Last week, in amongst all of the new console news bubbling to the surface regarding both the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox series X, a different news story managed to steal everyone’s attention away from what would normally be all-consuming for the video game news story. The news that Microsoft have acquired developer/publisher Bethesda, and by proxy all the IPs and studios that fall under their umbrella.
Totally unsurprisingly, people on social media all had strong opposing opinions on this move, and what it could mean for the media-constructed console war between Sony and Microsoft. So much so that after giving my two cents on a new story with a particularly clickbaity title, A massive war of hot takes exploded in my comments afterwards.
One I kept out of upon realising it had quickly devolved into a standard twitter debate in which neither of the participants seemed interested in conceding a point of their other, no matter how much logical sense they make. Which then further devolved into arguing about arguing, as they often do. Seriously, I should just delete twitter.
One of the points made in my comments that I did agree with was that this is certainly an aggressive move from Microsoft. If there’s one thing the Xbox developer has struggled with in comparison to Sony and their consoles, it’s a distinct lack of exclusive content to their platform. Something they’ve slowly been working to rectify throughout this current console generation, especially after massively bundling it with their messaging over the release of the Xbox One.
Little by little, they’ve been picking up more development studios, in what commenters assume is a move to help them compete with Sony’s huge, console selling exclusive titles like God of War, Last of Us and Spider-Man. For the most part though, the studios Microsoft have been bringing into the fold have been smaller ones or ones that seem to be balancing on unsteady ground.
Which is why their acquisition of Bethesda is so surprising. Bethesda themselves are a massive publisher, one with a number of very high profile properties in their slate: The Elder Scrolls, Doom, Wolfenstein, Fallout. They’ve been putting on their own press conferences at E3 for the past number of years for Christ’s sake. While E3 was still a thing anyway.
Buying Bethesda is a massive power move from Microsoft. One that seems to be delighting Microsoft fans and upsetting their Sony aligned counterparts.
Personally, I’m more inclined to play games on my Xbox when given the option. But on the whole, I really dislike the whole warring mentality between Microsoft fans and the Sony fans, it’s childish. Delighting in the failings of a rival company is silly in my eyes, it’s not a sport team. If anything, you want these companies to compete with one another because that’s what’s going to promote a more consumer friendly growth within the company.
Hell, Microsoft falling at the starting block of this last generation and falling harshly behind the PS4 is probably one of the major factors behind them making Game Pass, which is still one of the best value propositions in the whole industry right now. From an outsider perspective, I feel like Microsoft seem to be aiming to do better by their consumers as a priority.
Of course, this is all born from a share holder, corporately driven place. But at the end of the day, if it means I’m getting more value for my money, I’m not complaining.
Which is why, when it comes to this Bethesda acquisition, I don’t actually think Microsoft are going to totally benefit from the idea of making all of these massive properties exclusive to the Xbox Series X/S. Think about it, in the days of the previous generation, Microsoft would have almost certainly strong-armed their rivals by making games like Fallout 4 and DOOM (2016) exclusive to the Xbox.
Today, there’s isn’t really a need to do that. And the main argument behind that is, once again, Game Pass. The stubborn argument participants in my comments last week seemed adamant that all future Bethesda games would be exclusive to Xbox because they “need to get people into their ecosystem”. Basically banking on the direct competition principle that Xbox needs to do what Sony is doing to compete with them.
Sony has high budget, narrative driven games to draw fans to their side of the fence, so obviously Microsoft needs to make the new Elder Scrolls and the upcoming new IP Starfield exclusive. Personally, I feel like this is such a small minded way at looking at the whole thing. Microsoft are a much bigger company than just their Xbox department. They own Windows too. They can afford to play a longer game here.
The big argument here for exclusivity of these games is that Microsoft need to bring people into their ecosystem and buy their consoles. Personally, I disagree with that sentiment. And Game Pass is my counterargument. I’m sure some of these studios will eventually put out some exclusive games for the Series X/S, but those big names titles I’ve already mentioned don’t need to go exclusive because they’re coming to Game Pass.
Think about it. Your options are to buy the games on PS5, or to get them for free, day one, on the Series X/S. Because all Bethesda games will be on Game Pass on the day of their release. That’s a pretty attractive proposition. And even if those consumers decide to buy those games on PS5, some chunk of those sales and all of the in-app purchases that follow are going straight into Microsoft’s pocket.
It’s win-win for them. Because Microsoft have spent the last chunk of this console generation less interested in directly competing with Sony and more interested in becoming a services company. Having their hands in so many pies that they’re just drawing in revenue from everywhere.
Now, I could be totally off the mark with this one, and games like Elder Scrolls VI and Starfield end up becoming Xbox/PC exclusive, as least for some limited amount of times, but I honestly think the better move for Microsoft, to align with their customer friendly façade they’ve been pushing these past few years, is to keep these games as available and open as they possibly can.
Only time will tell in the end, but I’m solidly in camp for bringing all gamers closer together whenever possible. Sure, some platforms get their single player exclusives, but in a world where all games have cross play and we don”t have to worry about which platform all our friends are buying, I like to believe that Microsoft are just shrugging and taking the money right from their rival’s back pockets.