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Console Exclusivity: Necessary Evil or Outdated distribution model?



console exclusivity. the action pixel. @theactionpixel

console exclusivity. the action pixel. @theactionpixelGive me a sec and let me think out loud for a moment because I don’t know where I fall on this issue…I mean I know I probably have a strong opinion, I’m just not entirely sure what that opinion is. You see this new console generation is picking up speed sales wise and platform exclusivity has become a needling annoyance once again.

Back in the day when the power of our consoles were measured in Bits, platform exclusivity was just a matter of course. Team Nintendo had a pantheon of memorable characters in hit exclusive after hit exclusive and Team Sega had Sonic and…ummm….oh dear. So back then, if you could only afford one, you picked your gaming platform and just lived with the fact that you’d miss out on a  few cultural staples which the kid down the road was merrily enjoying. This continued for ages but in the last generation I felt a bit of a change in the air. Excusing Nintendo which was busy doing its own thing, the exclusives on the PS3, Xbox 360 were mostly average and barring the odd Halo 2 or The Last of Us, the games I remember most were the Portal 2‘s, Mass Effect Trilogies, Bioshock‘s and Red Dead Redemption‘s of the world which were everywhere. It seemed very much like third parties were making the best games and assuming the hardware was there (looking at you again Nintendo) made them available for the majority of people to play.

Dragon Age: Inquisition THE ACTION PIXEL @theactionpixelThat trend has continued into this generation. The third parties are coming out with the best games yet again and the exclusives have mostly been disappointing. But rather than ride this wave into what I see as its natural conclusion, namely making all games available to everyone , console manufacturers have doubled down and rather than system locking games in their entirety, they’ve carved up little pieces of games for their hardware and thus the trend of timed exclusives, and system specific DLC is born and it’s something that as a lifelong gamer I find utterly, utterly frustrating. For example I’m a huge fan of Dragon Age: Inquisition. I played that game until I wore my controller out and explored every little corner of the beautifully realised world. Therefore it was a shock to me when the long awaited DLC for the title was an timed Xbox exclusive….that’s right our friends from across the aisle get to play that little bit of goodness a whole month before their Playstation brethren. I’m never going to invest in a console just because I have to wait a month for a bit of DLC and so’ this carving up of pieces of games seems pointless.

Now, i’m clearly an idealist but i’m not an idiot and I understand the business behind this distribution model. If a console can offer better exclusive games and better DLC offers etc…, it’ll sell more and the manufacturer will make more money. But this state of affairs only continues because the general atmosphere around gaming allows it to. I often feel as though we as console gamers  put all our energy into backing the wrong horse: we’re either Team Sony, Team Xbox or Team Nintendo when we should all be team gaming and put our inestimable passion behind the best developers and the best titles, demanding that they be distributed to as wide a swathe of gamers as possible. I’m a Playstation gamer but I’d love to see as many people as possible play The Last of Us because it’s an essential piece of art in my opinion, and conversely I want to have Nintendo’s greatest hits available to me.

I’ve heard the counter-argument to this a number of times and I just don’t buy it. People tell me that the exclusivity model breeds competition which in turn leads to better games…but the first party games haven’t really been getting any better. Sure competition is important but the console manufacturers should be putting their energies into their hardware and competing on that level: coming up with the best UI, constantly iterating on their network services which are currently sketchy at best; hell, even outbidding each other to make their machines as cheap as possible. This is where console manufacturers should be waging the war for our hard earned money, not by who can offer the most snazzy character skin in The Witcher 3.

So reading back on this I guess I do know where I stand on this issue, and it seems so sensible. We live in an age where platforms are vying for our attention and generating exclusive content to make us subscribe. It’s true of music, TV streaming services, and gaming. If we let companies do that we’re simply robbing ourselves of the chance to experience some great pieces of art in the time and manner it was intended to be consumed, which is an awful shame. Here’s hoping for an exclusive free future where we can all enjoy whatever games we want regardless of which system we buy.

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