There have been a few trends at E3 this year, most of them more or less welcome. Cartoony action, giant dragons, cops and robbers, and of course “we listened to your feedback,” as a way of directly appealing to fans.
But there’s a trend that’s popping up in nearly every AAA game presentation at the show, one that’s quickly becoming one of the more irritating memes of the video game industry.
Both Sony and Microsoft spent a good chunk of time in their own presentations turning things over to third party devs like Activision and Ubisoft to show off their games. That’s fine and good, but the reason behind which games appear on which shows is the central issue.
There’s a war going on right now, where through endless negotiation, big promises and cold, hard cash, both Sony and Microsoft are extracting platform-exclusive content from the larger devs. That can mean any number of things, from first-run access to betas and content, or actual in-game items like extra missions or DLC. Microsoft has deals worked out with Call of Duty, Evolve and Dragon Age. Sony has so much special content and early access for Destiny, they’re treating it like a platform exclusive.
I understand that holding onto exclusive games can be expensive. Microsoft recently did so with EA/Respawn and Titanfall, and it’s looking like that didn’t really pan out for them, with the running theory that Titanfall 2 will absolutely be cross-platform.
But still, you can sell a console on exclusive games. You can’t sell it on exclusive extra content, DLC or betas for random games that your customers can’t predict.
Is there really a clear “winner” when it comes to all this extra exclusive content? In trying to buy the favor of publishers left and right, both sides have ended up with exclusive add-ons or early access to practically every upcoming AAA game. But this is not a selling point.
No one is going to start buying consoles because maybe, sometimes a AAA game will come with an extra mission or early beta access. This system acts like its buying bonuses for its players, but what it feels like is that these companies are often paying developers to simply make the experience worse on other consoles. Want that new Call of Duty map pack, PS4 owners? Well too bad, because Microsoft paid Activision a truckload of money so that you have to arbitrarily wait a month. Think that extra Far Cry mission looks cool? Well sorry, but Sony wants you to know you spent $400 on the wrong console last year, buddy.
It’s certainly “fair,” as these companies can spend money however they want to, and developers can carve chunks out of their games or impose artificial delays if there’s a market for it, but what’s it doing to consumers? It just leaves them feeling confused about how to get a “full” copy of the game they want, and annoyed when they figure out their version is “lesser” than the other one, even in small ways.
This is somewhat tied into the also-obnoxious practice of pre-order bonuses, but now between those and console exclusive content, it’s becoming borderline impossible for consumers to get the true “best” version of a game. It used to be the case that you would buy a system based on its line-up of exclusives and the performance and functionality of the console itself. Now, Sony and Microsoft are trying to chip off bits and pieces of games and set traps for their competition to try and make their AAA experience better by making their opponent’s worse.
Consumers cannot make decisions based on this data, but these companies are acting like they should. Okay great, Xbox One is the “best way to play” COD, Evolve and Dragon Age because it comes with exclusive, early crap, but if I’m a PlayStation fan, that’s not enough to make me jump ship, and will only increase my hatred for Microsoft for paying developers to make my game seem worse than theirs. And obviously the situation works in reverse as well with Sony’s Destiny/Far Cry/etc deals. Both companies have invested enough in this practice where there’s no clear “victor,” and everything is just a little bit worse for everyone as a result.
Attracting and holding onto talent to make exclusive games for your system is the foundation of the competitive console scene. Paying developers to delay DLC releases or create handfuls of new content so you can have bragging rights about how your console has the best version of a 5-platform release of a AAA game is just dumb and annoying.
I realize Sony and Microsoft are looking for ways to differentiate themselves from one another as their systems become increasingly like mirror images of each other, but this is the absolute lamest marketing tactic on earth, and it needs to stop before it gets any worse.
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