In the Xbox and Bethesda Games Showcase at E3 2021 it was finally confirmed that Starfield will be a PC and Xbox Series X and Series S exclusive. Given the game could be “Skyrim in space,” the reaction from PS5 and older PlayStation fans wasn’t positive.
A few days later, Bethesda senior vice president of marketing and communication Pete Hines apologized to PlayStation fans. "I don't know how to allay the fears and concerns of PlayStation 5 fans, other than to say, 'I'm a PlayStation 5 player as well, and I've played games on that console, and there's games I'm going to continue to play on it',” Hines said in an interview with GameSpot (opens in new tab). “But if you want to play Starfield, [it's] PC and Xbox. Sorry. All I can really say is, I apologize."
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I don't think he should have.
Hines explained that Xbox and PC exclusivity for Starfield will let Bethesda get the most out of the latest Xbox consoles and PC hardware, and that “narrow focus” on making a game for select platforms can make for better development. This has been the case for Deathloop, said Hines, an upcoming PS5 and PC exclusive due for release in December.
This is a fine point. Big Bethesda games have often come hampered by bugs at launch, potentially because they’ve been developed for multiple platforms. Take the fantastic Skyrim as an example. It was developed for both the PS3 and Xbox 360, which had very different underlying hardware, and can’t have been easy for Bethesda; Skyrim had a lot of bugs at launch.
It’s only business
But putting that aside, Bethesda and parent company ZeniMax Media was bought by Microsoft. So it’s no surprise that Microsoft is going to use its investment in the publisher and its recumbent developers to get more Xbox and Windows 10 PC exclusives; that’s just good business sense.
Big triple-A games aren’t cheap to make, so having Microsoft’s financial clout makes sense for Bethesda. As does any effort by Microsoft to extract more value out of that deal, even if that might mean hampering its main rival from Japan.
When Microsoft’s purchase of ZeniMax Media was first announced, I remember thinking that it probably won’t see major Bethesda games become exclusives, as Microsoft can still make money through Sony’s consoles. But my colleague Rory Mellon argued the opposite, and has somewhat been proven correct; I still think The Elder Scrolls 6 won't be Xbox exclusive.
And as much as I thought that Bethesda would keep its largest games as multiplatform games, the harsh reality is money talks and gaming is an industry not just a bunch of hobbyists and coders cranking out fun things for us to play.
However, I think that this exclusivity — for Starfield at least — is actually a good thing.
As Hines said, keeping development focused on one console platform — or 1.5 if you count the Series S — can make for tighter development. And that's likely to lead to a better overall game.
Eventually, Starfield could be ported over to the PS5. If that happens all the efforts put into opposing the launch game could be carried over to Sony’s console though this is some rampant speculation on my part.
While some might bemoan that Bethesda is under the Microsoft banner, I think that’s a positive thing, even if it means Xbox exclusivity for the developer's big games. That’s because Microsoft has a vast amount of resources, from money and engineers, to powerful developer tools, machine learning research and a huge cloud infrastructure, which Bethesda could harness.
All that could lead to more interesting gaming features in the likes of Starfield, say cloud-powered AI or high-fidelity procedurally generated worlds. Or Bethesda could tap into Microsoft’s coding and software expertise to ensure Starfield is well-optimized across a variety of Windows 10 machines and runs perfectly on the new Xbox consoles.
Furthermore, Microsoft is expanding Xbox Cloud Streaming to allow Xbox One consoles to stream Xbox Series X games, and it's bringing game streaming to browsers so iPads and iPhones can stream some of the best Xbox One games, like their Android counterparts.
All that means that Starfield, under Microsoft’s yolk, could be accessible to people who've struggled to find an Xbox Series X restock or don’t have access to some of the best gaming PCs. Thanks’ to Microsoft’s cloud tech — Azure has the second largest cloud infrastructure in the world — Starfield's Xbox and PC exclusivity could, somewhat ironically, make the game more accessible.
Having more PS5 and Xbox exclusives is also an overall good thing. Sure, finding a PS5 restock is also a nightmare and buying two near-$500 consoles isn’t the most affordable thing in gaming. But having games that are made and optimized for specific consoles means both become compelling devices. As such, if you get bored of one after a few years you could then swap it for the other, which should be flush with exclusive games.
So rather than feel the need to apologize for Starfield exclusivity, Hines should be touting it as the fuel for making Starfield the very best it can be once it launches on November 11, 2022. And this exclusive games approach could be a very good thing for gaming fans in the long-term.