Console Exclusive Games Have Given Way To Console Exclusive Game Characters

from the mine-mine-mine dept

Editor's Note: Originally, this article was set to run before the article of Crystal Dynamics defending this decision... but somehow that didn't happen. You can read that article here if you like, or if you haven't already, you can read this one first, and recognize that time has no meaning any more, so the linear publishing of articles is no longer necessary... or maybe Mike just screwed things up. One of those.

For anything that isn't first-party content, I will never understand why games sell as console exclusives. Maybe there is math out there that makes having a game publisher limit itself to one sliver of the potential market make sense, but somehow I have a hard time believing it. That's all the more the case given that the recent trend has been less exclusivity, rather than more. While the PC market is now seeing platform exclusivity emerge, something which makes even less sense than with consoles, game franchises that were once jealously guarded exclusives, such as MLB The Show, are announcing opening up to more systems, including PCs.

But it seems the instinct to carve out something exclusive for your system is hard to shake. Or, that's at least the case for Sony, which has managed to retain exclusive rights for the character Spider-Man in the upcoming Marvel's Avengers game.

In a move already being roundly criticized on social media, Crystal Dynamics’ Jeff Adams revealed today that Spider-Man will be available as a free update for PlayStation players of this September’s Marvel’s Avengers game in “early 2021.” PC and Xbox One players, apparently, won’t get to play as him.

Adams announced the move in a PlayStation blog post, offering no insight as to why PC and Xbox players would miss out and outlining no exclusive content for those games. It doesn’t appear to be a timed exclusive. When Kotaku reached out to Square Enix, the game’s publisher, for comment, about that and the rest of the deal, we were directed to Adams’ blog post—which didn’t answer any of our questions.

Now, there is some complicated licensing potentially at issue here. While Disney owns the rights to The Avengers generally, Sony has retained many of the publishing rights for the Spider-Man character. In 2018, the excellent Spider-Man video game came out as a PlayStation and many assumed that Sony had the sole game publishing rights to the character. But that doesn't seem to be true, no matter what noises Sony's made in the past. Instead, these rights still seem to reside with Marvel, which has tended to lean towards the PlayStation. But, as the Kotaku article points out, it's not as though Spider-Man has never made an appearance on other systems. He's been in Nintendo games, along with other games, such as Marvel's Lego series of games.

The idea behind these exclusive deals, be it for entire game franchises or for characters like Spider-Man, is to try to engender some kind of loyalty among the fan-base by having this exclusive content. And perhaps at one point that worked. But these days, the only thing Sony seems to be getting for its trouble is backlash. And when Forbes is out here saying that this character exclusive isn't just bad for the other platforms the game will appear on, but bad for PlayStation players as well, then maybe it's time to rethink this whole thing.

The problem with exclusives is that they not only hurt the obvious suspects, the platforms that are not getting X or Y exclusive, which in this case is Xbox and PC players, but they even hurt the platform that’s supposed to benefit from them.

With Avengers, it’s easy to see how this could play out in a similar fashion. While the main storyline of Avengers seems to be playing out around six launch heroes, Black Widow, Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Iron Man and Ms. Marvel, the entire point of the game is that it will be an ongoing story that unfolds in time. It’s easy to see how a character like Spider-Man, a prominent Avenger in both the MCU and the comics, could have been integrated into a major storyline at some point in the future as the game expands. But the fact that he’s exclusive to PlayStation essentially insures that he cannot be a major player in the story, relegated to some sort of introductory side mission, and that’s it, or as a tag-along to other missions without a major active role.

So why do this at all? Because old habits are hard to shake, probably. And, frankly, Sony's gonna Sony. But that doesn't make any of this less dumb, less bad for the gaming community, or less bad for even those who will get this exclusive character.

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Filed Under: exclusivity, games, spider man, video games


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  • icon
    crade (profile), 7 Aug 2020 @ 9:02pm

    "Maybe there is math out there that makes having a game publisher limit itself to one sliver of the potential market make sense, but somehow I have a hard time believing it."
    For a while some idiots would actually buy two copies but I'm pretty sure they figured out it wasn't enough to matter and now
    exclusives aren't for the game publishers, they are for the console makers. The game publishers will be getting some perk of some sort from the console makers in exchange.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Bruce C., 9 Aug 2020 @ 10:36am

      Re:

      The math is called advance funding. When combined with a budget crunch or other elements of bad project planning, publishers/developers may be willing to sacrifice a portion of their revenue stream to just get the game out the door, or to make a deadline.

      It's unclear to me how much these exclusivity deals lose income due to lost interest from consumers vs. how much pent up demand it creates on the other platforms. Obviously, if the game never releases on other platforms, that's a loss, but games that release after a year or so could go either way, depending on how much of a success they were on the original platform and how good the port is.

      To take one set of examples, there will probably be revenue differences between games that are now coming off of Epic Games store exclusivity vs. the ports of PS4 exclusives Death Stranding and Horizon Zero Dawn. The two PS4 games apparently have differences in the quality of the port to PC that could affect their sales. Meanwhile, the games that were exclusive to Epic won't need a port, but the interest levels could be lower since there isn't an actual "new release" here.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2020 @ 9:04pm

    Why? Exclusivity justifies their existance.

    Console exclusivity is what has traditionally sold a console as a platform. Case in point, no-one buys a Playstation expecting to play a Zelda or Mario game with it.

