Killer App

Deathloop is Sony's secret weapon in the exclusivity arms race

“The one that got away” for Microsoft is a GOTY contender.

Bethesda has finally lifted the lid on Deathloop. While we’ve gotten plenty of peeks at it over the past two years, a new gameplay presentation revealed exactly how it plays. After attending the two-hour preview, it’s become clear that Deathloop might just be one of 2021’s best games.

That’s frustrating news for Xbox fans. Despite the fact that Deathloop is published by the now Microsoft-owned Bethesda, it’ll be a timed console exclusive for PlayStation 5. That’s because Microsoft is honoring all of Bethesda’s existing exclusivity deals made prior to the purchase. Deathloop and Tokyo: Ghostwire will both release on PS5 well before they come to Xbox.

It’s looking more and more like Deathloop is “the one that got away.”

Julianna keeps watch over Colt in Deathloop.Bethesda

Exclusivity has been a point of debate throughout the Bethesda acquisition process. Players were immediately concerned that Microsoft owning the company would limit where fans could play popular series like Doom and Wolfenstein. Microsoft itself gave vague, at times conflicting answers about how it would handle exclusives.

That debate has only opened up again in recent weeks. Games journalist Jeff Grubb tweeted that Bethesda’s sci-fi game Starfield will be console exclusive to Xbox when it launches, prompting a wave of angry responses. For some, exclusivity is an outdated practice that only hurts players in 2021.

Microsoft’s decision to buy Bethesda and turn some of its biggest games into exclusives may seem like a drastic measure, but Deathloop reminds us of why it’s happening. Coming out of E3 2019, it was clear that Sony had snatched up a number of top-tier games. Deathloop and Tokyo: Ghostwire were huge talking points at the time, giving PS5 an edge heading into the console war hype. That left Microsoft in a tough spot. How do you stop deals like that from happening and keep Xbox competitive when it comes to third-party games?

Apparently, the answer is to break out the wallet and make companies an offer they can’t refuse.

Colt dual-wielding guns in Deathloop.Bethesda

While the “console war” of yesteryear is largely dead, we are seeing a sort of arms race when it comes to exclusivity. Microsoft and Sony are playing nice with one another, but both companies have become more passive aggressive in other ways. Sony has doubled down on exclusives like Final Fantasy VII Remake, while Microsoft has spent several years absorbing popular studios in an attempt to make Xbox Game Pass the be-all and end-all of gaming deals.

The situation around Deathloop and Bethesda is the current state of gaming in a nutshell. Sony fired a shot, and Microsoft issued a scorched Earth response. It’s “anything you can do, I can do better!” but with billions of dollars on the line.

In some ways, gaming is more united than it’s ever been. Crossplay brings console players together. We’re living in a world where Sony-published games like MLB The Show 21 live on Xbox (though, it wasn’t Sony’s choice). But don’t be fooled by the harmony: The industry is as splintered as ever.

When it comes to Deathloop, Sony has won the battle … but Microsoft may still win the war.

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