While the industry is far from perfect, it could be argued that we’re living in the golden age of video gaming. The hobby is the most creative, accessible, and least expensive it’s ever been, largely thanks to elements like free-to-play and mobile gaming, easy development tools, and the interaction of indie developers and triple-A publishers. Of course, people still love to complain, and concerns continue to electrify social media.
For one, a global shortage of semiconductor chips still means that people will be struggling to get a PlayStation 5 until 2023. It might sound like a bizarre problem, but Apple came up against the same issue in 2020 with its new iPhone. Gaming companies otherwise behave like any other business. PR disasters, like EA’s now-legendary Reddit AMA, insensitive advertising, and similar faux pas come and go and are forgotten about almost overnight.
However, some problems do have a tendency to stick around, with unfair microtransactions and broken products at launch standing around the top of this miserable podium. A slightly less outrageous but no less annoying itch involves platform exclusives.
In brief, a platform exclusive is a game that can only be played on a single system, such as the Xbox Series X or the Nintendo Switch. These rare titles can either be exclusive for a period of time, such as the original Bioshock, which was only playable on Xbox 360 and PC from August 2007 to October 2008. The term also covers the titles that are trapped on one platform forever, as is the case with the God of War, Gears of War, Uncharted, and Mario franchises. Often, these games are made by the console manufacturers themselves, such as Sony.
Even for somebody who knows nothing about gaming, it’s easy to see why exclusives are a plus. They’re fantastic at selling hardware. Just about every Nintendo console is a good example of this practice, as just about every character ever made by the Japanese company has never been seen on another platform. People buy Nintendo consoles because that’s where Mario, Donkey Kong, Pikmin, Super Smash Bros., and Animal Crossing live. Gamers aren’t so much buying a console with Nintendo, they’re buying access to a franchise.
The latter company is often left out of the debate about console exclusives, simply because Nintendo has always held its characters close to its grey, plastic shell. But there’s a general feeling that exclusive titles are a negative aspect of the gaming industry, albeit only for consumers. As mentioned, this kind of product is usually a win for publishers and developers. This point is encapsulated by the amount of money Epic Games pays companies for exclusive rights to sell some games on PC.
But platform exclusives in video gaming are just the tip of a big iceberg. In the casino industry, operators rent unique slots to distinguish their offering from what might be considered an overcrowded market. For example, 888casino has tens of these exclusive titles, including ones dedicated to Mad Max: Fury Road and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Making recognizable titles along with more generic ones available to play on the site, such as The Unholy and The Wolf’s Den, the brand is covering all bases.
Unlike in video gaming, where exclusives are uncommon at best, on casino sites, they’re numerous. This is because the titles are rented, the variety is vast and there’s no need to buy a console. Consequently, comparison websites such as time2play have since sprung up to help gamers find the best online slots for real money using a bespoke rating system. Returning to our example, 888casino has 39 exclusive slots, according to time2play, as well as more than 500 standard games, once again demonstrating the vast amount of choice on the market. For gamers in this niche, exclusive products are a net positive, as they provide an experience that cannot be found elsewhere due to the unique position this industry is in.
Resident Evil 4
So, what’s the problem? On consoles, exclusives can require quite a large financial investment from people who otherwise might have no interest in making said purchase. It’s a fair bet that almost all long-running franchises have experienced exclusivity at some point in their lifetime. Final Fantasy was locked to Nintendo until the seventh installment, while Resident Evil 4 launched on the GameCube first due to creator Shinji Mikami’s assertion that he would rather remove his own head than work with Sony. As fans tend to go where the games are, playing a full library from even a single franchise can mean multiple console purchases.
Exclusivity also means that players can end up with less of an identical product. Anybody who likes Spider-Man will likely be aware that the character has different movie rights to The Avengers, which is why he was left out of the first movie featuring the group. Fittingly, the web-slinger is owned by Sony. For the disappointing 2020 The Avengers game, Sony actually made Spider-Man exclusive to PlayStation versions of the title without altering the price of the product. While this move seems more than a little petty, it nevertheless works to advertise Sony’s platform over all others.
So, to answer the question in the title, the perception of platform exclusives as a good or bad thing depends entirely on whether you’re a publisher or a consumer and what entertainment niche you’re currently occupying. For casinos, streaming services, and other web properties that need to distinguish themselves in a crowded marketplace, leaning on unique content can prove a boon for consumers and company profits. For games that require hardware purchases, though, it’s difficult to see the positives in holding franchises and characters (and, therefore, fans) hostage.