I’ve seen an increasing opinion regarding exclusivity in gaming being anti-consumer, and that publishers should push for a future in which games are accessible on every platform. I respectfully disagree.
With ports of games getting increasingly popular, with every Microsoft exclusive dropping on PC, Nintendo launching games on phones, and Sony launching games on both phones and PC – it’s a trend that has been highly debated over the past few years.
While I do think PC and phones are good platforms and middle-ground for ports of this nature, I don’t agree whatsoever that exclusives should begin to be released on competitors’ hardware.
Phil Spencer recently said in an interview with Axios that modern Microsoft could’ve kept Bungie. Thomas Mahler, the CEO of Moon Studios (Ori and the Blind Forest) wrote on the videogame forum ResetEra that he doesn’t agree with this point. Here’s part of the quote from him:
I personally wish Microsoft would have the guts to just go through with their vision. Make their games and port them to ALL platforms, not leave anyone behind. The 13 year old kid whose parents were able to only afford to buy one system for their child now won’t grow up playing Halo because Microsoft believes that it makes the most financial sense to leave PlayStation players out. How does that benefit anyone but Microsoft? Yeah, you’ll probably sell a bunch more Xbox’s, but you lose out on millions of potentially dedicated fans.
He does make some great (and totally valid!) points in the general text, and I vouch for you to read all of it. While I understand his frustration as a developer, wanting to get his games out to as many platforms as possible, I don’t think that’s always the best move. I’ll try to go over this from different perspectives altogether.
First and foremost; Exclusives drive competition, which leads to better gaming experiences from not only first-party titles – but also from third parties.
The goal is and always will be to deliver as great exclusives as possible, but frankly, the competition between the different first-party developers creates a shockwave to always strive to be better than the opposition.
I think this on its own, is a very good reason for exclusives existing. Funnily enough, I feel like the movie industry has been going more toward this, while gaming is moving away from it more and more.
The acquisition war (Which is a debate in itself) basically began in the movie industry because of the need to secure content for your platform. The same could be said for gaming at this point as well, Sony, Microsoft, Tencent, and even Nintendo are all gearing up to secure IPs, developers, and even specific people to create the best product for their consumers.
The difference here is; Gaming still needs to grow in a way movies don’t need to, Microsoft was first on the ball to realize that launching stuff on PC won’t really cannibalize their Xbox sales that much, and they’ll grow their audiences a lot. Sony has followed suit, and there are small rumors of Nintendo thinking about doing something with a few older titles as well.
I think this is great, But I will stand firm with my point: I don’t want Microsoft, Sony, or Nintendo to launch games outside of their ecosystem and to an extent, even PC.
I frequently see the opinion that exclusives are anti-consumer. I frankly don’t think that’s true. In a weird way, the most consumer-friendly thing a company can do is to secure great gaming experiences for your customers. Take that away, and what would be the reason to own another console?
I could be a living example of this. I’m not a PC guy whatsoever, I dropped PC Gaming over 10 years ago. I’ve never felt the need to own an Xbox, but for the first time in forever – I’m considering it because of their great lineup of games. Currently, I can play Psychonauts 2 and Deathloop on my PS5, but when Arkane and Double Fine release their next experiences, I won’t be able to do so… And that’s fucking awesome to me! I finally have exclusive content that speaks to me from Xbox, and that’s great.
Another argument I frequently see is; What about choice? Well, you still have a choice now between 3 great console families, each with great first-party lineups, developers, and qualities. I realize everyone cannot afford every single console, and that sucks, but at the same time; Isn’t that every industry?
In my honest opinion, I feel like Sony releasing God of War on every platform, or Microsoft releasing Halo on every platform, frankly in a way, is more anti-consumer than releasing them only on their own platforms. I pay for a product, to play their games.
To circle back to Thomas’s point. Some developers do want to release their games to as wide of an audience as possible, for example, that is seemingly why Bungie wanted to break off: To create a platform that can be enjoyed by essentially everyone. I also think this is somewhat of the idea behind PlayStation’s recent PC Push.
On the other hand, there are opposite developers to this mindset as well. You of course want as many people to play your game as possible, but there are also developers that want to be able to develop and heighten performance to the maximum. Having to develop 5+ systems takes time, which isn’t for everyone.
I’m currently playing through Guardians of the Galaxy, by Eidos. And while it’s amazing through and through, it does suffer from a few bugs and performance issues here and there. While there’s a case to be made for them delaying the game ~3 months could’ve fixed it, there’s also a case for them creating it for one ecosystem could’ve potentially released the game ~3 months earlier. (And in a better state)
When Typhoon Studios got acquired by Google, their CEO Alex Hutchinson said the following in an interview with Gamesindustry.biz
“But when you’re focused on one platform and you have a really good group of people, I think you can make a lot of content and a lot of impact, so we want to focus on that.”
With the recent formation of their new development team, Raccoon Logic, there’s another interview with Gameindustry.biz, in which they write the following paragraph
Given this reverence for the independent world, it’s surprising that the Typhoon Studios team sold to Google before their debut title had even shipped. Schneider admits that they “never planned to sell the company” but none of the team had worked at a first-party before, which appealed to them.
This was simply a case of a developer that was interested in working with a first-party and on one family of hardware. Sadly it never panned out quite as they wanted, in this particular case. But it shows that every developer doesn’t have the mindset that Moon Studios or Bungie does, And that’s entirely fine – of course.
We also have the fact that by having to develop a game to a focused ecosystem/hardware family, you can optimize your game to an extent that simply rarely is possible when released on multiple systems. Look at the amount of money Sony pumps into their exclusives, and how polished they are. There are few developers that can deliver a game that looks and plays as well as The Last of Us Part II, on a regular PlayStation 4.
In my humble opinion, Microsoft wouldn’t have gone on an acquisition spree, and have the lineup of GOTY-worthy games as they currently do, if it weren’t for Sony’s exclusive being so great during the previous gen.
If it wasn’t for Microsoft’s amazing multiplayer games, which work so well together with their beloved service, Sony wouldn’t have pushed for their own Multiplayer games and service.
This happens because of competition. Releasing your own titles on other platforms takes that away, and what I fear is that we’ll lose a lot of the industry’s best qualities because of this.
I hope exclusives never go away, because I think the industry would lost a lot of quality if it did.