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Console Exclusivity! You Won't Believe What Happens Next!

MattComment

Exclusivity in video games is a funny thing.
It's also incredibly frustrating and a source of much anger.
Unfortunately it's also, at least for now, unavoidable.

Video games sell consoles, not the other way around. To sell a console, you have to entice your audience, differentiate yourself from the competition. Through connected applications, peripherals, software value-adds like free games or items to personalize your console OS and of course, video games. Consoles are dead in the water without the software to keep them afloat. Here's where the unfortunate reality of console exclusives rears it's ugly head.

For the most part, console exclusivity is easily and widely understood (I'm glossing over the fact that many console games claim "exclusivity" but also arrive on PC/Mac). We can make a pretty safe bet that when the next Super Mario game arrives, it'll be playable on Nintendo consoles and nowhere else. The same reasoning behind Master Chief never showing up on Sony's PS4 or Nathan Drake never adventuring his way onto Microsoft's Xbox. Intellectual Properties built, owned and supported by the console creators (Ok, fine. Naughty Dog, creators of Uncharted aren't directly Sony but they are a subsidiary and Sony owns the rights to the IP).

What we can extrapolate from this is the following:
Console creators invest in first-party (eg in-house created/owned/built/supported) studios to bring exclusive software to their hardware offering.

Simple, no?

But what about the rest? What about the Titanfalls and the Bloodbornes? The games NOT being developed in-house, but by 3rd-party developers. Development houses are offered tidy sums of money from console creators to provide some form of exclusivity with their next game. This is both a positive and a negative for the software developer as it provides guaranteed money up front, maybe even more time to work on the product, but it also hamstrings the overall profit if the game is wholly exclusive because they're missing out on the wider audience who does not own that console.

What much of this comes down to is the publisher and their risk appetite. Are they willing to forego x-amount of money up front in order to maximize their potential audience in the hopes that the game is a hit OR does it make more sense to go a different route, such as exclusivity?

In the real world, we as consumers often want to play in the same places as our friends. In many ways that is going to define which console you purchase and thus which games will be available to you. It's not that exclusive games aren't a draw, but just as big of a draw - possibly more so - is where my friends are spending their time. "Brand loyalty" may also figure in, and is always a major piece of the so-called "console wars".

The move towards parity between consoles only fuels the war, but there will always be differentiating factors in the hardware and software. Developers will continue to improve on the quality of their games and none of that will ever stop the need for console exclusive games. I can't help but *know* I'll be missing out on at least one game on that OTHER, worse, awful, terrible, horrendous console. That one that I don't have. But that's the current nature of the industry.

I think the issue many people have with 3rd-party exclusivity comes down, partially, to their need for validation in the console purchase they've made (another puzzle piece to the aforementioned "console wars"). We need to know that we made the "right" choice and when THAT game launches but on the competitors box, we're not only annoyed that we can't necessarily play it but we're downright angry that a developer could make this kind of decision. For some, it's a slap to the face, it becomes something deeply personal. 

Consoles are not cheap pieces of tech, not everybody can afford to own every machine out there, and this is where that unfortunate reality rears it's head again. Unless Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo choose to stop competing and work on creating some form of unified network/console, exclusivity will be here to stay. It has to.