The Reality of Exclusive Content

Jun 27, 2014

Earlier this week, news broke that owners of the PS4 would receive exclusive downloadable content for Arkham Knight, which comes out in 2015. This also comes fresh off the heels of E3, where Sony announced that PS4 owners would get exclusive access to the alpha phase of Destiny. We now know that over 6 million PS4 owners got to have that first look at Destiny. Understandably, the frequency at which this has occurred has left many gamers frustrated, myself included. However, there are two sides to every story, and we have to recognize the realities and obstacles that video game developers face. Sure, there are huge negatives to the exclusive content saga – and I’ll touch on that – but perhaps, gamers and developers will change their tune, after seeing the whole picture.

The frustration itself stems from the fact that we love video games. A sizable portion of our money goes to these game developers because we can’t get enough of the brilliant content they bring to us, year after year. As much as consumers love these games, there is a real danger that developers subject themselves to when they choose to offer exclusive content to a specific console. The danger is that the console war dwarfs the actual game itself. When Ubisoft decided to offer exclusive content for its latest game, Watchdogs, for the PS3 and PS4, the focus switched from the game itself to the console war between Sony and Microsoft. Competition is great for this industry and I’m not suggesting that Ubisoft, and other developers, feel obligated to provide “exclusives” for both the Xbox and PS4 versions. I’m only recognizing that this “console war” could become a burden and distraction, from the game itself.

Another danger is that owners of a console, that is not receiving the exclusives, could become more disinterested in a particular game. For example, an owner of an Xbox One may perceive Destiny to be a “PlayStation game”, or a PS4 owner might say the same type of thing about Call of Duty being an “Xbox game.” Consumers can be driven to purchase the game that feels more catered to the console they own, as opposed to simply getting the game that suits their tastes, most. And yes, that is partially the reason these exclusives are offered. Sony, Microsoft, and even Nintendo, offer assistance in marketing dollars in order to provide the premium version of a developer’s game, to their consumers. This isn’t just a battle between console brands but the developers, themselves. There is a reason these exclusives aren’t available for Destiny and Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare on PS4. If something like that happened, Sledgehammer Games, who is developing COD: Advanced Warfare, would lose its competitive edge on Destiny. This makes sense, but as I alluded to before, COD’s sales could suffer on the PS3 and PS4 because PS4 owners of those systems might feel that the game doesn’t hold as much value to them without the exclusives. The sales of these games might suffer for these developers. However, that is the risk they take. Bungie, the developer of Destiny, hopes that by bringing more content to the PlayStation consoles, it can generate more hype amongst that consumer base and drive up its sales. Sure, they might lose some sales Xbox owners, but in the end, all that matters is that the game sales. It’s an ambitious and risky strategy but so far, it seems to be paying off.

As easy as it is to focus on the negative end of exclusive content, we have to look at the realities that game developers face. Sure, these are works of art, but these works of art are expensive to make and these games need to generate revenue. More revenue, more games – it’s that simple. In fact, these games are so expensive that some studios exist from project to project. By that, I mean that a game’s failure can be the death of a studio. And here is where my stance softens, in my view of exclusive content in this industry. When Bungie makes a game like Destiny, which has an unprecedented budget of $500 million, it’s understandable that they might want to find a way to ease as much financial burden as possible. As a result, we see nearly every PS4 advertisement mentioning Destiny. So Sony has helped Bungie save money by advertising the game for them. In exchange, Sony’s consoles get exclusive content. But it has to be about more than saving money, right? By saving money, Bungie allows itself to keep its hard-working employees on board. And I can’t argue with that. As I said before, these games are difficult to make. These people pour their heart and soul into these games, lose countless hours away from their families, and take upon themselves, an insane amount of pressure to succeed. So if I miss out on exclusive content, but somebody keeps their job, by Sony, Microsoft, or Nintendo easing their publishing or advertising budget, I’m totally fine with that.

It’s a difficult reality to face, on both sides. These developers would love to make every gamer happy, but the truth is, that just isn’t possible. In light of that, they have to make some of us unhappy, by providing exclusive content to a particular console. It’s a harsh truth but it’s a truth that keeps these companies in business and allows their employees to have a job – providing for themselves and their families. It’s not a fail-proof strategy, but it is the best shot some of these studios have, at continuing to bring us the games we love. And as I said before, how can I argue with that?