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Xbox went all-in on ZeniMax and Bethesda exclusives in November 2021

Xbox chief Phil Spencer caused a stir after deciding that all future ZeniMax titles would be platform exclusive during a November 2021 meeting.

Chris Kerr, News Editor

June 30, 2023

2 Min Read
Key artwork for Starfield

Microsoft only decided to make all future ZeniMax exclusive to Xbox in November 2021.

As reported by IGN, the reveal was made during the final day of Microsoft's FTC hearing, with Xbox CFO Tim Stuart explaining the call to make titles like Starfield, Redfall, and The Elder Scrolls VI exclusive to Xbox platforms was made by Xbox chief Phil Spencer just under two years ago.

Internally, Stuart said the move was perceived as a "big decision" that would cause profit issues based on Microsoft's initial modelling on how its purchase of ZeniMax would play out–largely because it included PlayStation software sales.

That information comes from a conversation between Stuart and Xbox Game Studios head Matt Booty. During that chat, Stuart seemed surprised to learn that every single ZeniMax title would be exclusive to Xbox. "All games going forward?" Stuart asked Booty. "Not just new IP, but all games going forward? Wow."

Booty confirmed the move, reiterating that "Phil told them all titles going forward, Xbox exclusive."

Outlining how that might impact their initial financial models, Stuart noted the company would now "have issues in the deal model as we pull a huge number of PS units out of model."

ZeniMax and Bethesda at the heart of Microsoft's "big" exclusive call

Microsoft purchased ZeniMax Media and its subsidiaries, including Bethesda Softworks, for $7.5 billion in September 2020, meaning a year passed before the company decided to go all-in on its big exclusivity bet.

It's unclear what prompted that decision, but what's notable is that Microsoft did apparently have a change of heart. 

Speaking in March 2021, Phil Spencer explained the ZeniMax deal was driven by a desire to deliver "great exclusives" to Xbox, but at that point it wasn't clear how many of the company's titles would be made platform exclusive.

"Obviously I can't sit here and say every Bethesda game is exclusive, because we know that's not true. There are contractual obligations that we're going to see through, which we always do in every one of these instances," said Spencer at the time.

"We have games that exist on other platforms, and we're going to go and support those games on the platforms they're on. There are communities of players, and we love those communities and we're going to continue investing in them."

As the months passed, Spencer evidently decided that every single ZeniMax project should be reserved for players on Xbox.

In the case of Microsoft's ongoing Activision Blizzard merger, the company has pledged to keep franchises like Call of Duty on rival platforms for the foreseeable future, signing lengthy partnership deals with the likes of Nintendo and Nvidia GeForce Now. Sony, however, hasn't accepted a similar deal.

About the Author(s)

Chris Kerr

News Editor, GameDeveloper.com

Game Developer news editor Chris Kerr is an award-winning journalist and reporter with over a decade of experience in the game industry. His byline has appeared in notable print and digital publications including Edge, Stuff, Wireframe, International Business Times, and PocketGamer.biz. Throughout his career, Chris has covered major industry events including GDC, PAX Australia, Gamescom, Paris Games Week, and Develop Brighton. He has featured on the judging panel at The Develop Star Awards on multiple occasions and appeared on BBC Radio 5 Live to discuss breaking news.

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