On the eve of Xbox Series X pre-orders opening, Microsoft dropped an enormous bombshell on its main rival: the purchase of ZeniMax Media and Bethesda. That essentially means that Microsoft has total control over where the likes of The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Doom, Wolfenstein and Dishonored can be played in future.
Immediately, there were question marks about what this would mean for PS5 owners. Is this the end of Bethesda on PlayStation? Now Xbox boss Phil Spencer has offered a little more clarity on Microsoft’s position, and it’s not great news for PS5 buyers.
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While reiterating his early position that games would come to other consoles on a “case-by-case basis,” Spencer told Yahoo Finance that gamers “should feel this is a huge investment in the experiences they are gonna have in the Xbox ecosystem.” But it was his final line that should alarm Sony fans: “we want the Xbox ecosystem to absolutely be the best place to play, and we think game availability is absolutely part of that.”
So, what does that mean? Well, it’s a statement that’s extremely careful not to rule anything out, first of all. That’s sensible: imagine a scenario where PS5 outsells Xbox Series X at a ratio of 10:1. Would Microsoft really hobble its new studio’s money making ability by insisting on exclusivity? And there’s some precedent here: Minecraft is still getting support on a wide range of systems, including PS4, despite Microsoft’s ownership.
But clearly it would be surprising for Microsoft to drop $7.5 billion on a studio only to keep publishing its games on rival systems. And Spencer is tacitly acknowledging that in his comments: game availability is obviously important in terms of what hardware people end up buying. At the very least you can imagine Bethesda games getting a period of exclusivity on Xbox before maybe coming to PS5 further down the line.
Just to confuse matters further, any changes to publishing won’t happen overnight. The deal won’t close until the second quarter of 2021, and a number of Bethesda projects for PS5 are already so far underway that it would be silly to cancel them now.
Deathloop is the company’s next big title, and it’s a PS5 launch exclusive, while the upcoming Doom Eternal DLC will likely not be Xbox only, either. Ghostwire: Tokyo — currently a PS5 and PC exclusive — will presumably go ahead as planned, but may ultimately lose that exclusivity, depending on the nature of the agreement.
But after that? The Elder Scrolls 6? Fallout 5? Dishonored 3? Well, don’t be surprised if those came come with a big “Only on Xbox” sticker attached. For worried PS5 backers, maybe it’s time to consider getting an Xbox Series S as a backup console.