A reader contemplates Microsoft’s purchase of Bethesda and explains why he thinks it marks the beginning of the end for PlayStation.
I’m sure I’m not the only one that read about all the Microsoft and Bethesda announcements and initially didn’t know what to make of any of it. I don’t want to get too much into the question of why they bought them, as I think that’s been well covered by now. Although as far as I’m concerned Bethesda themselves haven’t made anything decent since Skyrim a decade ago and all their good stuff since then, like Doom and Wolfenstein, has been by their much smaller (and cheaper) side studios.
$7.5 billion for the company that made Fallout 76 seems like madness but then most things do when it comes to businesses, where decisions are made just as much to please the whims of executives as they are for the good of a company. But let’s move past that and consider the more recent question of why Microsoft initially pretended that a significant proportion of Bethesda games would remain multiformat, only to this week admit that no, that’s not what’s going to happen.
Did they change their mind or did they think it served some purpose to keep their plans secret for a couple of months? We’ll probably never know, but the bottom line seems to be that Starfield is definitely going to be exclusive and so is probably every future Fallout, The Elder Scrolls, Doom, and Wolfenstein game (maybe they’ll let the end of the trilogy stay multiformat but I wouldn’t bet on it the way they’re talking now).
This is not a surprise in any way, it’s exactly what people expected when the Bethesda sale was first announced. The surprise was when Microsoft implied they weren’t going to do the obvious and massively boost their stable of exclusive games in one fell swoop. How you personally rate Bethesda’s output is kind of irrelevant here, as the most important thing is that Game Pass is now filled with even more big budget games that lots of people have heard of – and that’s what Microsoft wants.
It’s the sort of move that Sony cannot counter because it involves spending enormous amounts of cash for no short term gain and without even appearing to have thought about the practicalities all that much. (Rumours suggest Sony was looking to sign up Starfield to some kind of exclusivity deal before the sale, so it’s not like the Microsoft deal has been brewing for years or anything, especially when you consider they already signed up Deathloop and Ghostwire: Tokyo as PlayStation 5 exclusives.)
All this puts the next generation in a very peculiar position. The PlayStation 5 is the fastest selling console ever, had a great launch line-up given the pandemic, and has several major exclusives on the way this year and beyond. The console doesn’t seem to have any major technical issues and the new controller is great. If this was last gen or earlier you’d say they’d done everything perfectly and were probably already unstoppable.
The problem is that Microsoft is trying to change the game and the two companies are currently like negative images of themselves. The Xbox still hasn’t had a major exclusive but instead it’s got Game Pass, the best streaming service on the planet, and more money than it seems to know what to do with. The Xbox Series X itself has been completely boring so far but the future for Xbox seems very bright, while the PlayStation 5 is, theoretically, the opposite.
Not only does Sony not have equivalents to Game Pass or xCloud but it’s so far shown no interest in creating them – and probably doesn’t have the cash to make them work anyway. Admittedly. it’d probably want to keep them secret for now, if it does have them, but there’s nothing from Sony’s attitude or rhetoric that seems to suggest they’re planning to play things differently from the PlayStation 5. Especially not when the old game plan seems to still be working so well.
Personally though, I think that’s what’s going to do for them in the end. The killer app for this generation isn’t games, it’s value for money and convenience. And Microsoft have both those things sown up.
I don’t say this with any pleasure, as far as I’m concerned it’s all about the games and to hell with all other considerations. Which is why I own a PlayStation 5 and will only get an Xbox Series X when it has some decent exclusives. But ordinary people don’t think that way, only gamers do. Ordinary people look to see how much a console costs, how much its games cost, and – assuming it runs FIFA and Call Of Duty – make their purchasing decision based on that.
Microsoft know this but I get the feeling Sony has convinced themselves it’s not true. Instead, they think that Horizon Forbidden West and The Last Of Us Part 3 is going to make people forget that they both cost £70 and if they were Xbox exclusives they’d be completely ‘free’. That’s the logic that Sony has got to overcome. This generation isn’t a battle over who has the best graphics or the best games, it’s who has the best value for money. And on that point Xbox is winning already.
By reader Royston
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