Bethesda is actively courting Xbox as the proprietary owner of everything related to Elder Scrolls, a British GQ interview with Xbox chief Phil Spencer reveals on Monday. Spencer, who doubles as executive vice president of gaming over at Microsoft, intends for Elder Scrolls 6, among others, to follow in Starfield’s gravity-free footsteps and become an Xbox exclusive. The upcoming Foundation-esque action RPG is the first Bethesda game slated to release only on PC and Xbox systems. The goal of keeping Starfield tethered to Microsoft is the same reason the next Elder Scrolls would thrive as an Xbox exclusive: to take advantage of the platform’s comprehensive and user-directed ecosystem comprised of Xbox Live services, Game Pass, xCloud Gaming, and other perks.
“It’s not about punishing any other platform, like I fundamentally believe all of the platforms can continue to grow,” Spencer tells Sam White of GQ. “But in order to be on Xbox, I want us to be able to bring the full complete package of what we have. And that would be true when I think about Elder Scrolls 6. That would be true when I think about any of our franchises.” Phil Spencer had previously responded to Microsoft’s $7.5 billion acquisition of Bethesda’s parent company ZeniMax Media with composed ease; discussions around Xbox exclusivity will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, he was quoted to have said. His original stance seems to have changed with the impending release of Starfield next year, with most (if not all) future Bethesda games heading for Xbox and Windows only.
Spencer’s words ring with sufficient finality. Is it finally the end of cross-platform accessibility for Elder Scrolls, both old and imminent, going forward? After all, in a virtual conference with Jeffries Interactive Entertainment only a year ago, Xbox CFO Tim Stuart echoed Spencer’s later statement. Though Bethesda and Microsoft have yet to put a cap on Elder Scroll 6’s future, and other related games, Stuart made it absolutely clear next-generation titles will release on PC and Xbox first, and they will either be the better version or the best, full stop. Microsoft seems to be nudging Bethesda, which admittedly is still adjusting to sizeable loss of creative and logistics control amid the tech giant’s recent acquisition, down 100% Xbox exclusivity despite the renowned game publisher making most of their buck from cross-platform releases.
For their part, Bethesda Game Studios isn’t keen on ending all collaborative effort with other consoles just yet. Director and executive producer Todd Howard, who served as project lead of every single Elder Scrolls and Fallout developed, reportedly finds it “hard to imagine” either series — but especially Elder Scrolls 6 — as purely an Xbox vehicle. Howard credits other platforms with making Skyrim what it is and grieves a possible future with only one specific audience to gun for. Besides, though most entries have never been flat-out exclusives, Bethesda has always worked closely with Microsoft on anything Elder Scrolls, prioritizing PC and Xbox releases over PlayStation or Nintendo. And it seemed like a good enough arrangement.
“Morrowind was basically a console exclusive, Oblivion was a long timed exclusive, Skyrim’s DLC was exclusive for a long period of time,” Todd recalls with confidence. “[On Elder Scrolls 6], we’ll decide what makes the best sense for our audience when the time comes, and I can’t really project today what that looks like,” he adds. Unfortunately for Bethesda, with Microsoft calling the shots, it’s only a matter of time before company decisions are overruled in favor of elevating the hierarchy’s central good, which is to say bulking up Xbox’s growing catalog of exclusives and continuing to challenge Sony and Nintendo at their own game. Bethesda leadership may believe it still has the freedom to run its projects just as the way it’s always done, but as with Disney and Marvel (or Lucasfilm, Sony, and 20th Century Fox), the multi-awarded developer will have no choice but to bend a knee to the mainland eventually.
Elder Scrolls 6 is still being designed and will take another decade or so to finish. Previous Elder Scrolls titles, like Skyrim, will reportedly stay on the PlayStation and Nintendo Switch for the time being.