Microsoft’s acquisition of Bethesda Games was approved by regulators in the United States and Europe this week. Now, VentureBeat is reporting that the joint companies are in talks about Bethesda’s release strategy going forward, and specifically how Microsoft will get a return on its massive $7.5 billion purchase.
Xbox president Phil Spencer said in a blog post today that while not all new games will be exclusive to Microsoft platforms, some will.
Exclusive, or better, on Xbox — Before today, Microsoft had remained vague about its intentions for Bethesda’s popular franchises like Fallout and The Elder Scrolls, which have long been available across platforms including Sony’s PlayStation and the Nintendo Switch. The company announced the acquisition of Bethesda in September 2020.
“This is the next step in building an industry-leading first-party studios team, a commitment we have to our Xbox community,” Spencer writes. “With the addition of the Bethesda creative teams, gamers should know that Xbox consoles, PC, and Game Pass will be the best place to experience new Bethesda games, including some new titles in the future that will be exclusive to Xbox and PC players.”
A video presentation will reportedly be held on Thursday in which Microsoft will announce that numerous Bethesda games are coming to Game Pass, the subscription service that offers access to a catalog of over 100 popular games for $14.99 per month. Many of the games in Game Pass can be streamed over the internet to a mobile device or PC, meaning games are available to play anywhere.
Microsoft is betting big on subscriptions as the future of its business, making it into something of a Netflix for games. The model could be lucrative because customers pay in perpetuity rather than buying a $60 game once and then owning it forever. Microsoft has never made money off its consoles, selling them at break-even and profiting on game sales.
Netflix of gaming — Exclusivity will surely frustrate PlayStation gamers, but by offering the best Bethesda experience within its own ecosystem, Microsoft is giving Game Pass a big shot in the arm that will make it that much more attractive. A console like the Switch is able to perform so well in a crowded market because of its strong exclusive titles, whereas the Xbox and PlayStation were more interchangeable for a while because they offered many of the same games — that is, until Sony started focusing all its energy on exclusive IP. Microsoft has said it intends to buy more studios in the future.
It remains unclear specifically which titles will be exclusive to Microsoft’s platforms, but Spencer previously told Bloomberg that in the near term the company will honor Bethesda’s deal with Sony to offer an exclusive PlayStation 5 release period for the games Deathloop and Ghostwire: Tokyo. Most upcoming games, including Starfield, will be coming to Xbox, PCs, and Game Pass, and Microsoft will take a “case-by-case” approach to releasing on other consoles.
If Microsoft is serious about growing Game Pass, it will have to offer games exclusively in its own ecosystem, or at least give them earlier releases on the service. But certain less popular titles might better be able make a return on investment if they’re available in as many places as possible. Games could also serve as marketing for Game Pass if only select titles from a franchise are available elsewhere and gamers have to subscribe to access the rest.