What Phil Spencer Can’t Tell You About Elder Scrolls VI Exclusivity

What Phil Spencer Can’t Tell You About Elder Scrolls VI Exclusivity

When the hotly-anticipated open world sci-fi RPG Starfield comes out next year it won’t be coming to PS4 or PS5. That’s a fact that seemed obvious the second Microsoft announced it was buying publisher Bethesda over a year ago in a groundbreaking $US7.5 (A$10.32) billion deal, but it took the Xbox team until just a few months ago to admit it. Now it’s doing the same dance with The Elder Scrolls VI.

Bethesda’s still far-off sequel to Skyrim will not be on Sony’s consoles either, a fact which Xbox boss Phil Spencer stopped just shy of explicitly confirming in a new interview with British GQ. “It’s been confirmed that next year’s Starfield, arguably the biggest game of 2022, will be Xbox and PC only,” the magazine wrote. “Spencer says he sees the same for The Elder Scrolls VI.”

Spencer then proceeded to say a whole lot of words that weren’t “exclusive.”

“It’s not about punishing any other platform, like I fundamentally believe all of the platforms can continue to grow,” he told British GQ. “But in order to be on Xbox, I want us to be able to bring the full complete package of what we have. And that would be true when I think about Elder Scrolls VI. That would be true when I think about any of our franchises.”

None of this means anything. It’s just a spoonful of marketing babble to make the medicine go down. Microsoft spent a fortune to acquire some of the biggest blockbuster game series and the studios behind them because it wanted to make them exclusive. This is what companies do. Is Insomniac still making Xbox games? No, it’s not. Sony spent $US229 (A$315) million to make sure that didn’t happen.

Fans remain in such disbelief that Microsoft could do that to the likes of Fallout, Wolfenstein, and Doom, however, that they keep holding out some bizarre sliver of hope that the multiplatform door hasn’t already been shut in their faces. And so you have Spencer saying things like, “We’ll take other consoles on a case-by-case basis,” and, “some new titles in the future that will be exclusive to Xbox and PC players.”

Image: Bethesda
Image: Bethesda

Shortly after the deal was first announced, Spencer delivered this long-winded non-answer to then-Kotaku Editor-In-Chief, Stephen Totilo:

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.

TL;DR: Fallout 5 is not coming to PS6.

But because Spencer can’t say that without risking the ire of longtime fans and console war meme lords, he has to spin the move as something other than a bummer to millions of people who bought the wrong box. In October 2020, it was, “This deal was not done to take games away from another player base.” This week, it was “It’s not about punishing any other platform.”

What else could it be about? This is the entire point of walled-off ecosystems like video game consoles and smartphones. They exist to collect rent on people who have invested too much to leave, in part because games are so expensive to make. It’s one of the few ways companies have figured out how to make the maths work (at least for their shareholders).

It’s possible there’s a world in which something becoming exclusive ends up being net-positive for the majority of players. It’s hard to see the money in Arkane making Dishonored 3. It’s less hard when it could become a loss leader on a subscription service like Game Pass, and I really want Dishonored 3. But if it does ever happen you can bet the farm it won’t be on the next PlayStation. Because Microsoft wants you to give it your money instead of Sony, even if that means depriving you of The Elder Scrolls VI.

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