When it comes to console exclusives, love them or hate them, simple fact is, they do more harm than good. When exactly did it become an okay thing for Sony and Microsoft to start paying massive amounts of money simply to make sure a certain group of people don’t get to play a game?
When did it become okay even to pay to make certain gamers feel left out when a game first launches? Ultimately, console exclusives are only meant to play into the schoolyard mentality of ‘Look what I get to play with and you don’t!’ and really nothing more.
Now, before getting into it, I don’t mean first party exclusives. If Sony or Microsoft develop a game in one of their own studios and don’t release it on other platforms, that is completely their right. Similarly, I’m also not talking about if a game concept is developed by a first party studio and taken to an outside developer, as was the case with Sony owned Japan Studios and From Software in the development of the PS4 exclusive Bloodborne.
What I am referring to is the pattern of massive game franchises and publishers signing deals for console specific timed or exclusive content in the race for Sony and Microsoft to continually one-up each other. Games like Destiny, Call of Duty, Tomb Raider, Street Fighter, Titanfall, and now Dragon Age definitely do not need the added support. These are not small, fringe franchises that likely wouldn’t exist without the push of a top-tier publisher (as was likely the case with Bayonetta 2 and Nintendo).
A spokesman for Square Enix has even come out and clarified the next Tomb Raider doesn’t actually need the Xbox exclusivity deal, saying, “If you look at Tomb Raider, it’s been around for 20 years, so I do think that Tomb Raider would still be around [without Microsoft].”
Console exclusives and timed exclusives are nothing new. For years Activision has had an agreement in place with Microsoft, ensuring Call of Duty DLC, year after year, sees its release on Xbox consoles roughly a month before PlayStation. Sony, likewise locked down Destiny content for almost a full year, keeping it off Xbox platforms.
This week however, saw a similar deal rearing its ugly head in the form of Dragon Age Inquisition’s first piece of story DLC, ‘Jaws of Hakkon,’ and this time it came with an interesting wrinkle. For any who missed it, when pestered by an angry fan over twitter, executive producer Mark Darrah revealed Bioware was not dodging questions over a PS4 release by choice, but in fact could not reveal anything “without violating an in place agreement.” What does this mean? Essentially, part of the deal between EA and Microsoft, in regards to Dragon Age having timed exclusive content, bars Bioware from even discussing when PlayStation might see ‘Jaws of Hakkon.’
So who exactly does this kind of deal benefit? Certainly not PlayStation gamers, being forced to wait for the content. How about Xbox gamers? Well, honestly, no. The deal doesn’t benefit Xbox players in the slightest, unless the ability to feel superior and joyful in regards to the unhappiness of others should be considered a plus (Which it shouldn’t. I’m just going to put it out there, such things should not be considered a plus.) If anything, Microsoft signing a deal like this simply pushes Sony to find a deal of their own to sign, or vise versa, making sure gamers on both consoles feel scorned at one point or another.
At the same time, regardless of which console receives the content, these deals also breed bad blood and discontent between gamers and developers, the Dragon Age fan’s angry remarks towards Mark Darrah being a prime example. Obviously, from the perspective of the higher ups, this negative sentiment from fans isn’t enough to outweigh the money being exchanged, and that’s the problem.
From a marketing point of view, the console wars are just good for business. Buying a product is no longer just buying a product, it’s supporting your team against the other guys. In some aspects this works in favor of gamers, PS Plus free games and Games with Gold being born from that competition. But Sony and Microsoft locking down exclusives, even timed, is not about rewarding one group of gamers, it’s about punishing the other group.
So what can be done? How do you fight back? Some people would say simply to buy both consoles. If it makes financial sense to do so, it’s true, buying both consoles is likely the easiest and most straightforward way to make the entire conversation mute. Buying another console just for the ability to play a few games a year earlier than you would have otherwise however, might not strike most as the best investment.
The other simple answer: switch to PC. After all, most of the exclusivity deals are for console exclusivity, the content and games still coming to PC. Additionally, with Steamboxes on the way and PC gaming alive and well, why not? Seeing as the argument between PC and console gaming is much bigger than what I want to address here however, lets just say, some people prefer consoles and always will. Besides, what does it say about a console manufacture’s marketing strategy if the answer for gamers is to stop playing on consoles?
And finally, there is the time-tested way of showing displeasure with the forms of entertainment we don’t like: ‘Vote with your wallet.’ But here, that gets more complicated. More often than not it is the things we do enjoy that get shuttered away behind these deals. So if a game is only a timed exclusive, and it does eventually come out for our console of choice, casting that vote against it becomes that much more difficult.
As hard as it might be to imagine, things haven’t always been this bad. Back in the early 2000’s Final Fantasy XI launched, a MMO allowing for cross-platform play between PC, PS2, PS3, and Xbox 360. Sadly, nothing like it has been seen since, and the bitterness between the two primary consoles has only gotten worse.
Console exclusivity deals do nothing but hurt the people who love games the most. Each one puts a series of unfortunate choices before certain consumers, and ultimately, just reinforces the ‘us vs. them’ mentality that already poisons so much of gamer culture. We are all gamers. We all love games. So we should learn to start acting like it. And companies like Sony and Microsoft have the opportunity to stop stoking the fire.