Starfield: Why game delays are a good thing

If you missed the announcement, Bethesda Game Studios’ upcoming sci-fi role-playing game Starfield has been delayed. Originally planned for a November 2022 release, that has slipped back to “the first half of 2023,” which potentially means that the game is a year or more away. With Starfield having shown off a cinematic teaser and some concept art but no real gameplay yet, perhaps the delay was not entirely unexpected! Regardless, some folks are upset by this move, with some PlayStation super-fans even hailing it as a “failure” for Xbox. Obviously that isn’t the case, so today we’re going to use Starfield as an example of why delays really are a good thing.

First up, it’s never fun when a game I’m looking forward to receives a delay. I don’t think anyone is trying to pretend that a delay to a highly-anticipated title – particularly a lengthy delay of six months or more – is something that fans and players are thrilled about or want to see. Instead, I’d describe delays as “understandable.” Particularly in light of a number of recent titles that have been disappointing due to feeling like they weren’t ready to go on launch day, I think more and more players are coming around to that point of view.

Concept art for Starfield.

Increasingly, these kinds of announcements are treated with maturity and understanding by players – and you need only look to some of the comments and responses to Bethesda’s announcement about Starfield as a case in point. Yes, there are some folks who are angry or unhappy – toxicity exists within the gaming community, who knew? And there are the aforementioned PlayStation ultra-fans who are taking a victory lap. But many responses were positive, saying something along the lines of “if it needs more time, that’s okay.”

Failing to delay a game when extra development time is clearly required never ends well. A game’s reputation is largely set within a few hours of its release, and attempting to change the narrative once “it’s bad” or “it’s full of bugs and glitches” has become the overwhelming impression is nigh-on impossible. For every No Man’s Sky that manages to pull off some kind of rehabilitation, there are dozens of titles such as Anthem, Aliens: Colonial Marines, or Warcraft III: Reforged. It’s much better to launch a decent game out of the gate than to try to fix a broken mess after players are already upset.

Concept art for Starfield.

One game has done more than any other in recent years to soften attitudes in favour of delays and to remind players just how badly it’s possible to screw up a premature launch: Cyberpunk 2077. Despite receiving a significant delay earlier in 2020, Cyberpunk’s launch in December of that year was so catastrophically bad that the game ended up being forcibly removed from the PlayStation store, found itself widely criticised by players, and it even saw CD Projekt Red’s share price take a tumble from which it has yet to fully recover.

Starfield exists in a similar space to Cyberpunk 2077 – both are role-playing games, both include science-fiction elements, both are open-world titles, and so on – so many of the players anticipating Starfield have been burned already just eighteen months ago by a game that was released far too soon. Those players, perhaps more than any others, are inclined to understand the reasons behind this decision. And even folks who didn’t personally get caught up in the Cyberpunk 2077 mess are at least aware of what happened.

Cyberpunk 2077 needed a delay or two of its own.

In 2022, with so many games having been released too soon, the attitude from players in general has shifted. Where delays may once have been met with a louder backlash from those who felt disappointed, reactions today are more mature and understanding. That’s not to say toxic or aggressive individuals don’t exist or that there won’t be any criticism of such a move, but rather that the scale of backlash that delays receive is now less significant than it used to be.

At the end of the day, even the most aggressive critics of delays are still likely to buy a game that they’re excited for when it’s ready. It would take some serious self-harming spite to say “because you didn’t release the game in 2022 I’m never going to play it ever!” so from Bethesda and parent company Microsoft’s point of view, the longer-term damage is limited. That isn’t true for every company, though.

Bethesda is owned by Microsoft.

Delays have a disproportionate impact on smaller companies and independent developers, because a delay in those cases can potentially mean that there won’t be enough money to fund their project. If a developer only has enough money in the bank to keep the lights on and the computers powered up for a certain number of weeks, then there’s naturally going to be a hard limit on how far they can push back a release – and the income it brings. In those cases, more leniency can be required when assessing a game.

But when we’re dealing with Starfield, Bethesda, and Microsoft, that’s a non-issue! Backed up by one of the biggest corporations on the planet, Bethesda doesn’t need to worry about running out of cash, and from Microsoft’s point of view it’s infinitely better to ensure that Starfield gets all the time that it needs to be ready for prime-time. This is Bethesda’s first big title for Microsoft, their first new IP in years, and a game that has a lot riding on it for the success of Microsoft’s Xbox brand and Xbox Game Pass. Getting it right is so much more important than rigid adherence to arbitrary deadlines, so if release windows need to shift then from a business perspective that’s what makes the most sense.

