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Microsoft acquired Bethesda after hearing Starfield would be exclusive to PlayStation

Microsoft acquired Bethesda after hearing Starfield would be exclusive to PlayStation


Microsoft saw Sony paying Bethesda to keep games off Xbox and decided to do something drastic about it.

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Logo of Starfield
Image: Bethesda

Microsoft’s Xbox chief has revealed one of the key reasons behind the acquisition of Bethesda parent company ZeniMax: potential Starfield PlayStation exclusivity. Speaking at the FTC v. Microsoft hearing today, Phil Spencer revealed that Sony regularly pays competitors to “skip our platform” and Microsoft felt it needed to own Bethesda to compete.

“When we acquired ZeniMax one of the impetus for that is that Sony had done a deal for Deathloop and Ghostwire... to pay Bethesda to not ship those games on Xbox,” said Spencer. “So the discussion about Starfield when we heard that Starfield was potentially also going to end up skipping Xbox, we can’t be in a position as a third-place console where we fall further behind on our content ownership so we’ve had to secure content to remain viable in the business.”

Microsoft spent $7.5 billion to acquire ZeniMax Media, the parent company of Elder Scrolls and Fallout studio Bethesda Softworks. At the close of the deal, Microsoft promised Xbox and PC exclusives and it has so far shipped Redfall with Starfield set for a September 6th debut. Bethesda’s upcoming Indiana Jones game is also an exclusive for Xbox and PC.

Later in his testimony, Spencer refused to confirm whether Elder Scrolls VI is an Xbox exclusive or not. “I think we’ve been a little unclear on what platforms it’s launching on, given how far out the game is,” said Spencer. “It’s difficult for us right now to nail down.” Spencer did previously hint that Elder Scrolls VI would be an Xbox exclusive, but the game is still years away.

A big part of Spencer’s testimony today has been around painting Sony as an aggressive and hostile competitor. “Every time we ship a game on PlayStation... Sony captures 30 percent of the revenue that we do on their platform and then they use that money among other revenue that they have to do things to try to reduce Xbox’s survival on the market,” said Spencer. “We try to compete, but as I said, over the last 20 years we’ve failed to do that effectively.”

Buying up Bethesda and trying to acquire Activision Blizzard is, Spencer argues, a way to compete with Sony. Microsoft sure is spending a lot of cash to compete here, though. The proposed Activision Blizzard deal is valued at $68.7 billion.