Not so “hard to imagine” now, eh? It was only late last year that Bethesda's Todd Howard was struggling to picture a future in which The Elder Scrolls 6 is restricted to Microsoft platforms, and now Starfield has been confirmed as an Xbox and PC exclusive. The party line has changed somewhat: being able to focus on specific platforms for Starfield “is going to make for a better product”, Howard told The Telegraph.
Even back in September, just as Microsoft's $7.5bn acquisition of Bethesda's parent company ZeniMax Media was announced, Howard was referencing its history of working with Microsoft on exclusives like Morrowind. The writing was on the wall. So what if it actually happens? What in Oblivion is going to happen if, or more likely when, Bethesda announces that The Elder Scrolls 6 is exclusive to Xbox and PC?
We'll start off with announcement night, at what I'm going to baselessly predict is E3 2023. Fans have been starved of official information about The Elder Scrolls 6 for five years, so the prevailing mood for Bethesda's segment of the Xbox Games Showcase is more frustration than hype. By the way, Starfield was amazing.
Pete Hines is delivering a snappy roundup of what Bethesda is up to, with seasonal updates for Fallout 76 and Elder Scrolls Online, and the surprise arrival of a few more Bethesda games on Xbox Game Pass – that’s right, you can finally play Wayne Gretzky Hockey and the mobile-only Elder Scrolls Travel series on your high-end gaming PC.
It looks like the show’s wrapping up, but of course there’s one more thing to show. Todd arrives, there’s a 30-minute gameplay presentation, and the audience loses it. Snuck in right at the end there’s a static image of the game’s logo with the Game Pass badge and a list of platforms at the bottom. Xbox Series X|S, Windows 11 PC (judging from recent leaks), and Xbox Cloud Gaming. No PlayStations.
They actually god damn did it.
The immediate aftermath isn’t pretty. Angry PS5 owners take to Metacritic to review-bomb every Bethesda game they can think of, and a Change.org petition entitled ‘Stop Microsoft’s anti-consumer crusade’ picks up traction. Several YouTubers vouch to never cover The Elder Scrolls 6 on their channels, electing instead to cover controversies about the game. There’s a lot of noise, but quietly Xbox Series X and S sales start to creep up.
Over the next few months we see countless Reddit posts and rumour stories speculating about the LinkedIn profiles of developers working on the game – any mention of PS5 will be enough to speculate that TES 6 is eventually coming to other platforms.
Officially speaking, it’s not. There’s no Nintendo Switch or PS5 port in the works, and Alexa’s not getting a look in. The conversation turns to Xbox Game Pass.
Way back in the early days of the acquisition, during a Bethesda X Microsoft roundtable livestream, Phil Spencer said: “this is about delivering great exclusive games for you that ship on platforms where Game Pass exists.” So how about it, Sony? Spencer’s already said he’s “open to those discussions“, but Sony’s response has been a little more muddled.
While Sony has never directly commented on the idea of Xbox Game Pass coming to PS5, Jim Ryan has said that he doesn’t see it as a viable business model. Speaking to GamesIndustry.biz, Ryan said Sony isn’t “going to go down the road of putting new titles into a subscription model. These games cost many millions of dollars, well over $100 million, to develop. We just don’t see that as sustainable.”
It didn’t take long for rumours to start circulating that Sony is working on its own counter to Xbox Game Pass. So whatever the official plan is, there’s nothing to suggest that Phil Spencer will find a home for Game Pass on PS5.
But all hope is not lost. At E3 2021, before the console wars were reignited, Xbox confirmed that it was working on bringing Xbox Game Pass to smart TVs through its xCloud streaming tech.
Provided you’ve got a smart TV and the right internet connection then perhaps by 2024 – the Elder Scrolls 6 release date I just invented – you won’t need Sony to adopt Xbox Game Pass at all. You won’t even need to boot up a console. Rumours that Xbox is going to release its own streaming devices have come to fruition – so now PS5 users can pick up Elder Scrolls 6 on a Game Pass subscription that’s bundled together with the shiny new xCloud stick.
And that’s the imagined conclusion to all of this exclusivity chatter: TES 6 is almost definitely going to be a PC and Xbox exclusive, but by the time launch day rolls around it’s not going to affect consumers all that much. It will affect Sony plenty, but if the future really does lie with cloud gaming then Sony super fans really need not worry.
‘What if?’ is PCGamesN’s new regular feature series – you can read our last entry here. You can grab Xbox Game Pass for PC here. Check back every Saturday for more hypotheticals, from thoughtful speculation about actually-plausible industry developments, to dream crossovers, to nonsense like Half-Life 3 happening.