Following Microsoft’s $7.5 billion acquisition of Bethesda in September, gamers and industry watchers were left to speculate over whether you’d need a Microsoft platform (i.e., an Xbox, a Windows PC, or xCloud streaming) to play future games in franchises like Doom, The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Dishonored, and The Evil Within.
Now, Microsoft Xbox CFO Tim Stuart has given the clearest indication yet that future Bethesda Softworks games likely won’t be exclusive to Microsoft platforms. Instead, Stuart says he suspects Microsoft will shift to “a first or better or best approach on our platforms” for these kinds of games.
Speaking at the Jeffries Interactive Entertainment Virtual Conference last Friday (as transcribed by Seeking Alpha), Stuart said directly that “in the long run… we don’t have intentions of just pulling all of Bethesda content out of Sony or Nintendo or otherwise. But what we want is we want that content, in the long run, to be either first or better or best or pick your differentiated experience, on our platforms.”
“That’s not a point about being exclusive,” Stuart continued. “That’s not a point about… adjusting timing or content or road map. But if you think about something like Game Pass, if it shows up best in Game Pass, that’s what we want to see, and we want to drive our Game Pass subscriber base through that Bethesda pipeline.”
Of Microsoft, not for Microsoft
Stuart’s statement comes well after Xbox head Phil Spencer confirmed that already-planned PS5 exclusives like Deathloop and Ghostwire: Tokyo would still be published by Bethesda in coming months. Spencer also told Kotaku last month that, while Microsoft could recoup its $7.5 billion purchase price without selling Bethesda games on PlayStation, the acquisition “was not done to take games away from another player base like that.”
Also last month, Fallout and Elder Scrolls producer Todd Howard hinted that it was “hard to imagine” the next Elder Scrolls game as a Microsoft exclusive. “They’ve been pretty open on other platforms, and not just within Xbox,” Howard told GamesIndustry.biz. “This is an outside perspective, but if you go back 10 years at Microsoft, you wouldn’t expect them to have a full Office suite on an iPhone either.”
Still, Stuart’s recent statements are the strongest indication yet that Microsoft currently plans to sell Bethesda games on non-Microsoft platforms. That would follow in the footsteps of Minecraft, which has remained a proudly multiplatform franchise following Microsoft’s $2.5 billion acquisition of Mojang in 2014.
Elsewhere at the conference, Stuart stressed that Microsoft plans to “continue to be acquisitive” as far as purchasing other game makers, specifically ones it could “rely on and say, we need a AAA game launching in FY ’24 Q1 for Game Pass,” for instance.
Stuart also said he expected retail shortages of the new Xbox Series X and Series S could continue through the first quarters of 2021, as the supplies of the system ramp up over the next few months. By the spring, though, Stuart expects “all of our supply chain continuing to go full speed heading into kind of the pre-summer months… and that’s when I expect to see really that demand profile start to be met, which will be really, really great.”
And while Stuart tamped down the recurring speculation of home consoles giving way to cloud-based gaming (a la Microsoft’s xCloud service), he said such streaming games will become more mainstream “as you look forward a decade.” That’s especially true, he said, as the expansion of 5G cellular plans and devices makes it easier to get high-bandwidth, low-latency connections in more places without a wired broadband connection (though 5G latency is not necessarily lower than that of your home broadband connection).
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