Dishonored developer Arkane’s new game, Deathloop, is out tomorrow and it’s getting great reviews (it received a rare 10/10 in GameSpot’s review), with many saying it’s a legitimate contender for overall Game of the Year. Its release is notable not only for its gameplay qualities and mastery of what it’s setting out to do, but also for what is going on behind the scenes. Arkane is now owned by Microsoft as part of the Xbox company’s $7.5 billion buyout of Bethesda/Zenimax.
Microsoft is honoring previously set publishing contracts, so Deathloop will be aPlayStation 5 console exclusive until at least September 2022 because Bethesda and Sony had a deal before Xbox swooped in. This makes for a strange situation, even if it’s not completely unexpected–and it’s not necessarily all bad news for Microsoft and Xbox.
While one of 2021’s best games won’t be available on Xbox, Microsoft isn’t totally missing out. The fact that Deathloop is a very good game benefits Microsoft in the long run. It strengthens the prestige of developer Arkane, which was already regarded as a top-tier studio thanks to the Dishonored series. Future games from Arkane will come to Xbox–presumably as console exclusives–including the developer’s exciting-sounding new shooter Redfall.
Deathloop on PS5 is almost like an ad for Xbox and, perhaps more importantly to Microsoft, for Xbox Game Pass. The increased search volume for Deathloop across the internet this week will no doubt send people to Arkane’s back catalog and other games from Bethesda/ZeniMax. And where can you play many of these as part of a subscription bundle? Xbox Game Pass.
Of course, Microsoft would want to have Deathloop launching on Xbox as well this week, but that can’t happen due to the business deals. If there is a Deathloop 2, you can bet it’ll be on Xbox and exclusively, for console at least. As I’ve argued in the past, Xbox Game Pass is a long-term strategy that Microsoft understands will take time to come to fruition.
Not having Deathloop on Xbox right now surely stings, but it clearly wasn’t a deal-breaker in Microsoft’s decision to buy ZeniMax in what was the second largest gaming acquisition in history. Microsoft is playing the long game here, and having an esteemed developer like Arkane on its roster only helps to improve the value of the service overall. Not only that, but Microsoft’s vision is to release a new first-party game every three months thanks to its many new acquisitions, and Deathloop appears to have the makings of a big new repeatable series.
All that said, Deathloop being a PS5 game made by an Xbox studio is definitely weird and I have questions about how the game will translate over to Xbox, in particular over its creative and imaginative use of the DualSense controller (something you also lose if you play on PC). It’s incredibly odd that what looks like one of 2021’s best games is published by a company that doesn’t have the game available on its own console platform. As a fan of strange and interesting news stories, I love this, but it’s not ideal for Xbox fans and it creates a slightly confusing situation for anyone keen to try Arkane’s latest.
This is not unprecedented territory, though, as Microsoft has–for many years now–remained the publisher of Minecraft on competing platforms like PlayStation and Nintendo. Microsoft continues to do this in part to support the player communities that exist on those platforms that signed up before Microsoft bought Mojang, but also because it makes money. Xbox boss Phil Spencer said Microsoft is actually one of the biggest publishers on PlayStation thanks to Minecraft, so it makes sense that Microsoft would stay in that business instead of walking away. Not only would it alienate those consumers but it would presumably lead to a loss in revenue.
This strategy doesn’t apply to all franchises equally, however. Games like Starfield and The Elder Scrolls VI will only release on console for Xbox. This actually isn’t too big of a surprise, as the lineage of The Elder Scrolls series was already shifting toward Xbox and PC. For example, only The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and Skyrim came to PlayStation. Morrowind was an Xbox-exclusive on console, and the games before that were PC-only.
Xbox executives often point out that future output from its studio will come to PC, too, but that doesn’t matter to people who don’t want to take the time and spend the money to set up a PC configuration. I am sure many can relate to that. One of the big appeals of console gaming is its more direct, plug-and-play nature compared to PC gaming that can become complicated and require lots of troubleshooting and fine-tuning. In an ideal world, every great game would be available on every platform, but that is not how this business works. Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo all want their systems to sell the best, so they make games exclusively for them. Deathloop releasing on PS5 exclusively is just the latest example of this–it’s meant to encourage you to buy a PS5 or choose to play within that ecosystem first and foremost. No matter where you can or cannot play Deathloop, Arkane made a stunning game, and that’s worth celebrating.
For more, check out GameSpot’s Deathloop review.
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