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After the news hit that Microsoft acquired ZeniMax, the big question was “what happens to Bethesda’s biggest games?” While acquisitions usually mean exclusives, there is a big reason why The Elder Scrolls 6 might be an exception.
Alex, GI’s “largest video editor,” and I recently recorded a small podcast, which can be seen at the top of the article, where we talked about the recent acquisition and what that potentially means going forward. While we clearly stated that there are definitely going to be some exclusives to come out of this, the biggest question that hit our inboxes was about The Elder Scrolls 6.
First, some background. The statements made about the acquisition weren’t just wishful thinking. I have a master’s degree in business with a focus on marketing and I’ve been in this industry for 17 years. I’m not going to say anything, especially not to a large audience like Game Informer, unless I can back it up and have experiences that lend validity. To do otherwise is basically asking to be crucified, and trust me, gaming journalists get enough of that already. That being said, I’m also not saying my word is law. Microsoft would be well within their rights to make everything acquired an exclusive.
Another factor into the statements made included a deep dive I recently published concerning Sony and Microsoft having wildly different marketing strategies for next gen. So different, in fact, that it oblierates how we look at comparing the two platforms. If this acquisition happened four or so years ago, I would not have hesitated to say every Bethesda IP would now be an Xbox exclusive, but now? The game has changed in a big way, and that’s not a sure thing.
“But Phil Spencer said…”
Before we dive right in, I do want to reference a comment made by Xbox boss Phil Spencer. With Bethesda and id Software being among the studios under the ZeniMax umbrella, the fate of many epic franchises remains unclear. When asked about the future of exclusivity, Spencer mentioned that the team is honoring the pre-agreed PlayStation 5 timed exclusivity for games like Ghostwire and Deathloop, but all IPs going forward would be on a case by case basis.
With new IPs like Starfield, it would make sense to make those games exclusive to Xbox Series X/S and PC because those are brand new communities that can be built from the ground up. As mentioned in the above video, Starfield also fits that space adventure niche that Halo currently resides in. Given the decline of the Halo fanbase and Infinite’s mixed reception, Starfield is poised to fill a gap that could be left behind.
New IPs versus history
I feel like the value in capitalizing on big franchises like Doom and Fallout is a smart idea but there is a catch when looking at some properties over others. Five years ago, Xbox would have lept at the change for exclusivity. As they should. But Microsoft’s current marketing strategy is removed from hardware limitations, instead focusing purely on intangible core goals that reside in the services realm like Xbox Game Pass and xCloud. Because of that, they have a freedom that Sony doesn’t have because Sony is continuing on with the traditional gaming metric of hardware sales. And there is nothing wrong with that, at all, but that marketing mindset is inline with scoring as many exclusives as possible, and that’s a marketing mindset that Microsoft currently is not in.
Because of the different marketing approach, Xbox has an opportunity to be more strategic with their exclusive plays. Make Starfield exclusive and you’ll have angry gamers (like always) but eventually, everything will be righted and the community will move on. Remove franchises like Fallout and Elder Scrolls, both of which have fans in the millions with long histories attached to them, and there is reputuational and monetary damage that undermines their entire company goal. I’m not talking a minor dent in reputation, I’m talking entire obliteration that will destroy all of the careful work that has gone into proving to fans that they will be transparent and stay true to their “gaming is for all” message that was birthed following the mess that was the Xbox One launch.
Under Phil Spencer’s leadership, the core focus has shifted dramatically. This is now, once again, the company we remember from the original Xbox and 360 days, the company that gamers loved and trusted. Spencer and his team has worked incredibly hard to get the brand back under that same spotlight after massive amounts of damage impacted public perception leading up to the launch of the Xbox One with its confused messaging regarding backwards compatibility and the paltry lineup of games that made that system special.
“But Microsoft is in the business of making money” versus Alienation
“But Microsoft is in the business of making money,” is what I hear the most in rebuttal. And those people are right, but that’s not exclusive to keeping a property like The Elder Scrolls open. If Microsoft allows for The Elder Scrolls 6 to be in the PlayStation 5 library, they will lose a cut, but not miss out on sales entirely. They own the property, they own the rights—they will make money off of the game even if Sony also offers it on their platform.
I can’t, from a business and marketing angle, see Microsoft alienating 120 million potential buyers solely for an exclusivity deal that’s not really exclusive. If any games are ‘exclusive’, they will still be available on PC because that is a part of Microsoft’s core system going forward. They will also be through services like Game Pass and xCloud.
Why comparing what Microsoft would do to what Sony would do doesn’t make sense
If we were talking about Sony acquiring Bethesda, this conversation wouldn’t even be happening. Sony gains from pure exclusivity, it doesn’t care about PC and it doesn’t care about going a purely service-focused route. Sony has been very transparent about not wanting to walk in Microsoft’s footsteps because it doesn’t see that strategy as “sustainable.” But Microsoft does, and that key philosophy difference is why comparing what Sony would do to what Microsoft would do doesn’t make sense.
These two companies are no longer on the same playing field, as cited in the coverage linked near the beginning of the article comparing strategies. For the next generation, we need to relearn how we view both platforms and what they bring to the table and how they strategically navigate an ever-evolving industry.
Yes, there will be exclusives
Yes, there will be exclusives, 100 percent. But this acquisition allowed Microsoft rights to many properties, all of which will make them money. Some exclusives does not translate to total exclusivity until they confirm otherwise and based on my experience with this industry and my business background, I can’t imagine Microsoft backtracking that drastically.
Could their marketing strategy shift in the future? Absolutely. The shift now is a massive pivot from the start of this gen. Change happens, companies evolve. But with the current goal and statement of intent? No, making games like The Elder Scrolls 6 Xbox exclusives is far from a sure thing.