It has been over a month now since Microsoft announced it was spending $7.5 billion to purchase Bethesda Softworks via its parent company, Zenimax Media. But gamers and industry-watchers are still left with one burning question: what does this mean for the prospect of multi-console (i.e. non-Xbox) releases for future Bethesda games?
Bethesda’s Todd Howard, known for his directing and producing work on The Elder Scrolls and Fallout series, isn’t quite ready to answer that question directly. But in an interview with GamesIndustry.biz, he broadly hinted that he expects Bethesda’s major franchises to appear on non-Xbox consoles going forward.
“I would agree that is hard to imagine” The Elder Scrolls VI restricted to Microsoft platforms, Howard said in response to a direct question on the matter.
Elsewhere in the interview, Howard admits that the parties haven’t fully discussed the details of multiplatform publishing as part of the purchase deal, which won’t be finalized until next year. “We haven’t gone through all of that, to be honest,” he said.
“We do view it, and always have by ourselves, on a case-by-case basis,” Howard added, echoing phrasing Microsoft’s Phil Spencer used with Bloomberg News when discussing the multiplatform issue last month. “We’ll do that as part of Microsoft as well. They’ve been pretty open on other platforms and not just within Xbox. This is an outside perspective, but if you go back 10 years at Microsoft, you wouldn’t expect them to have a full Office suite on an iPhone either.”
Howard also stressed Bethesda’s autonomy to “[run] our games and [push] everything the way that we have,” even as a Microsoft subsidiary. “We felt very strongly about their view of access; games for everybody that we can bring to anybody regardless of where they are, what devices they’re playing on. We’re very, very passionate about that, and at the end of the day we’re convinced we’ll make better products and get them to more people easily by being part of Xbox as opposed to being just a third party.”
Not a no, but not a yes, either
Howard’s comments come a few days after Microsoft’s Phil Spencer told Kotaku that Microsoft felt it could recoup its $7.5 billion investment in Bethesda without releasing The Elder Scrolls VI on PlayStation. But Spencer was quick to couch that statement with some caveats to stress that this was not necessarily the company’s intent.
“This deal was not done to take games away from another player base like that,” he said. “Nowhere in the documentation that we put together was: ‘How do we keep other players from playing these games?’ We want more people to be able to play games, not fewer people to be able to go play games. But I’ll also say in the model… I don’t have to go ship those games on any other platform other than the platforms that we support in order to kind of make the deal work for us. Whatever that means.”
Whatever that means, indeed.
Parsing these statements, for the time being, it seems like neither Microsoft nor Bethesda is particularly interested in holding the publisher’s massive franchises hostage to drive more interest in Microsoft platforms. If they were, Microsoft would likely be trumpeting that exclusivity loudly to help drive interest in Xbox console sales and Game Pass subscriptions.
But the fact that neither party wants to directly commit to continued multi-console support for Bethesda’s games also suggests they’re holding the possibility open, just in case they change their minds. For now, we’re all left reading the tea leaves and waiting for more concrete plans to be announced, likely next year.