choosing a console to support. However, there’s no evidence yet that Microsoft will actually do this. Their strategy could be to release popular Bethesda games on both PlayStation and Xbox, but offer Xbox players special discounts or deals via Game Pass, while PlayStation users pay full price. If this were so, even availability on both platforms may not be enough to stop gamers from considering Game Pass and Xbox, as the price is a huge factor in gaming.
This strategy, while also just a hypothesis, seems very likely considering that Xbox has stated time and time again recently that they want Game Pass to be a core pillar of their business strategy in the future. Considering the immensely popular nature of many Bethesda titles, adding them to Game Pass for players to access with no charge other than a subscription significantly increases the appeal of the subscription itself. The more quality games you can play for cheap, the better.
All of that said, it still seems unlikely that Microsoft would pull those popular titles from all other competing platforms. After all, they did no such thing after buying Minecraft all those years ago, instead choosing to leave them available on competing platforms, which has granted them a great deal of profit. In fact, based on revenue alone, Microsoft is actually one of the biggest publishers on PlayStation simply due to Minecraft. Taking the success of that strategy into account, it seems very likely Microsoft would treat Bethesda’s most popular games the same way.
Unfortunately, nearly all of this is speculation, simply because there is no real information provided by Microsoft so far. Phil Spencer has not been very upfront about what Bethesda games in the future will be exclusive. In fact, he just said “some new games.” No mention of genres, the popularity of the titles, their intended release dates, or any other sort of criteria we could use to infer which games in the future will or won’t be exclusive, or, as we said before, whether or not they will be timed exclusive or completely exclusive.
It’s also worth considering that Bethesda has always been a Microsoft-centric studio anyway. All the way back in the older days of Morrowind, that Elder Scrolls entry was exclusive to the original Xbox and PC. Oblivion was not a full exclusive title, but it was a timed exclusive for the Xbox 360. Even the much more recent Fallout 76 had multiple special arrangements with Xbox, even including a special edition console, something PlayStation didn’t get. Many players of Bethesda games have also reported over the years that the titles often perform better on Xbox than they do on PlayStation. Considering all of this, it’s actually not that surprising that ZeniMax and Microsoft have finally joined forces officially: it’s more like they’ve finally made their relationship official instead of pretending it wasn’t there this whole time.
Of course, while a lot of focus in this buyout is on the major Fallout and Elder Scrolls series, one mustn’t forget that said buyout includes several other game studios besides Bethesda: id Software, ZeniMax Online Studios, Arkane, Machine Games, Alpha Dog, Tango Gameworks, and Roundhouse Studios are now Microsoft owned studios as well. With that many studios, it is guaranteed that Microsoft has a lot to choose from in regards to games they may want to be Xbox exclusive. Maybe they’ll want to capitalize on games that specifically make use of Xbox related hardware. Or maybe they’ll release experimental titles on Xbox to test them out before making them universally available.
Ultimately, we have no evidence with which we can determine what games from what studios will be made Xbox exclusive. However, we do know that some future games from all of these studios will be made Xbox and PC exclusive, and that could mean a pretty big shift in the balance of power between Xbox and PlayStation. All remains to be seen.