Court emails reveal Bethesda's confusion at Microsoft's special treatment for COD while Starfield goes Xbox-exclusive: 'What's the difference?'

Sci-fi Aliens with astronaut
(Image credit: Bethesda)

If you ask me, we should send major corporations to court more often. It always seems to turn up no end of interesting tidbits. This time, the trial between the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Microsoft has revealed a February 2022 email from Bethesda exec Pete Hines, in which he voices his confusion and frustration about Microsoft's stated decision to keep Bethesda games exclusive to its console platform while staying "committed to Sony" in regards to Call of Duty.

Shared by Axios reporter Stephen Totilo on Twitter, the email from Hines was sent to fellow Bethesda head honchos Todd Howard, Todd Vaughn, and Jamie Leder. In it, Hines tells his fellow execs that he's "confused" by a then-recent blog post from Microsoft vice chair and president Brad Smith, in which Smith pledges to keep Activision games like COD on PlayStation in the event Microsoft's acquisition of Activision Blizzard goes through.

"I'm confused. Is [Smith's post] not the opposite of what we were asked (told) to do with our own titles?" asked Hines, "what's the difference?"

That bracketed "told" is probably worth an article all by itself, and it's a clear indicator that Hines feels a little frustrated at Microsoft's strangely scattershot approach to exclusivity among its acquired (and targeted) studios. After all, what is the difference between Starfield and the next COD game, except that the latter is regularly cited by Sony as a reason not to let Microsoft plough ahead with the biggest acquisition in videogame history? 

In the past, Microsoft has tried to argue that "mid-sized" games like Bethesda's (see page 57 of that PDF) make sense as exclusives in a way that both smaller and larger titles don't, but it's hard to believe that its decision-making isn't driven mostly by what it can get away with in the eyes of regulators.

It seems like no one at Microsoft gave Bethesda forewarning of its non-exclusivity policy for COD, either, which only added to Hines' consternation. After quoting a section of Smith's blog post in which he affirmed COD would be "available on PlayStation," Hines asked if "anyone at Xbox [thought] about giving us a heads-up on this? Todd's going to DICE in a couple weeks, you don't think a journo might find him and press him on why the below is ok for COD or any Activision Blizzard games, but not TES6 or Starfield?" Hines added that this could continue to come up in "any/every future interview [Todd] does".

I suppose acquired life hasn't been all sunshine and roses for Microsoft and Bethesda then, and that more than a little chafing has happened as the new parent company gets its ducks in a row and its owned companies start realising they won't all be treated the same. I can't wait to see what the next set of courtroom emails reveals.

Joshua Wolens
News Writer

One of Josh's first memories is of playing Quake 2 on the family computer when he was much too young to be doing that, and he's been irreparably game-brained ever since. His writing has been featured in Vice, Fanbyte, and the Financial Times. He'll play pretty much anything, and has written far too much on everything from visual novels to Assassin's Creed. His most profound loves are for CRPGs, immersive sims, and any game whose ambition outstrips its budget. He thinks you're all far too mean about Deus Ex: Invisible War.