Why is everybody so surprised that future Bethesda titles will be Xbox/PC exclusive?

A few months ago I briefly touched on the Microsoft buyout of ZeniMax – parent company to Skyrim developer Bethesda. The deal, which was announced back in September last year, has finally gone through after months of behind-the-scenes legal wrangling, meaning that Microsoft now officially owns Bethesda Softworks, its subsidiaries, and all of the games they’ve developed and produced. This is a significant acquisition for Microsoft, and looks sure to shake up the games market – at least the single-player games market! It will also certainly provide a big boost for Xbox Game Pass, which has already been touting the arrival of Bethesda’s back catalogue to the service.

Almost all Bethesda titles for at least a decade have been multiplatform, with releases on Sony’s PlayStation consoles and some select releases on Nintendo hardware too, and those games aren’t going to be taken away. Microsoft has also pledged to honour existing contracts for upcoming titles, meaning that both Deathloop and Ghostwire: Tokyo will still have timed exclusivity on PlayStation 5. After that, however, we can expect to see future titles arrive exclusively on Xbox Series S/X and PC.

Ghostwire: Tokyo will still be a timed PlayStation 5 exclusive.

Some games industry commentators seem taken aback at this notion, asking with mouths agape if Microsoft will seriously make upcoming Bethesda projects like Starfield and The Elder Scrolls VI Xbox/PC exclusive. To those folks I ask a simple question: really? This seems like a surprise to you?

Microsoft paid $7.5 billion for Bethesda, and for that huge investment they’re going to want a lot more than a few new titles in the Game Pass library. Exclusive games sell systems, and in 2021 exclusive games drive subscriptions too. Microsoft fell way behind in the last generation as the Xbox One was massively outsold by the PlayStation 4, and a lack of decent exclusive games was a huge factor in explaining why that was the case. Microsoft has tried to rectify the situation by acquiring Obsidian Entertainment, Compulsion Games, Playground Games, Ninja Theory, and other studios, and guess what? Those studios now make games for PC and Xbox only. Some of these investments will take time to pay off, but as the new console generation rolls into its second and third years, I think we’ll see a big push from Microsoft with some of these new exclusive games.

Expect to see future Bethesda titles be Xbox/PC exclusive.

Titles from Microsoft-owned franchises like Halo, Gears of War, State of Decay, and standalone games like Sea of Thieves aren’t going to be released on PlayStation (or Nintendo) so I’m afraid that people are getting their hopes up if they expect to see future Bethesda titles on any other platform. Microsoft wouldn’t have spent such a huge sum of money not to capitalise on their acquisition, and while in the immediate term nothing is going to change, give it a couple of years when Starfield is ready, The Elder Scrolls VI is preparing for launch, and Bethesda are working on new entries in the Fallout or Doom series and you can guarantee they will be Xbox/PC exclusive.

Sometimes I sit down to read through opinion and commentary by other games industry writers – including some pretty big names – and I’m surprised how they can get it so wrong. It seems naïve in the extreme to be banking on any future Bethesda title – including huge ones like The Elder Scrolls VI and a potential future Fallout title – to be anything other than exclusive to Microsoft’s platforms. That’s how these things work, and it’s why Microsoft was willing to get out their wallet in the first place.

I wouldn’t bet on being able to play Starfield on your PlayStation 5.

Though it may seem “unfair” to lock games to a single platform (or pair of platforms, in this case) it’s how the industry has operated since day one. Nobody got upset about Marvel’s Spider-Man being a PlayStation 4 exclusive, even though that game wasn’t made by Sony, but rather one of their subsidiaries. It was just expected – Insomniac Games make PlayStation titles, just like 343 Industries make Xbox titles. Bethesda’s acquisition means they join Team Xbox. It may not be great fun for PlayStation gamers who had been looking forward to a future Bethesda title, but that’s the reality of the industry.

Be very careful if you hear an analyst or commentator saying that they believe Bethesda titles will still come to PlayStation. Rather than getting your hopes up or setting up false expectations, it may be better to plan ahead. If Starfield or The Elder Scrolls VI are games you’re dead set on playing, consider investing in Xbox. The Xbox Series S is a relatively affordable machine at £249/$299, and if you only need it for a couple of exclusives that you can’t get elsewhere it could be a solid investment – certainly a lot cheaper than a gaming PC.

The Xbox Series S might be worth picking up.

Despite all of this, I still feel Sony has the upper hand in the exclusives department, at least for now. It will be a couple of years or more before Microsoft can fully take advantage of their new acquisition, and other titles from developers like Obsidian – who are working on a game that looks superficially similar to The Elder Scrolls series – are also several years away. Sony, on the other hand, has games out now like Spider-Man: Miles Morales and the Demon’s Souls remake, as well as upcoming titles like God of War: Ragnarok and Returnal to draw players in. Microsoft is still pursuing a frankly bizarre policy of making all Xbox Series S/X games available on Xbox One for the next year or so, so for exclusive next-gen gaming in the short term, Sony is still the way to go.

I remember when Microsoft entered the home console market for the first time in 2001. A lot of commentators at the time were suggesting that Microsoft were buying their way in, that they would throw their wallet around and other companies would find it hard to compete. It never really happened, though, at least not to the extent some folks feared. The acquisition of Bethesda is a big deal, but Bethesda and all its subsidiaries have published only around 20 games in the whole of the last decade, so in terms of the wider gaming market, and considering how many games there will be on PC, Xbox Series S/X, and PlayStation 5 in the next few years, it’s a drop in the ocean.

That doesn’t mean it won’t sting for PlayStation fans who want to play Starfield or The Elder Scrolls VI, though. Better start saving up for an Xbox!

