Microsoft's $7.5 billion acquisition of Bethesda parent company ZeniMax was announced barely more than a month ago, and there's still quite a bit of time left until the deal fully settles. Still, Xbox wasted no time starting to talk about Bethesda's future as a first-party, leaving many to wonder if games like Elder Scrolls 6 or Starfield will come to non-Microsoft platforms. Todd Howard, longtime director of Bethesda Game Studios, says he feels like the move is a "positive thing," but that he was also surprised by some of the reactions to it.
Speaking with our sister site GamesIndustry.biz, Howard talks at length about how his visions for the future of subscription services and cloud gaming align with what Microsoft's developing with Game Pass, but also takes time to reflect on the acquisition itself. "I grossly underestimated the impact in the larger gaming community," says Howard. "I was naively surprised at how big it landed and what it meant in the larger context of games, but I was happy with the feedback we saw."
That impact Howard refers to was felt beyond the overlapping circles of Bethesda fans and Xbox players. Editor James Batchelor notes that the acquisition news was also met by petitions from PlayStation diehards for a Sony acquisition of Konami, a two-sides mentality combined with an assumption or hope that more major industry consolidation is on the way. Howard says he doesn't see the deal like that:
I don't know that it portends some other big consolidation. In other industries, that happens from time to time[...] All of the games I've done we've partnered with Microsoft in some way. So as we come to Starfield and Elder Scrolls 6, I guess this is partnering in a bigger way.
Still, when it comes to the big question about Bethesda's purchase—will marquee titles like Starfield and Elder Scrolls 6 come to other platforms—Howard is remaining guarded. He tells GamesIndustry.biz he agrees it would be "hard to imagine" Xbox keeping Elder Scrolls to platforms it controls, but leaves the answer at that.
Given recent comments made by Xbox Head Phil Spencer in the wake of the Bethesda acquisition, it really is hard not to get stuck on the question of how Microsoft will handle those titles. While GhostWire: Tokyo and Deathloop will still honor their timed PS5 exclusivity arrangements, all bets are off for Bethesda-published titles beyond that. Spencer recently said he thinks Microsoft's current arrangement with Nintendo "doesn't feel sustainable," and that's a platform that Xbox has okayed for multiple titles (Minecraft, Ori, Cuphead). There's less precedent for Microsoft bringing games it backs to Sony consoles, and with Spencer both promising more Xbox consoles in the future and teasing the expansion of Game Pass streaming to cheap plug-and-play devices, there's a strong argument against Microsoft ceding the advantage of its exclusives to Sony.
Even if Spencer sees Amazon and Google as Xbox's main competitors now, it's far too early to count Sony out even in a streaming-dominated future. Howard and Spencer are right to talk about the promise and potential of Game Pass, but there's still ample time for Sony to build a competitor around its strong first-party offerings—and the thought of ever seeing those on a Microsoft service or platform feels even more unlikely. In short, whatever approach Microsoft takes with Bethesda will be a big deal in the larger context of games no matter what.
Howard will deliver the keynote for Develop:Brighton, an online conference hosted by GamesIndustry.biz, on Nov. 2. There, Howard will also receive the Develop Star Award in recognition of his long and fruitful career at Bethesda.