On the surface some would say its quite clear cut in terms of if exclusive video games or exclusive content should exist or not, but I wanted to have a look to see if there was any benefit to us gamers for these existing in the first place. For those of you who don’t know, I am talking about both video games that are exclusive to one console, say the PS4, or alternatively some form of content, like a DLC or character, that exists only only one platform.
Recently, this discussion came to light again with the announcement that in the new Marvel Avengers game, Spider-Man was going to be a playable character only on PlayStation which is clearly a huge win for PlayStation fans and a major loss for everyone else. Some background; basically, all characters that will be added to the Avengers game will be available to everyone for free which is awesome, but PS4 version owners get the extra character and this character is one of the, if not THE, biggest Marvel hero to date. This means that, despite PS4 owners and Xbox owners paying the same amount for a game, the PS4 owners get more value for their money. You can understand why people were pissed. Sony has a history with Spider-Man given that they own his rights, and the Spider-Man game that came out in 2018 was met with both critical and financial success so you can understand why they would leverage this property on their own console for this game. The inclusion of this exclusivity is no doubt to drive people towards purchasing the PS4 version and eventually help next gen adopters move to a PS5 over the Xbox Series X (and S). It sucks for others, but you also can’t blame Sony for doing this as they are currently using the properties they own to sell their product which is, at its root, the nature of business.
And this is what I wanted to talk about as I have given this a particular point a lot of thought. In the specific example above, it makes the PS4 more attractive in this one isolated case and serves their bigger plans in the next gen battle. But also, in doing so, it will force Microsoft to make sure that either with this game, or in future new titles, they make the effort to also appear appealing. But having Microsoft in the fight also puts a check on Sony – they cannot overcharge for the game, they can’t increase the cost unfairly on the console and they are held accountable for what they offer. Although the Spider-Man example is very cheeky, the role of the exclusive provides a point of difference for each game and in a larger sense, each console meaning that there isn’t one singular console available. Moving away a bit from Spider-Man and into more general exclusive territory, these exclusive franchises are what define people’s purchases and loyalty to the brands. Without these we would move to a singular console which sounds like a great, peace on earth solution but who would create it? Who would manage the money, the direction and the ethics of such a product? I mentioned the checks that Sony and Microsoft have on each other earlier, and without these checks the owner of this one console would be able to charge whatever they want, influence the games how they see fit and generally just shaft us. This is a particularly negative view but could you trust a corporation who lives and dies by its bottom line, to make the choices that ultimately impact the gamer?
Shifting back to Spidey, the use of the exclusive is, on paper, an absolute win here for Sony. But Sony have lost this battle before as well and not just on characters. You think back to the days of the Xbox and Xbox 360 and you can see that Halo and Gears dominated their catalogues and player-base, so much so that Sony released an exclusive called Haze which was sold as the Halo-killer. Although Sony were still outpacing Microsoft in platform sales, they still needed to find an answer to the exclusives that they lacked and as such they invested in an alternative, which in this case didn’t kill Halo. There is a tug of war between franchises that these two gaming juggernauts often engage in and although Sony often pull harder, Microsoft always pull back. Gamepass for Xbox for example is showing to me how Microsoft are almost taking themselves out of this console war and instead making them a viable secondary console/streaming service that is vying for your attention. In 2021, you could well have a PS5 and an Xbox Series S with Gamepass and then ignore the Switch because you have the vast catalogue of Sony and Microsoft at your fingertips for a very reasonable price. Sony wins as they get you to buy the PS5 and Microsoft win as you buy the cheaper digital console but also get sucked into their ecosystem with a monthly subscription.
Ultimately, I think that where the cost of the game remains the same, but the fundamental content of the game is different, that’s unfair business practice. I understand it, but I don’t agree with it, even though I am fully in Spider-Mans pocketless suit. However, I welcome the console exclusives as it adds definition to each side, it makes them both work harder to please us, the gamers. We choose with our money and that means that we, to a certain extent, have the power to influence here. Maybe not all the time, I agree, but we do have that choice.
This post may feel more like a few rambling brainways rather than a fully formed essay or deep dive on the issue, but it is one that keeps coming up and one I was interested in tasking myself with, at least playing Devil’s Advocate. I’d love to hear what you think though and whether you agree. Drop me a comment or hit me up on Twitter and lets see what you think. And be kind…