Contributed by DJMMT
I really dislike the current trend of blindly applying one situation that uses similar terms to another situation that has a completely different context. There’s a reason we have nuanced discussion about things and specific terms for specific things. The gaming industry lacks this nuanced vocabulary and it causes a lot of problems as well as debates that don’t need to happen. Or at least not in the way and frequency that they do. It’s weird that we have at least three different legal terms for when a person takes another person’s life but we have basically one term for when a game is only available on one console. My point is that to just say “it’s exclusive” and act like that means the same thing and situation for all games we refer to today as exclusive is literally false.
I was against Microsoft buying Bethesda for the simple fact that Bethesda’s money did not come predominantly from XBOX (and PC) users. For me, that’s always the main issue. I believe strongly that businesses and consumers should operate in a symbiotic relationship. Those who give money to a studio should be the ones to get games from said studio. If Bethesda had predominantly only made XBOX games over their 25-year history, or if the bulk of their sales were from XBOX users throughout that history, I would have no problem with the acquisition. But that’s not the case with their sales figures and those numbers can be verified. This is why I had no problem with Sony buying Insomniac Games. Because Insomniac Games was basically a Sony exclusive developer before the purchase anyway, and everyone felt that way. If you look up the history of the company, more than 90% of their profits have come from PlayStation users, before the official acquisition. And the one time they tried to tap into the XBOX player base, they failed miserably. In fact, it is widely believed that if Sunset Overdrive released on PS4 today, even after having spent years available on both XBOX ONE and PC, it would still end up selling more on PS4 than its combined sales figures on XBOX and PC.
If tomorrow Sony somehow managed to purchase 343 Industries and they announced that the next HALO will be a PS5 exclusive, I would not be OK with that. It would be wrong. There is no other word to describe that scenario. A studio that made more than 80% of its profits on XBOX players suddenly being completely out of reach to those players without them buying a PlayStation console would be wrong. I’m sure we’d still have plenty of nonsensical arguments defending the decision, but we would all know in our hearts that it would be wrong. You don’t use a player base’s money to fund games those players can’t play. It’s unethical.
There are of course some outliers with very specific and verifiable situations that I personally think are OK, even if not ideal. A company or franchise that is going to die without funding from a first party publisher being made exclusive as a rescue operation is acceptable. If it’s between a company or franchise dying and exclusivity, I choose exclusivity. This is what happened with Bayonetta 2. It would not exist without Nintendo bankrolling the game. The first one may have been loved, but it was not profitable enough to keep the franchise going. Nintendo went out of their way to save it. In this instance, the first party publisher paid for the sequel to be created and had it released as an exclusive to their console. In simpler terms, Nintendo purchased a product that no one else wanted and then resold it to their user base. I don’t see anything wrong with that. Because that game wouldn’t exist otherwise.
Another exception is Marvel’s Spider-Man. Many people were angry about Marvel’s Spider-Man being a PlayStation exclusive, and that’s understandable. But I do not consider its exclusivity a problem, when it’s appropriately judged for what it actually is. The problem with games based on non-original IPs is that the discussion gets murky. There are a few things that need to be addressed here. Is Marvel’s Spider-Man part of an existing franchise or a completely new game? Notice that I used the word franchise and not IP. Those are not the same thing. But people often incorrectly interchange the two. This is where problems arise. The Spider-Man IP is a comic book property created and owned by Marvel. They have the right to license that IP out to any medium they want. The Spider-Man game franchise does not express full control or relevance to the Spider-Man IP as a whole. Sony currently owns the movie rights to the Spider-Man IP. That’s why it was so hard to get him in the MCU. Marvel owns the comic rights to the Spider-Man IP. That’s why he rarely if ever gets to meet Superman in the comics, the rights of which are currently owned by DC. But who exactly owns the game rights to the Spider-Man IP, and even more importantly who has the right to use them? That depends entirely on what year you’re referring to.
The fact is that Spider-Man games have existed since 1982, first appearing on the Atari 2600. Since then, there have been several Spider-Man game franchises published by several different publishers. Some of these games are connected and others are completely unrelated franchises with different canon, developers, and platform releases. Just because they are all games within the Spider-Man IP does not make them all connected or part of the same franchise. And thus they shouldn’t be treated as such. Marvel’s Spider-Man (2018) has nothing to do with Spider-Man (2002), based on the movie. Nor does it have anything to do with Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions (2010). These are three completely different game franchises that have nothing to do with each other. They all fall under the Spider-Man IP. But they are in no way directly related. That’s why it doesn’t make any sense to say the Spider-Man franchise became exclusive. No, it didn’t. Because Marvel’s Spider-Man was/is a new franchise. It didn’t become exclusive. It was always exclusive. From day one that franchise was built from the ground and publicly announced as an exclusive title that was the start of a new franchise. It was built by a first party exclusive developer owned by Sony. There is absolutely no valid argument for why it’s not OK for that game to be a PlayStation exclusive. Now one could argue that Marvel shouldn’t allow first party developers to make Spider-Man games and thus none of them would be exclusive. But then we wouldn’t be talking about this particular game at all. A Spider-Man game made by Insomniac Games that isn’t connected to any previous Spider-Man games is absolutely fine as a PlayStation exclusive.
Starfield shouldn’t be exclusive for two reasons. The first is that it was originally announced to be multiplatform. The game went into development as a multiplatform game and was announced as such to the public. That means there are people that bought PS5s believing that they would be able to play Starfield on that console. The second is that PlayStation users played a huge role in Bethesda reaching the point they’re now at. Starfield shouldn’t be a PS5 exclusive any more than it should be an XBOX exclusive. Bethesda made its money from both player bases and thus both player bases have a right to be able to access their games. It really is that simple. Bethesda was not built on XBOX money specifically. Nor was it built on PlayStation money exclusively. It was built on everyone’s money. So everyone rightfully has claim to their future games.
The industry will always have exclusives. Exclusives sell platforms. There’s nothing wrong with that. But exclusives should come from in house a majority of the time. It’s not acceptable to purchase a studio that’s in the process of putting out a game that was originally announced to be available to everyone simply to pull that product off the opposing platform. In a backhanded way, that’s basically a form of market manipulation. Starfield’s announcement raised Bethesda’s value as a company. Microsoft buying Bethesda post Starfield announcement raised Microsoft’s value. Making it exclusive hurt Sony’s value. That’s intentional. You best believe that acquisition happened when it did because of Starfield. Maybe not exclusively because of Starfield, but that game was part of the discussion when negotiations occurred. It shouldn’t be exclusive to any platform because it was not set up to be one and development of it wasn’t exclusively funded by the player base of any specific platform. This is robbing Peter to pay Paul when Paul doesn’t even need the money.