A Better Approach to System Exclusives

A Better Approach to System Exclusives

For years, exclusive third-party games have heaped stress and despair on gamers. If you own a limited number of consoles, it’s agonizing to watch a cool-looking game or a long-awaited sequel get locked down by the rival camp. In 1996, when Square announced that Final Fantasy VII would be a PlayStation exclusive, Nintendo 64 faithfuls wept in rage.

Happily, video game exclusives are gradually becoming less brutal. Earlier in the month, PlayStation software senior brand manager Scott McCarthy talked to ScrawlFX about Sony’s aim to “lock up exclusive parts of games” instead of locking town the exclusive rights to a title.

“When you make a title exclusive, you limit its promotional power; we don’t want to do that,” he said. “We want games to be as big as possible — it’s great for the industry. However, we want to make sure that you play it on the best system possible, so we like to take parts of games and make them exclusive to the PlayStation system.”

McCarthy cited 2009’s Batman: Arkham Asylum as an example, in which PlayStation 3 owners had exclusive access to the Joker as a playable character. IndustryGamers followed up on the story with an added mention of Microsoft’s recent moves to secure exclusive downloadable content for games like Call of Duty: Black Ops. But IndustryGamers also asked, “Is [this method] working for publishers? Are people overwhelmingly choosing the version with additional content?”

If Sony, Nintendo or Microsoft want to score a third-party exclusive, they usually have to pay a pretty hefty fee for the privilege. In theory, a super-hot exclusive is supposed to sell systems alongside the game. But that’s by no means a guarantee, unless a game is especially prolific. In that regard, McCarthy’s remarks about wanting games to be as “big as possible” isn’t just healthy for the industry; it makes good financial sense. A console purchase is a serious decision, and will give any budget-conscious a reason to pause and think–even if the purchase is for an A+ game like Arkham Asylum. There’s only a small chance that an enthusiast will purchase the console along with the game.

Enticing individuals who own both an Xbox 360 and a PlayStation 3 is a safer strategy that encourages developers’ creativity rather than stifling it. The Joker is a popular guy, and Mark Hamill’s rendition of the Joker from Batman: the Animated Series is especially beloved. If someone wants to play as the Clown Prince of Crime and they own both an Xbox 360 and a PlayStation 3, they’re going to rocket towards the PlayStation 3 version of the game.

What’s more, exclusive bonus content in a game is capable of piquing the interest of someone who previously had no plans to buy the game on any platform. Developers are also given a chance to play around with appealing bits of extra content that otherwise wouldn’t make it into the main game.

But there is a potential downside to modern exclusivity that was bought to the fore by a commenter on IndustryGamers called innerloop.

“Wait until you start seeing more RETAILER exclusives in games,” innerloop wrote. “Then the choices get even more difficult – do you buy it for PS3 at BestBuy, or Xbox 360 at GameStop?”

Very true. Multiple-choice options for exclusive game content is beneficial for the industry and the consumer, but it can also get very confusing. Remember, publishers: Maximize the player’s game experience without freaking him or her out!

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

3 Comments

  1. I absolutely HATE store-specific content. I’m paying for the game, which means I deserve the content. I shouldn’t be forced to look around for the best bonus items, or not be able to get the best one because the store isn’t in my area.

    Over the years I’ve found the best solution is to just not care. Kind of sucks because you can miss out on some cool content, but I’d rather let prices do the talking instead of content that’s pegged as “exclusive” when it deserves to be in every version of the final game.

  2. Retailer exclusives are being pushed for by the retailer, whereas platform exclusives are being pushed for by the platform owner (ie Sony).
    They’re two separate entities, with two separate reasons (digital vs retail, x360 vs ps3), but with the same reward. That’s why there’s both and why they can’t pick either/or.

    I say get rid of both, but that won’t happen.

  3. “When you make a title exclusive, you limit its promotional power; we don’t want to do that,” he said. “We want games to be as big as possible — it’s great for the industry. However, we want to make sure that you play it on the best system possible, so we like to take parts of games and make them exclusive to the PlayStation system.”

    McCarthy cited 2009′s Batman: Arkham Asylum as an example, in which PlayStation 3 owners had exclusive access to the Joker as a playable character.

    —–

    The only problem with that is PS3 was the *worst* system to play Arkham Asylum on from a technical perspective.

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