Exclusive Titles Aren’t Helping Anyone

Rise of the tomb raiderSince the beginning of the console battle exclusive titles have been central to the differences between them. For the longest time it was Mario vs Sonic, with both characters squarely representing the different choices of available consoles. As time went on, exclusives became less tied to a central character and more tied to a marketing strategy. The most memorable and potentially the most advantageous exclusive probably should be awarded to Halo. It certainly catapulted the Xbox to the forefront of the console war, but has since failed to be enough. Now it seems processing power and graphics have become a bigger marketing tool, which inevitably leads to exclusives that are graphically dependent. The Last of Us is one of the best video games I have ever played, but I only got to play it because my brother lent me a PS3. And it doesn’t always help as the brilliant graphics of The Order 1886 didn’t save it from scathing reviews about a lack of content and short game length. The primary reason some games are exclusive is due to the limitations of the other available consoles, and the same is certainly true for future titles like No Man’s Sky and the next installment of Uncharted. But are gamers benefiting from this practice? Or does everyone lose?

Who cares?

I don’t think anyone can make a convincing case that people are buying a console based on the exclusive titles available for it… at least not anymore. Halo has successfully won its fan base, which means those players will almost always purchase an Xbox to ensure their ability to purchase future releases.  But is anyone scanning the available titles and saying, “Yes, I simply must have X title, so I’m going to buy this console over the other”? I’m sure they are a few people that do this, and I’m certainly drooling over all the early press and game footage of No Man’s Sky, but I don’t think the majority of gamers make their console of choice based on this. With the recent limited exclusive deal for Rise of the Tomb Raider, many gamers are rightfully calling foul as a wonderful title that was not exclusive to begin with is now going to be kept from many gamers. Even if the exclusive deal expires, it still doesn’t help anyone involved. The initial momentum of sales will only apply to those who can purchase it for the XBOX One, which means extra marketing dollars will be needed to push the game once it jumps to other platforms. How is this a good business model? You are shrinking your available audience while potentially forcing yourself to spend extra money on marketing. Who in their right mind would try to sell a product this way? It’s like going to a city where you know 1,000 people want to buy your red bicycles, and you say no, we are only going to sell to people on this side of the city and then maybe later we will come over to your side. Not only did you just marginalize a significant portion of your interested consumer base, but you have also deflated any potential sales traction you would have had by selling to everyone.

Old School Corporate thinking

Essentially that’s what this comes down to. We’ve got old school corporate thinking infecting a new, youthful, and growing market. Instead of standing back and letting things grow organically and rapidly, these corporate minded decision makers are following old rules about exclusivity and thinking that’s where the marketing power is. We are in the digital age which means the higher your rate of exposure the better. Exclusivity may work for novelty items like purses, clothes, or shoes, but for digital entertainment? Someone clearly doesn’t know their audience. Everyone who has a mobile device can, at any given moment, purchase one of a billion options of digital entertainment. Any marketing expert worth their weight will tell you it takes a finely crafted strategy and plan to effectively leverage and win over lots of consumers in such a saturated market. You could have a great idea for an app or mobile game, but if you don’t have big marketing money behind it, it will probably get very little attention. So it’s incredibly baffling to see an iconic character like Lara Croft, after a very successful reboot, narrow its audience and potential buying market. This type of thinking needs to go away, as the more exposure a game gets the more feedback and experience can feed the organic growth and adaptation to the gaming world at large. It also increases the profit margins for those making and selling the game, enabling them to create newer and better content in the future. It’s time to leave this old way of thinking in the past and continue to ride the quickly growing trends of digital immediacy that all consumers are coming to expect. Platform exclusivity won’t make sense to the growing generation who will think everything should be available, everywhere, at all times. If you don’t tap into the future consumer mind set of the younger generations, your game and company are likely to have a short life, and that’s bad for all of us.

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2 thoughts on “Exclusive Titles Aren’t Helping Anyone

  1. A world where I didn’t have to buy multiple consoles or forego playing select titles would be great for the consumer but it’s not as black and white as you’re painting it. For the sake of argument, I’ll leave Nintendo out of the mix as well as historical issues like cartridge vs. optical media. If you look at the last generation, the system architectures were completely different between Sony & Microsoft. A third party studio had two options: staff two development teams or develop for one system and port it to the other. Many studios pulled this off and the resultant game is essentially the same. In other cases, the title is clearly superior on the platform it was developed on. it’s no secret that PS3 was difficult to develop for. The studios that got it right, made some fantastic games but making the cell processor shine was hard work. Extracting performance from the 360’s Power-PC was much more approachable. If the studio is using an engine such as Unity or Unreal, it takes some of this away but in my opinion, you end up developing to the lowest common denominator unless you go back and make system specific optimizations.

    I think that these differences were a huge factor in why the current generation share a similar system architecture. I also think that third party multi-platform games will be almost identical as this console generation matures. Sadly, I don’t see console exclusives going anywhere. I just don’t think it’s realistic to expect a studio such as Naughty Dog or 343 to continue to produce the high-quality games they’re known for on both systems. Studios like these tend to work at a very low system level and are able to extract the most out of the hardware. From a business perspective, it just doesn’t make sense for them to invest and devout the required resources to create this kind of content across all platforms. Rockstar is the only studio that I can think that has been able to get away with sinking this kind of investment into developing a multi-platform game. Even then, it spent over 5 years in development but to be fair, it also made $1Billion overnight.

    All that said, Microsoft’s move to purchase (timed?) exclusivity for Tomb Raider saddens me. In my opinion, it was a move to close the console war gap and as you pointed out, just exemplifies the old-school corporate mentality. Purchased exclusivity like Tomb Raider and Sunset Overdrive are not system sellers. The online user base and games like Halo, Gears and Forza are what’s going to move systems.

    • Good input and thoughts, Josh. I definitely know and tried to acknowledge that games like No Man’s Sky are exclusive due to development or system limitations. Just think that companies need to move toward more agile development and cross platform games because I believe that is the future. Thanks for reading and sharing! When I make this into a video post I’ll be sure to include your perspective!

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