Bethesda wants an apology for Starfield

Bethesda kept details on “Starfield” relatively hidden after its announcement at E3 2018. So, when the developer dropped the new trailer and release date during this year’s E3 showcase, one would expect that fans of the hit-making dev would be stoked. So what’s got them riled up now? Simply put, Sony fans aren’t happy that “Starfield” is set to be Xbox and PC exclusive, a result of Microsoft’s acquisition of Bethesda’s parent company, ZeniMax Media. 

Bethesda has historically released its games on every side of the console war. For example, “Skyrim” is on every major platform, including PlayStation 4 and the Nintendo Switch. Understandably, fans are disappointed that the kickoff to Bethesda’s first new original franchise in two decades years isn’t a cross-platform release. Bethesda VP Pete Hines apologized for the exclusivity in an interview with GameSpot after E3.

“I understand if you’re unhappy or pissed or whatever. I get it,” Hines said. He empathized with the disappointed PlayStation fans, validating how some would feel the sting of “Starfield” exclusivity, but admitted that “all I can say is that I apologize.” Hines said that there was only so much time he could spend focusing on what the team wasn’t doing, and he’d rather focus on the parts of production he can directly address. At this point, exclusivity seems out of the discussion.

“Starfield” was rumored to be an exclusive for months, even before the confirmation at E3. While Xbox fans might be happy to play the game with Xbox Game Pass on launch day, these deals aren’t doing Sony fans any good.

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Exclusivity has been in the cards for a while

Fans had hoped Sony would have room to negotiate for the rights to “Starfield,” but it’s not surprising that this dream was a bust. Xbox boss Phil Spencer previously hinted at the possibility of “Starfield” exclusivity with a blog post that explained, “Xbox consoles, PC, and Game Pass will be the best place to experience new Bethesda games.” He further wrote that there would be “new titles in the future that will be exclusive to Xbox and PC players.”

At this point, there’s still a lot that people don’t know about Bethesda’s next big adventure. In an interview with The Washington Post, “Starfield” Director Todd Howard described the game as essentially “‘Skyrim’ in space,” which is probably enough to make PlayStation fans mad that they’re missing out. Howard also revealed a few details in a November 2020 interview with GamesBeat, including the fact that the game would be single-player only and would feature no multiplayer components.

“Starfield” launches for Xbox Series X|S and PC on November 11, 2022. Xbox Game Pass subscribers can download the game as soon as it’s available on release day.

In the Xbox and Bethesda Games Showcase at E3 2021, it was finally confirmed that Starfield will be a PC and Xbox Series X and Series S exclusive. Given the game could be “Skyrim in space,” the reaction from PS5 and older PlayStation fans wasn’t positive. 

A few days later, Bethesda senior vice president of marketing and communication Pete Hines apologized to PlayStation fans. “I don’t know how to allay the fears and concerns of PlayStation 5 fans, other than to say, ‘I’m a PlayStation 5 player as well, and I’ve played games on that console, and there are games I’m going to continue to play on it,” Hines said in an interview with GameSpot. “But if you want to play Starfield, [it’s] PC and Xbox. Sorry. All I can say is, I apologize.” 

I don’t think he should have. 

Hines explained that Xbox and PC exclusivity for Starfield will let Bethesda get the most out of the latest Xbox consoles and PC hardware and that “narrow focus” on making a game for select platforms can make for better development. This has been the case for Deathloop, said Hines, an upcoming PS5 and PC exclusive due for release in December. 

This is a fine point. Big Bethesda games have often come hampered by bugs at launch, potentially because they’ve been developed for multiple platforms. Take the fantastic Skyrim as an example. It was developed for both the PS3 and Xbox 360, which had very different underlying hardware, and can’t have been easy for Bethesda; Skyrim had a lot of bugs at launch. 

It’s the only business 

But putting that aside, Bethesda and parent company ZeniMax Media was bought by Microsoft. So it’s no surprise that Microsoft is going to use its investment in the publisher and its recumbent developers to get more Xbox and Windows 10 PC exclusives; that’s just good business sense. 

Big triple-A games aren’t cheap to make, so having Microsoft’s financial clout makes sense for Bethesda. As does any effort by Microsoft to extract more value out of that deal, even if that might mean hampering its main rival from Japan. 

When Microsoft’s purchase of ZeniMax Media was first announced, I remember thinking that it probably won’t see major Bethesda games become exclusives, as Microsoft can still make money through Sony’s consoles. But my colleague Rory Mellon argued the opposite, and has somewhat been proven correct; I still think The Elder Scrolls 6 won’t be Xbox exclusive. 

And as much as I thought that Bethesda would keep its largest games as multiplatform games, the harsh reality is money talks and gaming is an industry not just a bunch of hobbyists and coders cranking out fun things for us to play. 

However, I think that this exclusivity — for Starfield at least — is a good thing. 

Exclusive enthusiasm 

As Hines said, keeping development focused on one console platform — or 1.5 if you count the Series S — can make for tighter development. And that’s likely to lead to a better overall game. 

Eventually, Starfield could be ported over to the PS5. If that happens all the efforts put into opposing the launch game could be carried over to Sony’s console though this is some rampant speculation on my part. 

While some might bemoan that Bethesda is under the Microsoft banner, I think that’s a positive thing, even if it means Xbox exclusivity for the developer’s big games. That’s because Microsoft has a vast amount of resources, from money and engineers to powerful developer tools, machine learning research, and huge cloud infrastructure, which Bethesda could harness. 

All that could lead to more interesting gaming features in the likes of Starfield, say cloud-powered AI or high-fidelity procedurally generated worlds. Or Bethesda could tap into Microsoft’s coding and software expertise to ensure Starfield is well-optimized across a variety of Windows 10 machines and runs perfectly on the new Xbox consoles. 

Furthermore, Microsoft is expanding Xbox Cloud Streaming to allow Xbox One consoles to stream Xbox Series X games, and it’s bringing game streaming to browsers so iPads and iPhones can stream some of the best Xbox One games, like their Android counterparts. 

All that means that Starfield, under Microsoft’s yolk, could be accessible to people who’ve struggled to find an Xbox Series X restock or don’t have access to some of the best gaming PCs. Thanks to Microsoft’s cloud tech — Azure has the second-largest cloud infrastructure in the world — Starfield’s Xbox and PC exclusivity could, somewhat ironically, make the game more accessible. 

Having more PS5 and Xbox exclusives is also an overall good thing. Sure, finding a PS5 restock is also a nightmare and buying two near-$500 consoles isn’t the most affordable thing in gaming. But having games that are made and optimized for specific consoles means both become compelling devices. As such, if you get bored of one after a few years you could then swap it for the other, which should be flush with exclusive games. 

So rather than feel the need to apologize for Starfield exclusivity, Hines should be touting it as the fuel for making Starfield the very best it can be once it launches on November 11, 2022. And this exclusive games approach could be a very good thing for gaming fans in the long term. 

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