Bethesda Picks Xbox Over PS3 for Elder Scrolls Expansion

After months of speculation, fans of the popular video game “The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion” have reason to rejoice following Wednesday’s announcement confirming that game maker Bethesda Softworks will release an official full expansion for the award-winning game. “The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles” will be released this spring with one caveat — it will only be available for the Xbox 360 game console and Windows PCs.

“We’re thrilled with the response that ‘Oblivion’ has received to date and feel that ‘Shivering Isles’ will offer a whole new and different experience to anyone who played and enjoyed ‘Oblivion,” said Todd Howard, executive producer for “The Elder Scrolls.”

Breaking More Ground

The “Shivering Isles” (SI) expansion continues the “Oblivion” story line in the realm of Sheogorath, Deadric Prince of Madness, an entirely new plane for “Oblivion” fans. Players will be able to create an entirely new character or, since “SI” adds on to the world created in “Oblivion,” players can continue to play with their existing saved games/characters.

Gamers will find more than 30 hours of new gameplay in the expansion, where they can explore “two extreme sides of the god’s madness — the sublimely creative and the completely psychotic,” according to the game’s marketing materials. Divided between two sides, Mania and Dementia, “SI” features a “bizarre landscape” where players will come across more than twelve new creatures and unearth new items, ingredients, and spells.

“The enthusiastic response we’ve received to our downloadable content has been overwhelming,” said Vlatko Andonov, president of Bethesda Softworks, “and we’re excited to bring ‘Oblivion’ fans a full expansion. The world we’ve created for ‘Shivering Isles’ is unlike anything you’ve seen or played in ‘Oblivion’ and we can’t wait for folks to play it. “

Download Coup

In what could prove a huge victory for Microsoft over Sony’s competing PlayStation 3 (PS3) platform, “SI” will be available only for Microsoft’s Xbox 360 game console and sold as a download via the Xbox Live site. “Oblivion,” released in March 2006 for Xbox 360, sold more than 3 million copies last year. The draw for gamers to the Elder Scrolls series are the graphics and design, according to Michael Cai, an analyst at Park Associates.

“Elder Scrolls was successful because of its beautiful graphics, depth of story, great game design, good replay value and good artificial intelligence. Many Xbox 360 owners believe it’s the game you must have in order to see what Xbox 360 is really about,” he said.

That the game will not be available for the PS3 is significant because “what differentiates game systems are the games themselves,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group. “This effectively locks those that like Elder Scrolls to the Xbox, making it difficult for either Nintendo or Sony to pull them away and may pull players from the PS2 version to the Xbox.”

Selling the game through Xbox Live is “relatively unique,” Enderle said, adding that “it should result in faster takeup if the upgrade is as good as they say.”

Exclusive Club

Online distribution through Xbox Live is a significant move because it will be sold exclusively on the site, which has always been intended for more than just online gameplay, according to Cai. “Bill Gates has high hopes for digital distribution of entertainment content and it makes sense to do it for an expansion pack for a highly successful game which already has a large fan base.”

“SI” will also be available for the PC through retail outlets this spring. However, PS3 gamers will have to cross their fingers and wait, as the company has not announced plans to bring the game to the Sony console. The lack of a PS3 version is more than likely a result of the nearly year-long delay in the PS3 launch, which left the game console badly trailing the Xbox 360.

“[That] depends on when and if the ‘exclusive’ runs out,” Enderle noted. “This partially reflects that the Xbox 360 has something like ten times the available homes over the PS3, making it difficult to justify a near term port to the new Sony platform. Game developers are largely agnostic, though, so if the PS3 comes back, [Bethesda] will probably do something for that platform eventually.”

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