Starfield is likely to be a big title for bringing in new Game Pass subscribers.

There are instances where release dates are announced that seem, even at the time, to be unrealistic. Bethesda’s 11th of November 2022 release date for Starfield, for instance, came eleven years to the day after another of their titles: Skyrim. In addition to getting the game out in time for the Christmas rush, there was also clearly something poetic or symmetrical about such a release date that was appealing to Bethesda. But they recognised that the release date wasn’t practical and changed it – good for them!

As consumers in this marketplace, I think we have a responsibility not only to call out and criticise companies when they get it wrong, but to at least acknowledge when a correct decision has been made. As I always say, I have no “insider information” – so I don’t know what condition the current version of Starfield may or may not be in – but if the developers, testers, and management at Bethesda have recognised that the game isn’t far enough along to be in with a realistic chance of hitting its release date, then the smart move is to announce a delay as early as possible. That seems to be what they’ve done, and I commend them for it.

Concept art for Starfield.

In an industry and a marketplace that is too demanding of its employees sometimes, delays can be incredibly welcome respite. I’ve talked before about “crunch” – a practice that I have some personal experience with having once worked in the games industry – and that’s another reason why delays can be a positive thing. Maybe Bethesda could have crunched the teams working on Starfield hard enough to get some semblance of a playable title ready in time to hit its planned release date – but if doing so would have come at the expense of those developers and their health, then I wouldn’t want to get Starfield this year.

Crunch is a bigger subject that we’ll need to talk about at length on another occasion, but if a delay like this one helps to minimise the stress and difficulty of working under such conditions, then suffice to say we have one more reason to be supportive.

I’m looking forward to Starfield, despite some missteps by Bethesda in recent years. If this delay means that the game will be significantly more polished, free from as many bugs and glitches as possible, then I’m all for it. If this delay means that developers and staff at Bethesda aren’t pushed too hard and overworked this year, then I’m all for it. And if this delay means that Starfield will be an all-around more enjoyable experience, then I’m all for it. Though there will be critics and a vocal minority of toxic “fans,” more and more players are coming around to this way of thinking. Delay Starfield if necessary, and if it isn’t ready for the first half of 2023 then delay it again! All that really matters is that the game is in the best possible shape when it finally arrives, and if that means waiting a little longer, that’s fine by me.

Starfield has been delayed and is now due for release sometime in the first half of 2023. Starfield is the copyright of Bethesda Softworks, Bethesda Game Studios, and the Microsoft Corporation. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

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.

That Microsoft-Bethesda deal came out of nowhere!

I’m a couple of days late on this one, but if you didn’t know already, Microsoft surprised and upended the games industry by announcing a deal to buy ZeniMax Media. ZeniMax is the owner of Bethesda – the company behind such titles as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Fallout 76. The deal also includes id Software, developers of Doom and Doom Eternal, as well as several other associated companies, including the developers of The Evil Within, The Elder Scrolls Online, and the Wolfenstein series. Wow.

I’ve seen a lot of… interesting commentary to have come out of this acquisition, including people who seem to think this means there can be no more console-exclusive titles ever, and some overly-optimistic PlayStation fans still expecting their favourite Bethesda/ZeniMax titles to come out on that platform. A lot of the details of the deal and its fallout (pun intended) are still under wraps, but I think we can make some reasonable assumptions – and cut through some of the nonsense.

Buying ZeniMax Media gives Microsoft control over all of these game series – and many more.

First off, let’s clear something up. Microsoft wouldn’t spend $7.5 billion on this company and its subsidiaries for no reason. There are unquestionably going to be changes as a result of this deal. There are several ways it could manifest, but if we look to recent history we can pick out a couple of examples. The Outer Worlds was late into its development when Microsoft purchased developer Obsidian. With the game already scheduled for release on PlayStation, Microsoft honoured that commitment and didn’t make any changes. Likewise when they bought Mojang, Minecraft didn’t become an Xbox/PC exclusive. Those games were either already released or releasing imminently, likely with deals and agreements already signed, so Microsoft kept to those agreements.

