Starfield’s 1,000 Planets May Be One Giant Leap for Game Design

When players finally got their hands on the game, many were shocked by its lack of polish. The characters’ facial animations were so clumsy, they became fodder for internet memes. Critics assailed what they described as cheesy dialogue, subpar voice acting and major plot problems.

Avoiding similar pitfalls with Starfield is paramount for Microsoft, which desperately needs a new blockbuster game as its flagship franchise, Halo, fades in relevance. Some time after Bethesda announced an open-world space game in 2018, Microsoft executives learned that Sony was considering a deal to make it available exclusively on PlayStation consoles.

“When we heard that Starfield was going to potentially end up skipping Xbox — we can’t be in a position as a third-place console where we fall further behind on console ownership,” Phil Spencer, the chief executive of Microsoft Gaming, testified during a court hearing in June that focused on the Activision acquisition. “We had to secure content to remain viable.”

Microsoft shelled out $7.5 billion for ZeniMax Media, the parent company of a swath of game studios that included Bethesda, but is still looking for a return on investment. Redfall, the most prominent Xbox game resulting from the deal so far, flopped when it was released in May.

Xbox owners have also been denied a seat at this year’s feast of role-playing games, including Final Fantasy XVI, which is currently available only on the PlayStation 5, and Tears of the Kingdom, a Zelda game for the Switch. Baldur’s Gate 3, which has been rapturously received by computer gamers, hits the PlayStation 5 on Wednesday; an Xbox version is due later this year.

Microsoft has pioneered a shift in gaming away from $60 or $70 retail purchases and toward a Netflix-style subscription service that offers hundreds of games for between $10 and $17 per month. That service, Game Pass, had more than 25 million subscribers last year but needs a steady supply of marquee games to make it a can’t-miss subscription.

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