A quick tour of some of the Bethesda gaming franchises that Microsoft now owns begins with the Elder Scrolls series.
The full range of Fallout games, including Fallout 76, is now part of the Microsoft family.
Dishonored may only have a few games up its sleeve so far, but it is becoming a popular franchise among critics and fans.
We haven't heard a word about a Prey sequel yet, but it will be a Microsoft trait if and when it happens.
Id Software's library is part of the Bethesda deal, including the recently redesigned Doom franchise.
Microsoft's own Quake looks better than ever with ray tracing support.
The historically absolutely accurate Wolfenstein series is now a Microsoft property.
The horror-infused environment of The Evil Within is now in Microsoft.
We don't know much about Starfield yet, but we know it will be owned by Microsoft.
Last weekend it seemed relatively certain that the next games in big franchise companies like Doom, The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Dishonored and The Evil Within would hit the PlayStation 5 (and maybe even the Nintendo Switch). That certainty went out of the window yesterday, however, when Microsoft announced that it would spend 7.5 billion US dollars on the acquisition of the large publisher Bethesda Softworks.
Still, there's hope for Bethesda fans who don't want to play on Xbox, PC, or via Microsoft's xCloud streaming. Future Bethesda titles will continue to be considered "on a case-by-case basis" for release on multiple platforms, Xbox CEO Phil Spencer said in an interview with Bloomberg News on Monday morning.
So far there has been little evidence of which games could qualify for either side of this "case-by-case" line.
Spencer confirmed to Bloomberg that Bethesda would meet all existing commitments for non-Xbox versions. That means games like Deathloop and Ghostwire: Tokyo, which have been heavily promoted as an exclusive PS5 console, will continue to do so for their planned releases next year. There is also little chance of previously released Bethesda games being pulled from the PlayStation Store or the Nintendo eShop (always a remote option, but possible if Microsoft tries to take advantage of its newly acquired benefit).
Zenimax Online Studios also tweeted a promise this morning that The Elder Scrolls Online "will continue to be supported exactly as it was, and we expect it will continue to grow and thrive on each of the platforms it currently supports." That's good news for current gamers on the PS4, but the careful formulation could point to problems for gamers hoping for a PlayStation 5 upgrade in the coming months.
Additionally, we're only guessing what Microsoft might decide for other current Bethesda franchises. However, a look at Microsoft's history in terms of acquisitions and exclusivity gives some clues as to what we might expect in the future.
The case for Microsoft to make Bethesda's games exclusive to Xbox consoles (with potential PC versions next to them) is simple: fans of these games are more likely to buy an Xbox Series S or X (and / or subscribe to Xbox Game Pass) to get it do they play. More people who buy Microsoft hardware mean a larger addressable audience for future Xbox games. This in turn attracts more developers to make games for the console, which attracts even more console sales – and so on on a positive cycle.
This is why console manufacturers funded exclusive game development long before Super Mario Bros. hit the Nintendo Entertainment System. This is why Microsoft's in-house studios like Turn 10, World & # 39; s Edge, The Coalition and 343 Industries aren't making franchises like Forza, Age of Empires, Gears of War and Halo for the PlayStation 5.
<img alt = "The outer worlds was in development for PS4 long before Microsoft bought the developer. "src =" https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/outerworlds-640×360.png "width =" 640 "height =" 360 "srcset =" https: //cdn.arstechnica .net / wp-content / uploads / 2020/09 / outerworlds-1280×720.png 2x "/> enlarge /. The Outer Worlds was in development for PS4 long before Microsoft bought its developer.
However, there have been a few exceptions to this general rule when it comes to Microsoft's recent outside acquisitions. Microsoft subsidiary inXile, for example, only released a version of Wasteland 3 for PlayStation 4 last month. Last year, Microsoft subsidiary Obsidian released The Outer Worlds for PS4. Looking ahead, Psychonauts 2 is still slated for a PS4 version despite Microsoft's purchase of developer Double Fine in 2019.
However, all of these exceptions share one important similarity: the games in question were already in development when Microsoft bought the studio. Just like Bethesda will honor its current commitments, Microsoft has not forced these studios to change their plans as a requirement of the purchase.
Going forward, however, these newly acquired Xbox Game Studios members will focus on Microsoft platforms. For example, Obsidian's next game, Grounded, was released exclusively on Xbox One in July. The studio's next game, Avowed, is slated to be an exclusive Xbox Series S / X game.
The story is the same for other new acquisitions. Ninja Theory may have developed games for PlayStation before joining Microsoft in 2018, but upcoming titles like Bleeding Edge and Senua's Saga: Hellblade II will be exclusive to Microsoft.
What does this mean for Bethesda's current long-term projects? Games like Starfield and The Elder Scrolls VI were announced back in 2018, but Bethesda has not made any public cross-platform commitments for these titles. Both projects are likely to be early enough in the development process that Microsoft could insist on Xbox exclusivity if desired.
