The Elder Scrolls 6’s Xbox Exclusivity Doesn’t Make It a System Seller

The Elder Scrolls 6 will probably be an Xbox exclusive, but is it the system seller that some fans are already treating it as?

The Elder Scrolls
Photo: Bethesda Softworks

In an interview with GQ, Xbox boss Phil Spencer continued to suggest that The Elder Scrolls 6 will be an Xbox exclusive title without just outright saying that the long-awaited sequel will be an Xbox exclusive title.

“It’s not about punishing any other platform…I fundamentally believe all of the platforms can continue to grow,” Spencer said. “But in order to be on Xbox, I want us to be able to bring the full complete package of what we have. And that would be true when I think about Elder Scrolls 6. That would be true when I think about any of our franchises.”

While it’s still somewhat annoying that top members of the Xbox and Bethesda teams won’t just come out and say what the current plans for The Elder Scrolls 6‘s release are, it’s worth noting that the game is likely quite a few years away from actually being released and that whatever plans may currently exist for the title’s eventual debut probably aren’t set in stone.

Still, everything we’ve heard about Elder Scrolls 6 so far suggests that it’s currently trending closer to being exclusive to Xbox platforms (which includes the PC) at launch. While that’s potentially big news for the Xbox brand and Xbox gamers everywhere, there is still some doubt regarding whether or not Elder Scrolls 6 will ultimately be considered the kind of system-seller that some gamers are already treating it as.

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It’s impossible to deny that Skyrim is one of the most successful games of all time. In 2016, Todd Howard confirmed that Skyrim had sold over 30 million units until that point, and that number has obviously only gone up since then thanks to recent re-releases and the title’s consistent popularity. Skyrim was an absolute sales monster.

What about the rest of the Elder Scrolls series, though? Well, that’s where the conversation gets tricky.

While we don’t know the exact lifetime sales figures for every entry in the Elder Scrolls franchise to date, we do know that Oblivion was the series’ best-selling title before the release of Skyrim. However, a 2011 report from the NPD suggested that Skryim was only “half a million” units shy of matching Oblivion‘s lifetime sales figures. Mind you, that report was published less than a month after Skyrim‘s release.

So while it seems like each major entry into The Elder Scrolls franchise has surpassed the previous entry in terms of sales, it’s very important to note that the gap between Skyrim‘s sales and the sales of every other entry in the franchise is substantial. In fact, reports suggest that Skryim may have doubled the combined lifetime sales of the rest of the games in the Elder Scrolls franchise.

The Elder Scrolls franchise is indeed popular and successful, but the success of Skyrim is very much its own thing. Skyrim benefited from a combination of perfect timing and great design in such a way that helped the title essentially rise above the Elder Scrolls name itself.

That’s part of the problem with assuming that the Elder Scrolls 6 is essentially guaranteed to enjoy something close to Skyrim‘s success or that it will continue the trend of each major new Elder Scrolls game outselling the previous major entry in the franchise. Skyrim‘s success is so far removed from the success of the rest of the franchise (considerable as that success may be) that you almost have to treat Skyrim as its own thing from a mass-market perspective rather than another entry into the Elder Scrolls franchise.

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Beyond hypothetical arguments regarding the selling power of The Elder Scrolls name alone, there’s also the time factor to consider. We could still be three or more years away from the release of The Elder Scrolls 6, and there’s no telling what the state of the industry/market is going to be at that time. However, in recent years, we have seen companies pivot away from the kind of grand-scale RPGs that Oblivion and Skyrim represent. The success of games like The Outer Worlds (as well as Fallout 4 and many open-world games released in recent years) suggests that there is a void there that isn’t being filled, but we’re back to the point that the landscape has changed since Skyrim.

Whatever success we could have assumed The Elder Scrolls 6 may have enjoyed if it was released in 2016 (the same time gap between Oblivion and Skyrim‘s releases) can’t easily be applied to 2024 (or beyond). There’s also something to be said for the fact that Skyrim has remained in the public consciousness for so long that its success may actually be something of a detriment. That level of hype and expectations previously made Valve wary to seriously pursue Half-Life 3, and it’s also arguably making any serious conversation about the expectations for GTA 6 a bit more complicated. The Elder Scrolls 6 isn’t immune from the negative effects of time and potential overhype.

One interesting way time could be on The Elder Scrolls 6‘s side, though, is when you consider that the Xbox Series X/S may not only be easier to buy by the time that game is released but may also be cheaper than the consoles are now. That could mean that those gamers who are currently considering the PS5 to be their “must-have” next-gen console may be in a better position to buy an Xbox platform by the time the game comes out. Furthermore, the upcoming release of Starfield could give Bethesda a much better indication of which way the winds are blowing and what kind of game The Elder Scrolls 6 needs to be.

Ultimately, the Xbox team is wise to seemingly treat The Elder Scrolls 6 as an Xbox exclusive. It’s an incredibly high-profile game that targets an apparent weakness in the PlayStation’s current lineup and will almost certainly benefit from the attention and resources Microsoft can give it by treating it like a true exclusive. There’s also always been a harmonious relationship between Xbox and the Elder Scrolls franchise since the original Xbox helped elevate Morrowind and bolster its sales, so this is honestly just a logical extension of the series so far as that goes.

Still, there’s something dangerous about living under the assumption that The Elder Scrolls 6 will ultimately mimic Skyrim‘s success and that Microsoft has essentially just secured the exclusive rights to the next Skyrim and all that comes with it. The Elder Scrolls 6 could end up selling a lot of Xbox consoles, but if it does, it’s looking like it will be due to the eventual quality of the game itself rather than the legacy of the series or this level of success that some feel that it is seemingly “owed.”

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