Thoughts On Whether Console Exclusives Should Exist?

There has been a small but sometimes loud vocal group that’s often called out for the end of exclusivity of games on consoles. They’re not always agreeing on exactly this should mean, as many say only third party exclusives should be scrapped while others wish to see an end to all exclusives regardless whether it was produced by third party or first party developers. 

The head of Microsoft has recently sparked the fire under the discussion once again. CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella has said “If it was up to me, I would love to get rid of the entire sort of exclusives on consoles.” For now let’s look at what this means in context, considering Microsoft has happily purchased one and on the verge of acquiring a second major third party publisher. 

Firstly it’s important to remember that exclusivity isn’t a new thing that suddenly become a major problem within the industry. You can look all the way back to when Atari ruled the console market in the late 1970s and early 80s to see how big a part in the market they have held. Personally I have no problem with the thought that paying vast sums of money to keep a third party game off your competition should go away. There’s totally an anti-consumer argument to be made here. Everyone should be able to play these games assuming the hardware is capable. Third party should always be multi-platform, it’s as simple as that. 

Unfortunately it gets really quite complicated when it comes to third party exclusives, because not all games are kept from competing consoles would have ever seen the light of day. Remember the whole controversy around Bayonetta 2? After the failure of the first game, Sega put a halt on funding the sequel. Platinum Games tried both Sony and Microsoft whom both also refused to fund the game. It was only Nintendo that agreed. So, Bayonetta 2 was a third party game but it was because of one of the console manufacturer willing to cough up the costs to get it made that it ever got released.

Then you have those rare titles that aren’t held back from being multi-platform due to some behind the scenes payout but because the publisher chose to make it exclusive. It has happened. One instance that springs to mind was Zombi U for the Wii U. Yes the game wasn’t great, but it was by Ubisoft and it was exclusive. Obviously we know it came to other consoles a few years later, but it was due to the Wii U being such a big failure, otherwise it may have remained exclusive. Regardless, should those games be forced to be on all platforms or are they allowed to be exclusive? It’s an argument that on many levels I’d agree with, but there are instances where it gets a little more complicated and one could say, perhaps not. 

Third party developers and publishers limiting their releases to one platform isn’t that common now, due mainly to the fact it’s so incredibly expensive to develop games nowadays, and it’s only going to go up. So it makes sense to get what you produce onto as many systems as possible. But back in the 1980s, 90s and into the 2000s, it wasn’t too uncommon. Capcom, Konami, Square and later Square Enix all made released exclusive games without a payout as a general rule. The NES generation notwithstanding due to the shady business practices Nintendo pulled. But certainly from the 16-bit era onwards publishers released plenty of exclusives and it wasn’t always due to payouts. 

But yes third party games should be released on as many systems as possible, as long as the publisher wishes to do so and is financially capable to release the games. First party is different. Gaming is a hobby so you know what you are getting into when you start. Unlike third party games which by and large you’d expect to go to your system of choice, you are well aware of what Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft are going to offer you, as a whole. The shady third party dealings aside, there’s nothing unknown about what any of these three are about. I mean, yes online features is an important part of the gaming landscape today, but the games available to each system is of course still the first thing the casual gamers will be interested in knowing about before making a console purchase.

Remove the first party exclusives from consoles and you’ll see the console prices skyrocket. Anyone remember the 3DO? The reason the various manufacturers had to sell the consoles at $699.99 was largely due to the fact there was no first party support. First party games drives competition and innovation between all the different console maker developers as, again, they drive hardware sales. We can exclude the odd franchise from this such as Pokémon. But those games sell millions, even tens of millions, regardless of quality. We saw that with the releases on the Switch. But The Last of Us, the last two Legend of Zelda titles and Forza Horizon are all pushing boundaries in their respective genres. The games that are developed by either internal teams or fully owned first party developers are also the best at pushing the consoles to their limits. Which, they should be doing as it’s part of their job which is what helps sell hardware. 

So in conclusion, yes removing third party exclusives is not such a bad thing as it would mean nobody would need to hope and pray they made the right choice in the console they bought. But first party, you know what you’ll be getting when choosing the system. For example, everyone knows Nintendo is all about Mario, Zelda, Mario Kart, Pokémon etc. it’s the reason people buy their consoles in the tens of millions. 

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