The titles people seem most concerned about are The Elder Scrolls VI, which was announced a couple of years ago but is still several years away, and the next game in the Fallout series. No announcement has been made of a new Fallout title, but the assumption is that there may be one in pre-production. As someone who worked in the games industry for a time, I really feel that no company in Microsoft’s position spends this much money not to have exclusive titles. Unless this is part of some longer-term strategy to force Sony to bring their exclusive titles to Microsoft’s Xbox and PC platforms – which it almost certainly isn’t – we can say goodbye to the idea of any upcoming games being multiplatform. Despite Microsoft’s statements that they don’t care what platform someone plays on, they obviously do or they wouldn’t be investing so heavily in the Xbox brand and in PC gaming.

When The Elder Scrolls VI is finally ready, it may not come to PlayStation 5.

The Elder Scrolls VI is far enough in the future that I’d argue it won’t affect the purchasing decisions of 99% of gamers in 2020/21. Even hardcore Elder Scrolls fans should feel confident buying a PlayStation 5 if they want to this Christmas, because the next game in the series is years away and there will be time to get a cheaper Xbox Series S later if necessary. But thinking strategically and thinking long-term, the reality is that if players want to guarantee access to upcoming titles in any of these franchises, they’ll need to look at Xbox. That could be in the form of a console or it could mean getting a PC capable of running newer games. Either way, right now there’s no guarantee any of these titles will come to PlayStation – and if I were advising Microsoft, I’d say they’re in a rock solid position to demand compromises from Sony if Sony want to make any of those games and franchises available on their new system.

As we gear up for the launch of the two new systems, it’s hard to see that many people who had been planning to get a PlayStation will be swayed by this move – at least not in the short-term. All titles which have already been released – including the likes of Doom Eternal, Fallout 4, etc. – will still be available on Sony’s systems. On PlayStation 5 specifically, upgraded and/or re-released versions of some games are coming, and backwards compatibility with PlayStation 4 will mean all current-gen titles will run on the new system. Also the upcoming Ghostwire: Tokyo and Deathloop, which have already been announced for PlayStation 5, seem certain to keep their console releases. So anyone looking ahead to the next year or two need not be too concerned. It’s the longer-term prospects that may worry some PlayStation gamers.

Future ZeniMax/Bethesda titles may not come to PlayStation 5.

With this acquisition, Microsoft will be bringing all of Bethesda’s titles – including upcoming releases – to their Game Pass service. I wrote recently that Game Pass is already a pretty great deal, not to mention the cheapest way to get into current- and next-gen gaming. Add Bethesda’s titles into the mix and the value of the service goes up even more.

This is the real genius of the move. Exclusivity will certainly pull in some players, as those unwilling to miss out will have no choice but to buy into the Xbox ecosystem in some form. But Game Pass is Microsoft’s killer app right now; a subscription service offering players hundreds of games for a monthly fee instead of shelling out $70/£65 per title is not only in line with the way people consume other forms of entertainment (like music and television) but also feels like a good value proposition as we enter what could be a long-term spell of economic uncertainty as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

I’m a subscriber to Game Pass for PC – and it just became a much better deal!

Game Pass is already available on Xbox and PC, and has been steadily growing its subscriber base. It doesn’t have the library that a service like Steam has, but I can absolutely foresee a time in the future – the near future – where Game Pass will be the platform of choice for many players, perhaps with Steam as a backup to buy occasional titles that aren’t available elsewhere. And once someone has signed up for Game Pass, Xbox Live, and started racking up achievements and making friends, they’re hooked into the ecosystem. It isn’t impossible to switch or leave, of course, but Microsoft will make staying as appealing as possible.

As far back as 2000/01 when Microsoft decided to jump head-first into the home console market, commentators were wondering when they’d start throwing their wallet around. A company with the resources of Microsoft is in a unique position to spend, and we’ve seen them do so several times. On the whole, for players mostly interested in single-player titles I can understand why this feels huge. It is. But at the same time, the deal to buy Mojang a few years back was probably more significant!

In summary, this is good news for PC and Xbox players, and anyone who’s a Game Pass subscriber or on the fence about the service. PlayStation players shouldn’t notice any major short-term ramifications, but if you desperately want to play an upcoming game like the sequel to Doom Eternal, Starfield, or The Elder Scrolls VI, I think you’re going to need a PC or an Xbox.

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