Opinion

Starfield Coming to PS5 Isn’t a Huge Surprise

It was only a matter of time.

Starfield
Bethesda

In January rumors started circulating that Xbox exclusive Hi-Fi Rush could be making its way to other platforms, but now it looks like Microsoft’s plans might be far more wide-reaching than that. New reports claim that Xbox's biggest exclusive in years, Starfield, is coming to the PS5, with the company even weighing a decision about doing the same with the upcoming Indiana Jones and the Great Circle. This would be an utterly massive pivot in the company’s entire strategy, but Starfield coming to other platforms isn’t actually all that surprising, given Xbox’s history.

In 2021, Microsoft purchased Bethesda to the tune of $7.5 billion, and at that time the company promised that “some new titles” would be Xbox exclusives in the future. Those future titles would, of course, turn out to be Starfield and the early-in-development Elder Scrolls VI. That was a bit of a shocker at the time as Bethesda’s titles had always been multiplatform releases that sold exceptionally well. For example, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has sold over 60 million copies across all platforms to date.

Starfield is Bethesda Game Studios’ first new release since the Xbox acquisition in 2021.

Starfield

There’s evidence that there was even a bit of internal confusion over 厂迟补谤蹿颈别濒诲’蝉 exclusivity. In June 2023, as part of the FTC-Microsoft hearings over the Activision Blizzard acquisition, internal documents were made public. A key part of that was a February 2022 email between Todd Howard, Pete Hines, and other Bethesda executives.

“Is the below [a statement about Call of Duty staying multiplatform] not the opposite of what we were just asked (told) to do with our own titles? What’s the difference?” Hines says, “Did anyone at Xbox think about giving us a heads-up on this? Todd’s going to DICE in a couple weeks, you don’t think a journo might find him and press him on why the below is ok for COD or any Activision Blizzard games but not TES6 or Starfield? Or at any/every future interview he does?”

On top of this, a 2020 Kotaku interview with head of Xbox Phil Spencer, provides a little more insight. When asked about recouping the investment, Spencer says, “This deal was not done to take games away from another player base like that. 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.”

The cracks were clearly starting to form, but it’s all reinforced by how Xbox’s entire strategy in recent years has revolved around creating an “ecosystem” for its platform. Most of the company’s major initiatives have focused on providing new ways to play, between the streaming platform Xbox Gaming Cloud and the continuing service platform Xbox Game Pass. Even in the company’s core messaging “gaming is for everyone” has been a key phrase.

Throughout the $75 billion acquisition of Activision, Xbox executives have repeatedly stressed that Call of Duty will remain multiplatform.

Activision Blizzard

This all comes to a head in a May 2023 interview with Fortune where Spencer says, “We lost the worst generation to lose,” seemingly admitting that Xbox won’t be able to catch up with Nintendo and PlayStation. That’s then followed by a November 2023 Spencer interview with Famitsu, where he describes the future of Xbox as “platform-agnostic.”

“Xbox is a community of players, so it's important to build a community of players across a variety of platforms, which gives the community and the brand even more strength.” Spencer says, “Just as we think of ROG Ally and Steam Deck as part of the Xbox community, we need to think of the many Nintendo Switch and PlayStation users as part of the Xbox community in the future."

That sure sounds like a prelude to Xbox games coming to other platforms, and it’s becoming clearer and clearer that Microsoft is changing its whole strategy.

Ever since the reveal of the Xbox One it feels like Microsoft has been on its back foot in gaming. That infamous 2013 presentation was met with overwhelming negativity as fans learned the console would be always online and couldn’t play used games (policies that Xbox has since walked back after a customer uproar). It burned almost all the goodwill the company had established with the last two consoles. From there, the Xbox Series X|S has suffered from a lack of well-received exclusives, as many of Xbox’s big games remain in development.

There’s quite literally years worth of evidence for Microsoft business plan not working, and that can only go on for so long. Xbox has built a community and a strong infrastructure with Game Pass, but it simply can’t catch up in terms of consoles and actual hardware.

Starfield was created by one of the most beloved developers in the industry, and limiting that to the console in third place in a market dominated by three consoles simply doesn’t make sense. It feels like Microsoft has been deliberately laying the foundation for this pivot as a back pocket strategy, and it was only a matter of time before games like Starfield find their way to other platforms.

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