Microsoft’s purchase of Bethesda and its parent company ZeniMax Media was a proper ‘wow’ moment in the tech and gaming world. For $7.5 billion, Microsoft acquired a games developer and publisher with some huge game franchises and titles under its belt. And this left the gaming world wondering if the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S would get games like The Elder Scrolls 6 as platform exclusives, leaving the PS5 with Bethesda scraps.
Rather quickly, Microsoft jumped into the pool of speculation to declare that it won’t be blocking Bethesda games from Sony’s next-gen console. But it now appears there’s a little catch in that Microsoft wants the Xbox Series X to be the best place to play Bethesda games, even though they aren't likely to be exclusives.
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That's according to Tim Stuart, the CFO of Xbox who said the whole Bethesda purchase is “not a point about being exclusive" during the Jefferies Interactive Entertainment Virtual Conference
“What we'll do in the long run is we don't have intentions of just pulling all of Bethesda content out of Sony or Nintendo or otherwise,” Stuart said at the conference transcribed by Seeking Alpha. “[Microsoft will] continue to sell their games on the platforms that they exist today, and we'll determine what that looks over time and will change over time. I'm not making any announcements about exclusivity or something like that. But that model will change.”
So while Xbox exclusivity hasn’t been 100% ruled out, Microsoft looks likely to stick with having Bethesda games as cross-platform titles. But instead of pursuing exclusivity, Stuart sees Microsoft positioning the next-gen Xbox consoles as the best place to play Bethesda games.
“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. We will want Bethesda content to show up the best as - on our platforms,” he explained.
How this will take form remains to be seen. We know the Xbox Series X has 12 teraflops of graphics power compared to the PS5’s 10.28 teraflops, so perhaps Starfield or the next Elder Scrolls game might look better on Microsoft’s console.
And Stuart highlighted that the Bethesda purchase will aim to drive people to subscribe to Xbox Game Pass. So we can certainly expect to see more Bethesda games pop up on Microsoft’s game subscription service, which now covers Xbox consoles, PCs, and smartphones via cloud-powered game streaming service.
Skyrim in the cloud?
Speaking of the cloud, Stuart extolled the virtues of Microsoft's Azure cloud platform — the second largest in the world — and how it can help deliver Xbox games to people across the world who might not have easy access to an Xbox. So we could speculate that more Bethesda games could be enabled for cloud-powered streaming, or potentially boosted by it.
“I think as you look forward a decade, cloud streaming will become more mainstream. It will become more about how users play. And this is why I love the connection we have to Azure,” explained Stuart.
“Game streaming and ability to serve up a AAA-quality game to an Android device, to a PC without a GPU, to a smart screen is going to be, I think, an unlock for gamers unlike what we've seen in the past. The ability for a user who wasn't going to buy a console can now participate in the AAA-console-quality game market I think it's going to be a really, really unique experience.”
In short, Microsoft very likely won’t torpedo the PS5 by blocking Bethesda games from it. But it does look like Bethesda will really play into Microsoft’s overall goal of having an Xbox ecosystem. And with that ecosystem comes the scope to allow next-gen Bethesda games to be played across multiple platforms and likely at their very best.
We’ve likely still got a long wait for the likes of Starfield and The Elder Scrolls 6. But when they arrive, the Xbox Series X with a Game Pass subscription could be the best way to play them.