Phil Spencer, CEO of Microsoft Gaming, appears at the Political Opening of the Gamescom conference in Cologne, Germany, on Aug. 23, 2023.
Franziska Krug | German Select | Getty Images
Microsoft is seeing “huge demand” for its new Starfield video game, Phil Spencer, the software company’s CEO of gaming, said on Wednesday.
“We think this game is going to be available to literally hundreds of millions of people on the devices that they already own, and looking to make this game as accessible as it can be to players,” Spencer told CNBC’s Steve Kovach.
The game, described as “the first new universe in 25 years” from Microsoft’s Bethesda Game Studios, appeared on Wednesday on PCs, Xbox consoles and other devices accessed through the cloud, for those who pay for the Game Pass subscription service. Microsoft picked up the game through its $8.1 billion acquisition of game publisher ZeniMax, the parent of Bethesda.
While Microsoft is aiming to make its games widely available, the company also wants to ensure that its consoles have some notable attractions as it competes with Sony’s PlayStation and Nintendo’s Switch. Gaming accounts for 6% of Microsoft’s revenue, and Xbox content and services revenue grew 5% in the second quarter, faster than Windows, devices and some other parts of the company.
Gaming has taken center stage at Microsoft as the company tries to finalize the $68.7 billion acquisition of publisher Activision Blizzard, which makes Call of Duty and other franchises. The deal hit regulatory snags, but is still poised to close.
Starfield is an expansive open-world game with over 1,000 planets for players to explore as they build and buy spaceships. Before the acquisition, ZeniMax was planning to release the game on PlayStation, Jim Ryan, CEO of the Sony Interactive Entertainment business, said in a taped appearance at a hearing in San Francisco in June in connection the Microsoft-Activision deal.
Ryan said he wasn’t a fan of Starfield becoming a Microsoft exclusive, which would signify that it wouldn’t come to other consoles.
“We’ve had more players for any next-gen exclusive than we’ve had this generation all up,” Spencer said. He was referring to the current consoles, the $500 Xbox Series X and $300 Xbox Series S, which both went on sale in 2020. Those who bought premium editions of the game got early access last week.
Spencer said Starfield is the most wish-listed game the company has had on the Steam game store. On the review website Metacritic, Starfield currently has a score of 86 out of 100, based on 55 reviews from critics.
Spencer said tens of millions of Game Pass subscribers were getting a chance to play Starfield on Wednesday. As of January 2022, Microsoft said Game Pass had over 25 million subscribers.
Spencer stopped short of proclaiming that Starfield would debut on the PlayStation, but he is promising that some of Activision’s most popular titles will remain available on the PlayStation for years to come.
In July, Sony signed an agreement that would keep Call of Duty games on PlayStation for a decade. Microsoft has been working to resolve regulators’ concerns about the pending Activision acquisition by assuring it will keep games on Nintendo consoles, Nvidia’s GeForce Now cloud gaming offering and other services.
Microsoft announced plans for the Activision Blizzard transaction in January 2022. It was supposed to close by June 2023, but the companies said in July they had agreed to push back a deadline to complete the deal to Oct. 18.
In August, Microsoft submitted a new proposal to the U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority that would involve transferring to game publisher Ubisoft the cloud streaming rights to Activision’s PC and console games for 15 years if the deal closes.