What about Minecraft?
Those who hope Microsoft will take a loose hand with Bethesda exclusivity can point to the example the company set with Minecraft. After Microsoft spent $ 2.5 billion on developer Mojang in 2014, Microsoft could have tightly controlled the Minecraft franchise, forcing gamers in Xbox or Windows ecosystems to update (or even completely redesigned sequels) of the hugely popular game to enjoy. Instead, Microsoft continued to release and support versions (and spin-offs) of the hit game for every platform imaginable, from iOS to the Wii U and beyond.
Microsoft realized that Minecraft was worth more to the company as a multi-platform hit than as an exclusive, enticing gamer on its own platforms. Similarly, Microsoft might decide that Bethesda's popular (albeit less popular than Minecraft) franchises are more valuable as multi-platform sales giants than reasons to buy an Xbox Series S / X. In the meantime, gamers may still be Drawn to Xbox for cheap and easy subscription access to these Bethesda games through Game Pass.
<img alt = "The sight of an official Mario theme Minecraft The package can give hope to Bethesda fans who want their games on non-Microsoft consoles. "src =" https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/minemario-640×360.jpg "width =" 640 "height =" 360 "srcset =" https: //cdn.arstechnica .net / wp-content / uploads / 2020/09 / minemario.jpg 2x "/> enlarge /. The sight of an official Mario-themed Minecraft bundle can give hope to Bethesda fans looking to play their games on non-Microsoft consoles.
However, there is reason to believe that Minecraft is unique in its role among Microsoft's gaming characteristics. When Microsoft bought Mojang in 2014, the game was practically a platform in itself. Ten million regular players were connected to one another via a cross-platform ecosystem of server-based worlds. Some of these players have invested hundreds or thousands of hours in these persistent, living worlds.
Forcing these players to give up their platform of choice to move on with the worlds they built and still enjoy could have felt cumbersome. Some Minecraft players may have given up on the game. others, reluctant to come along, may have badwill towards Microsoft.
Additionally, Minecraft is a type of online game that benefits from the broadest possible player base (in part because it makes a lot of money from in-game purchases on the Minecraft marketplace). Forcing players on Microsoft platforms would mean fewer players overall, which would mean fewer creations to watch and multiplayer servers to join. That, in turn, would make the game less appealing overall, and overall Microsoft's ecosystem less attractive to those ready to make the journey.
This probably explains why a persistent online game like Elder Scrolls Online gets a pass to access multiple platforms. Bethesda's Fallout 76 lifeworld appears to continue to be available on PlayStation consoles.
However, for Bethesda's single-player franchise, the value proposition is different. New sequels to these games mark an easy transition point at which individual players can jump onto a new platform. This is a less annoying step than shutting down an active gaming experience that players are currently enjoying on other platforms.
PlayStation owners who have long enjoyed Bethesda games may no longer have to choose between these titles and their preferred platform. For Microsoft, however, this is only an issue if a critical mass of these players decides that they like the PlayStation ecosystem more than Doom, Elder Scrolls, Fallout, and so on.
A third way?
Another option is of course the timed exclusivity. For example, Microsoft could make Bethesda's games available only on Xbox consoles for a year to ensure early adopters would need a Series S / X to keep up with the latest and greatest releases. Then the games could be released on PlayStation 5 and / or Switch for extra cash from an expanded audience.
There is some precedent for this with other former Microsoft exclusives. Games like Cuphead and the Ori series have made the leap to other consoles after a timed exclusivity period on Xbox. Previously, games like Rise of the Tomb Raider and PlayerUnknown & # 39; s Battlegrounds were only available on Xbox One before making the leap to the PS4.
<img alt = "Cuphead was only temporally exclusive to Microsoft consoles. But Microsoft doesn't quite own that Cuphead Franchise (… still?). "src =" https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/cuphead-640×406.jpg "width =" 640 "height =" 406 "srcset =" https: //cdn.arstechnica .net / wp-content / uploads / 2020/09 / cuphead-1280×813.jpg 2x "/> Enlarge /. Cuphead was only temporally exclusive to Microsoft consoles. But Microsoft doesn't fully own the Cuphead franchise (… yet?).
In all of these cases, however, the games came from a studio that was not owned by Microsoft. Microsoft likely made a one-off payment to provide an exclusivity period for these games without taking a controlling stake in the developer. Extending this timed exclusivity idea to a wholly owned subsidiary in Microsoft's Xbox Game Studios would be a new frontier for Microsoft. And it could be one that the company is looking to explore to capture the existing multi-console audience enjoying Bethesda's most popular games.
At the same time, the idea that Microsoft is paying $ 7.5 billion to become the publisher of a variety of major PlayStation 5 titles seems a bit strange. However, consumer behavior is likely to help determine how Microsoft makes these "case-by-case" decisions for multiple platforms in the future.