All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, and/or publisher. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

The first big video game announcement of the year is… Indiana Jones?

Early January isn’t usually a good time for big announcements as folks are still getting back to work and school after Christmas and New Year. But 2021 is different with lockdowns and such, so perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise to see a new video game announcement!

Bethesda Softworks – the company behind The Elder Scrolls series which was recently acquired by Microsoft – has announced their latest project: a new Indiana Jones game. In addition to Bethesda and legendary producer Todd Howard on the publishing side, the game will be developed by MachineGames, the studio responsible for the recent Wolfenstein titles. Obviously there’s a lot that we don’t know at this stage about the project, which was announced with a cinematic teaser and little else, but any title featuring Indiana Jones has the potential to be fantastic.

Doesn’t it?

Despite being a successful film series (alright, three successful films and one crap one) Indiana Jones hasn’t been anywhere near as successful in the interactive medium. Indiana Jones’ Greatest Adventures back in the SNES days was the last time any game featuring the scrappy archaeologist could be considered a hit. There have been a couple of Lego games and a couple of original stories during the 1990s and 2000s, but although Indiana Jones has inspired some fantastic games and game franchises, it never really took off as a game series of its own.

Indiana Jones’ Greatest Adventures on the SNES.

The likes of Tomb Raider and Uncharted owe a lot to Indiana Jones, but those series have gone on to far outperform and eclipse their inspiration, at least in the gaming realm. Since the mid-1990s no Indiana Jones game has felt like anything other than an afterthought; a second-tier game picked up by some fans but soon afterwards found in bargain bins. What can Bethesda and MachineGames do to stand out and make sure their new project doesn’t suffer that ignominious fate?

Because it’s been a while since there was an Indiana Jones game, and with the films’ standing remaining high, there will be a lot of interest in this game whenever it’s ultimately released. In fact the reputation of the Indiana Jones films has only grown, such that some people even consider Kingdom of the Crystal Skull “watchable!” With a new film in the works too, it would be great to see the series end on a high note.

Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was… interesting.

The new film may have been the catalyst for this game’s creation, but there’s no indication at this stage that it will be a direct adaptation. As I’ve said before, the days of the film tie-in seem to be long gone, and in some respects making this new game a tie-in would arguably reduce interest in it, such is the low regard for film adaptations in a general sense.

So what can we expect from this game? At this stage, very little is known. MachineGames’ previous titles have all been first-person shooters, so perhaps a first-person perspective could be on the agenda. But Indiana Jones films have always been more about adventure than guns-blazing action, so I wouldn’t expect a game using this setting to simply be a shooter.

If I had to guess, I think what I’d say is that the new game will draw inspiration from those very games that Indiana Jones inspired years ago: Tomb Raider, Uncharted, and the like. We’ll get a third-person action-adventure game with puzzles, mystery, and plenty of villains to outmanoeuvre and defeat. But I could be completely wrong on that – it could be a multiplayer-only kart racer for all we know at this stage!

Indiana Jones inspired the Uncharted series of video games.

Right now, the hype around this project is almost entirely built on name recognition. Both the Indiana Jones brand and the studio and publisher behind this title have reputations that are generally respected – although it’s not unfair to say that Bethesda has been through the mud recently, especially with Fallout 76. Nostalgia for the Indiana Jones films will certainly help drive sales, but as we’ve seen from some recent projects – including one that was also part of a franchise created by George Lucas – nostalgia alone isn’t good enough. Sometimes too much nostalgia can even do harm, taking away a potentially-interesting story’s own merit.

So Bethesda and MachineGames will need to tread carefully. Indiana Jones has never really proven itself a colossal money-making success in the video game realm, and while the generally good reputation of (three of) the films and the nostalgia many folks have for them will bring a degree of interest, the game will have to offer more than that. It will have to be… a good game.

Shock horror! A game will have to be good in order to sell? I’m afraid so. In fact, “good” won’t be good enough. Any game using nostalgia as a hook will have to go above and beyond in order to make good on players’ and fans’ lofty expectations. A redux of Uncharted but set in the ’30s with Harrison Ford replacing Nolan North will not cut it. We’re in a new generation now, and what this game needs is something different and next-gen to really push the boundaries of action-adventure titles, setting a new precedent for future titles to look to.

A glimpse of Indiana Jones’ hat, whip, and other accessories as seen in the new game’s teaser.

That seems like a high bar. But no one forced Bethesda and MachineGames to pick up the Indiana Jones license. If they wanted to create their own unique adventure game, perhaps an Uncharted knock-off would be seen as good enough. But there’s power in brands and names, and while Indiana Jones has arguably never been a franchise that truly made it to the pinnacle of cinema or geekdom in the way Star Wars did, for example, it still has a cadre of fans who won’t settle for anything less than a unique and exciting experience. There’s a lot to be excited about from this game – and a lot that could potentially go wrong or be disappointing.

There’s no information currently on when this as-yet-untitled Indiana Jones game may be released. I’d be surprised if it were this year; Bethesda has previously announced games years ahead of time, and the cinematic teaser we got didn’t show off anything close to gameplay, which is usually an indication that a game is early in its development. Perhaps 2022 or 2023 might be when we’ll see it.

I’m interested to learn more, and if this game seems like my cup of tea (i.e. not a massively-multiplayer thing) I daresay I’ll check it out when it’s available. If we get any significant news between now and then I may cover it, so be sure to check back from time to time.

Indiana Jones is the copyright of Disney and LucasFilm. MachineGames and Bethesda are owned by ZeniMax Media, which is in turn owned by Microsoft. Some screenshots above courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.