Microsoft stakes Xbox video game sales on long-awaited space adventure Starfield

The highly anticipated video game Starfield from Microsoft is poised to make a significant impact when it launches on Xbox in September. Developed over the course of several years, the game offers players a thrilling space exploration experience, featuring encounters with pirates, navigation of peculiar moons, construction of outposts, and the ability to repair starships. Microsoft recently provided a detailed preview of the upcoming game during an event in Los Angeles.

The release of Starfield holds great importance for Xbox as it aims to captivate gamers with a headline title that rivals the latest Zelda game from Nintendo and the upcoming Spider-Man 2 from PlayStation. Mat Piscatella, a game industry analyst for market researcher Circana, acknowledges the significance of this launch for Xbox, stating that it has the potential to match or even surpass popular games on competing platforms. Piscatella emphasizes the importance of Bethesda Softworks, the Microsoft-owned studio behind renowned series such as Doom, Elder Scrolls, and Fallout, in generating excitement for Starfield. Bethesda refers to Starfield as its “first new universe in over 25 years.”

Microsoft’s acquisition of ZeniMax Media, the parent company of Bethesda, for $7.5 billion in 2021 further solidified the development of Starfield. The game had already been in progress when the acquisition took place. Bethesda’s intention to trademark the Starfield name dates back a decade, and a brief teaser trailer was released in 2018.

However, Starfield’s fate is now intertwined with another major deal: Microsoft’s planned takeover of Activision Blizzard, the maker of Call of Duty. Sony has raised antitrust concerns regarding the $69 billion acquisition, fearing that Microsoft might make certain Activision games exclusive to Xbox. While PlayStation boasts its own exclusive titles, such as the highly successful Last of Us series, Marvel’s Spider-Man games, and select Final Fantasy games, Sony has expressed apprehension to British and European antitrust regulators regarding Microsoft’s decisions to make ZeniMax games like Starfield and Redfall exclusive to Xbox. Sony argues that this is evidence of Microsoft’s potential to limit competition in the gaming industry through acquisitions.

Antitrust authorities in the UK and the US are seeking to block the Activision deal, although neither has specifically cited Starfield as a concern. Conversely, other regulators, including those representing the European Union, have approved the acquisition.

Microsoft’s ongoing efforts to finalize the Activision deal and generate enthusiasm for its existing lineup of games coincide with a period of sluggish game sales following the surge in interest during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Consumer spending on video games and hardware in the US reached $4.1 billion in April, marking a 5% decline compared to the previous year, as reported by Circana. However, the 6% decrease in game revenue was partially offset by a 7% increase in hardware sales, particularly for PlayStation 5 and Nintendo Switch consoles. These figures represent the strongest April performance in console sales since the pandemic-induced spike in 2020.

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