It’s no secret that the Xbox One trailed the PS4 in the eight-generation of consoles. A disastrous launch for the Xbox One, full of mixed messages and a focus on everything except games, dramatically impacted early hype. This momentum drove the PS4 to brush Microsoft aside through the life of the Xbox One. However, this difficulty led to a period of innovation for Microsoft, and towards the end of the eighth generation, the Xbox One managed to regain some momentum. Looking to capitalize on this growing momentum, Microsoft has purchased Bethesda Softworks for a massive $7.5b. With Sony’s PlayStation 5 launch in shambles, this may be the early turning point in the next-generation of console wars. Now that the dust has settled, here’s how Microsoft’s Bethesda acquisition is important to gamers.
It’s All About Exclusives For Xbox
The Xbox Series X has been seen as having weak exclusive options at launch, leaving fans wondering what the console brings to the table. In fairness to Xbox, it does boast gamer-friendly backward compatibility that Sony fans can only dream of, as well as an incredibly generous Game Pass. However, this is only worth so much to gamers wanting the next big thing. To put it simply, consoles live and die on exclusives, and Xbox has almost none at launch. Halo Infinite represents Xbox’s big selling point but has been pushed back into 2021 as yet another casualty of COVID-19. While there is a major release available from day one in the form of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, it’s also available on PS5.
In fact, just about the only games, the Series X can lay claim to being their exclusives are Scorn and The Ascent. While these are not minor games, they’re also not blockbusters, which will drive sales of a $499 console. Compare this to Sony, who launch their PS5 with the heavily anticipated Demon’s Souls remake. Combine this with a new Spider-Man game, and Sackboy, the latest entry from LittleBig Planet, and you can see a clear difference in launch strength. It’s also very difficult to imagine that Microsoft was not aware of this. The tech giant will have been desperate to avoid a repeat of the last generation. After trailing the PS4 heavily for years, the Xbox eventually managed to gain some momentum. A poor launch would undo all of that hard work and genuine innovation.
Microsoft And The FOMO Effect
Having identified this weakness, it’s no surprise Microsoft acted. With their Bethesda acquisition, Microsoft has made a clear statement of intent. What is shocking is two key points. Firstly, $7.5b is a lot of money. You could buy Buckingham Palace six times with that and have $1b in change. You could buy the Red Sox and still have enough money to buy three top-ranked teams in the MLS. I don’t mean to drive this point to exhaustion, but merely to stress that this is an astonishing amount of money. Secondly, it’s essential to look at what this means for gamers.
Microsoft’s tactic, even if they will not explicitly admit it, is to stimulate gamers’ FOMO. We gamers are fickle beasts, always looking for the next big release. In the Bethesda acquisition, there is the implication that future releases may be exclusives to Xbox. The PS5 may have looked good last week, but now imagine that you can’t play The Elder Scrolls 6 on it. Or how about the mysterious and heavily-hyped Starfield, which has already been confirmed to be on Xbox and PC only. Does the PS5 still look so appealing?
Beyond Starfield, Microsoft has been cagey on details. All they’ve said on the matter is that future games exclusivity will be decided on “a case by case basis.”. Given the vast production costs behind Bethesda games, exclusivity would be a pricey decision. While Microsoft certainly has the resources to absorb this cost, I believe that timed exclusives are more likely. With the push to be the first to try new games, this would still be a significant deciding factor for gamers.
To answer the question everyone is asking: Phil Spencer tells @dinabass that Xbox plans to honor the PS5 exclusivity commitment for Deathloop and Ghostwire: Tokyo.
Future Bethesda games will be on Xbox, PC, and "other consoles on a case by case basis." https://t.co/Agyttr53LO
— Jason Schreier (@jasonschreier) September 21, 2020
A Game Changer For Xbox?
Mircosoft’s tactic is already paying off. Doom Eternal was a major release only a few months ago and is already coming to Xbox Game Pass. The ability to command Bethesda’s back-catalog in this manner undoubtedly gives Xbox an edge over competitors. While Bethesda has confirmed that PS5 exclusives Ghostwire: Tokyo and Deathloop will remain only on PS5, beyond that they are making no promises. It’s not impossible to believe that Bethesda games will come to PS5, but Microsoft will be wanting to keep as many releases to themselves as they can.
It’s important to note that for some, the Bethesda acquisition will not be a factor. Some gamers feel very strongly in favor of a specific console, and this buyout is unlikely to convince die-hard PlayStation fans to make the shift to Xbox. Other gamers will simply buy both consoles. The segment Microsoft is targeting is swing gamers. Those gamers who have no allegiance and simply buy whichever console they feel provides the best proposition. As swing voters decide elections, Microsoft hopes swing gamers will be enough to win the console war.
A Late Game Changer?
Also worth mentioning is that this is a fluid situation, and Microsoft is coming to grips with the Bethesda acquisition. A month is a long time in gaming, and we may be yet to see major developments in this story. There are even reports that Microsoft may be looking to purchase more studios. Reports give few details of who Microsoft has their sights on, but surely we will be looking at smaller buys following the Bethesda acquisition. Who knows though, Microsoft certainly has the resources to make more major acquisitions.
Whether it will be enough or not, only time will tell. Luckily though, we don’t have long to wait until we start to find out the answer. With both consoles out in just over a month, it will be interesting to see if Microsoft’s late play has impacted gamers’ buying decisions. I would previously have said that I’m a day-one PS5 buyer, but now, I’m not so sure.