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

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

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.

Comments

  • I think you stated it best, is Insomniac still going to be making XBox games?

    I have a PS owner friend who is angry beyond belief that he will have to buy an xbox to play the next Doom (I keep reminding him, he doesn’t it’ll be on PC). But why shouldn’t it be? I have to get a PS5 (when they’re bloody available!) to play R&C, one of my favourite franchises, so the same is now true of MS properties.

    For better or worse, MS continues to support Minecraft (as well as putting Minecraft Dungeons on all platforms) which made people think that they would just continue to let everyone have all their owned IP.

  • I made peace with this long ago so now it’s just watching the awkward PR word salad as they deal with the elephant they put in the room themselves.

    Just be bloody honest for once.

  • If i was Xbox i would be holding off on confirming this until the cloud platform is looking super healthy so that they can more tactfully have the wrong box argument by saying it is really easy to get into the Xbox ecosystem, you can play on PC or Cloud, no need for a new box, just a game pass subscription and away you go.

  • Its going to be funny that Skyrim, one of the most ported and re-released game, that it became a meme…will have a sequel that will be the least ported die to exclusivity.

  • I think this has a longer way to play out yet. And given that a playable GOTY version of TESVI will be ready circa 2025, I can wait.

  • I mean it’s well within their rights (Thank god for PCs)… but it does talk volumes about all the crap they said about believing their games should be playable to everybody and that they don’t care what platform their games are played on.

    This all goes around to the big platforms talking mad crap when they are losing about how they should all work together… then when they are equal or winning… they all just go quiet.

    • I think they DO believe that their games should be on all platforms… as long as that platform isn’t an aggressive hardware competitor who also uses games exclusivity for their own benefits.

      Microsoft is happy for me to stream Xbox games on my PC or my phone without even owning an Xbox. They lose money on consoles, in a Sony free world they’d probably give consoles up and just have everyone pay for a Gamepass sub for all eternity and just use it on whatever device.

      But if they put Gamepass on Playstation and Sony kept doing their own exclusives they’d have such ridiculous market dominance that they could do whatever they want (like charging MS to sell games through their services).

      It wouldn’t surprise me to see Gamepass on a Nintendo one day though. They aren’t hardware competitors the same way Sony is.

      • I’d believe them more on that, if not for the nonsense with Windows 10 not allowing Steam et al unless you brick Microsoft’s store.

  • Honestly, in some ways it is predictable they are going to be exclusive and not really that terrible (and I say that as PS5 player) but spare me the PR BS about how it is to make a better game. and for the good of gamers. The only people who win from this are the suits.

    • I get where you’re coming from but I’m fairly certain Skyrim was a hot mess on ps3 due to the different programming required. Less dev time and resources might be a good thing. Most people have PCs these days, right?

  • I say this as a PS1 – 5 owner, Sony fan boys need to just get over it. Sony has been doing this for years with huge titles and locking them down to their platform (even keeping them off PC). Microsoft now own Bethesda (if you want to have beef with anyone, take beef that they were happy to sell) and they should be locking down their exclusives to help the sale of their machine.

    I’m not too salty because like any smart person I own both a PC and PS5. Maybe when Sony stops hogging all the IP’s it owns then my mind will change, but MS have done nothing wrong here.

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