Ever since Microsoft announced the $7.5 billion purchase of Bethesda, worried soon-to-be PS5 owners have had one question: what does that mean for Fallout, The Elder Scrolls, Doom, Wolfenstein and Dishonored? After all, console makers don’t tend to spend billions on companies, only to not grab the competitive advantage that exclusivity brings with both hands.
Now Xbox boss Phil Spencer has come the closest he’s come to confirming the worst. In a wide ranging interview with Kotaku, Spencer was asked a simple question directly: “Is it possible to recoup a $7.5 billion investment if you don’t sell Elder Scrolls VI on the PlayStation?” His answer was commendably succinct: “Yes.”
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But there’s still wiggle room. “I don’t want to be flip about that,” he continued. “This deal was not done to take games away from another player base like that. Nowhere in the documentation that we put together was: ‘How do we keep other players from playing these games?’ We want more people to be able to play games, not fewer people to be able to go play games.
“But I’ll also say in the model — I’m just answering directly the question that you had — when I think about where people are going to be playing and the number of devices that we had, and we have xCloud and PC and Game Pass and our console base, I don’t have to go ship those games on any other platform other than the platforms that we support in order to kind of make the deal work for us. Whatever that means.”
In short, it’s not looking good for Bethesda fans who lock themselves solely into the PlayStation ecosystem this generation. But don’t expect to get official confirmation of the absence of any specific title until closer to its release date.
There are a couple of reasons for this: for one, the Bethesda buyout is a very recent development — indeed, it’s not even due to close until the second quarter of 2021 — which means a number of games that were assumed to be multi platform may be so far along that it just makes no sense to cancel them.
For another, while pre-order interest in both the Xbox Series X and PS5 has been extremely healthy, it’s still possible that either console could crash and burn in the long run. In the event of the PS5 outselling the Xbox Series X by ten to one or more, would Microsoft really insist in keeping its Bethesda games as Xbox only? Maybe if PC sales are still healthy, but even then there’s an element of cutting off your nose to spite your face.
Spencer has previously described the company’s plans to take each game on a “case-by-case basis”, and early signs might appear superficially promising. Deathloop, for example, is a PS5 launch exclusive, and the imminent Doom Eternal DLC won’t be Xbox only, either. Ghostwire: Tokyo is a Bethesda exclusive for PS5 and PC, so we’ll just have to see if that ends up becoming a bit less exclusive over time.
In the long run, though, PS5 gamers who love their Fallout and Elder Scrolls may want to keep one eye on the $299 Xbox Series S. That and a Game Pass subscription may just plug the gaps they’re missing, and won’t leave them to the mercy of Microsoft’s exclusivity whims.