Why Console Exclusives Matter More Than Ever

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This new generation of consoles provides an interesting landscape regarding console exclusives, one whose narrative can change drastically in the coming years. While console exclusives were mainstays to the “console wars” of previous generations, we have reached a point of singularity. Consoles are more identical to each other than ever before and so companies are increasingly turning to services and killer apps only they can provide as their raison d’être. It’s in a new console climate such as the one we are in that news of Rise of the Tomb Raiders exclusivity to the Xbox One, no matter how temporary it ended up being, can cause such a dramatic conversation regarding the practice of exclusivity. It might be time to realize that console exclusives matter now more than ever.

It all started with the cartridge

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The history of clashes on the exclusivity battlefield is well-documented and early generations of consoles make the most logistical sense as to why there were so many skirmishes. It was a time when different companies were backing different storage medias for their respective systems and as such, exclusivity was easily identifiable as a physical difference between consoles. Nintendo and their continued push for cartridges, and Sony’s eventual victory with disc-based storage were less battles of similar hardware as they were battles to decide the future of the still young video game medium.

This even continued into the PS2/Gamecube era and to a similar extent the fight between the DS and the PSP. Nintendo utilized their DOL-006 GameCube Discs and DS cartridges while Sony and Microsoft opted for DVD/CD and for Sony’s PSP, the UMD. In all these cases, exclusivity could be seen as a remnant of an earlier era where physical storage preference played an identifiable role in console exclusivity.

I say identifiable because these days – excluding Nintendo – it’s more and more difficult to pick out the exact differences between consoles. Consumers are getting increasingly intolerant to changes in the status quo. For example in digital distribution such as the PSP Go’s digital only approach, or more recently Xbox One’s botched attempt at DRM, both attempts at differentiating from previous methods of consumer interactions were met with immense backlash.  The Xbox One and PS4 are different for sure, but there is a degree of sameness both consoles must adhere to in order to be widely accepted. The PS4, Xbox One, and PC all run the same games using similar formats including digitally distributed titles. They all have Netflix or Amazon, can download games digitally, and even their controllers are starting to reach a threshold of similarity. It is in an environment like this that console exclusivity looks to go the way of the cartridge. It would appear in a landscape of relative sameness, the games should naturally follow suit.

But then why bother?

Aside from perhaps brand loyalty or the legitimate aesthetic differences between the two consoles’ design – both internal and external – exclusive titles act as the big console differentiators.  It was always going to be Master Chief versus Nathan Drake (Though now I suppose it’s Lara Croft versus Nathan Drake in a contest that seemed only like a fantasy match-up until recently). When Final Fantasy went multi-platform it was one less tick in Sony’s competitive edge over the Xbox. It is a number’s game in the end; how many games does one console have exclusively over the other?

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(Senior Writer)

Part-time writer, full-time hero in training. Enjoys all manner of games that thrill, stress, and terrify. Love also includes anime with varying degrees of questionable nature. Find me on any social media and maybe we can bond over common interests? (woundupbird.tumblr.com)

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