    Further, Exclusivity is also what justifies releasing more than one console to begin with. The concept of a video game console has 2 major requirements:

    1. The system is plug and play. No messy setup or configuration by the user is required.
    2. The system is well defined for developers. No major hardware / software variations to deal with, or missing features to workaround. Anyone buying their game will be able to run it guaranteed.

    The biggest thing to notice about these requirements is that they run counter to a multiple console marketplace. Rather that the requirements actually promote a single market with only one console to support. Naturally, this means that to support multiple consoles you need to differentiate them enough to justify their existence, but not so much as to cause violations of the requirements or another video game industry crash. Exclusivity was the answer they came up with, and still cling to today.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 7 Aug 2020 @ 9:29pm

      Case in point, no-one buys a Playstation expecting to play a Zelda or Mario game with it.

      But people do buy Avengers games expecting to play as, y’know, the Avengers. Now Xbox and PC gamers will have the opportunity to pay full price for an incomplete version of the game, whereas PlayStation gamers will pay full price for the complete version.

      Imagine, for a moment, if Capcom took Street Fighter 6 multiplatform and gave everyone the same characters. But Capcom also decided to hold back, say, Chun-Li from all other platforms except Xbox. It’d be equally as bullshit.

      System-exclusive games are one thing. System-exclusive characters can work if the character is “right” for that system (e.g., Kratos showing up in the PlayStation version of Shovel Knight). But system-exclusive characters where such exclusions make no sense (e.g., Spider-Man)? Anyone who can justify that for any reason other than unadulterated greed might want to step forward now, because I sure as shit can’t see any other good reason for it to happen.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        ryuugami, 7 Aug 2020 @ 9:56pm

        Re:

        System-exclusive games are one thing. System-exclusive characters can work if the character is “right” for that system (e.g., Kratos showing up in the PlayStation version of Shovel Knight). But system-exclusive characters where such exclusions make no sense (e.g., Spider-Man)?

        From the buyer's perspective, those are all exactly the same.

        "If you want to play [...checks DDG for PS exclusives...] God of War, buy a PlayStation."

        "If you want to play as Kratos in Shovel Knight, buy a PlayStation."

        "If you want to play as Spider Man in Avengers, buy a PlayStation."

        Content is not fungible. If you wanted to play God of War, but have a Switch, it doesn't help you that there are Zelda and Mario games on it. If you wanted to play as Spider Man in Avengers, but have an XBox, it doesn't help you that there are other characters to play as.

        (I'll concede that system-exclusive games can be different, from the devs' perspective. Developing for another platform is more work, and can hobble the entire project with additional constraints. However, I'm pretty sure that in a vast majority of cases it's a purely artificial constraint.)

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Stephen T. Stone (profile), 8 Aug 2020 @ 7:09am

          Can you justify excluding Spider-Man, a character that has long appeared on multiple gaming platforms dating back to (at least) the days of the NES and whose videogame licensing rights belong to Marvel/Disney instead of Sony, from non-Sony platforms for any reason that doesn’t boil down to greed? If not, maybe don’t try to do PR for Sony without getting paid first.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            ryuugami, 8 Aug 2020 @ 8:23am

            Re:

            Stephen, man, get some coffee before replying.

            Or point to me where in my post I was doing PR for Sony, when I was clearly complaining about the shitty practice of "exclusivity" for anything but purely technical reasons.

            I was saying that I disagree with your statements that system-exclusive games and system-exclusive characters "if the character is right" are a-ok. All platform or service exclusives are bullshit. Sony sucks, Nintendo sucks, Microsoft sucks, Disney sucks, HBO sucks, and Epic Games can go to hell for what they've been doing to PC gaming.

            Also see: my other post right below this thread, where I argue that what Sony is doing should be illegal. How's that for free PR?

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    ryuugami, 7 Aug 2020 @ 9:33pm

    It's a-me, Monopoly

    Originally, this article was set to run before the article of Crystal Dynamics defending this decision...

    That "defending" probably needs some scare quotes :)

    I will never understand why games sell as console exclusives

    Maybe you're looking at it from the wrong POV? For developers and publishers, non-exclusives would likely give more profit, true.

    But for console makers, more exclusives usually directly translates into more console sales and more revenue from dev licenses... and since they control said licensing, they have the power to enforce the exclusivity.

    In other words, console exclusives are a direct result of the monopoly position of each console maker over their respective markets -- if you want to make and sell a PS game, you need to pay for Sony's approval. If you don't agree to their demands, you will not be selling any more PS games.

    When you consider them as monopolies, the anti-competitive user-hostile behavior is much more understandable... and much more despicable, but that's a different issue.

    (It's the exact same situation as the Apple's App Store or TV/movie licensing for streaming platforms. This will, sadly, need legislation and/or regulation to fix. Or more pirating, which worked to fix the same problem with music sales.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    any mouse, 7 Aug 2020 @ 10:10pm

    when exclusives make sense.

    I will say that third party exclusive games do make some sense in that optimising your game for a single system is already a pain in the ass. Doing the same for all systems with all their hardware quirks is a nightmare and more importantly, expensive. Larger or experienced publishers can do it, smaller studios, not so much.

    Then there's the fact that each console maker has different rules, which might end up changing the game in subtle ways.

    Sometimes it's just easier to not bother. Make an exclusive, get some perks, save some headache.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bloof (profile), 8 Aug 2020 @ 12:26am

    It should come as no surprise as anyone given how they're gating off all they can for DLC, microtransactions, pre-order bonuses, skin packs... Content that used to be accessible as a bonus for completing the game was gated off long ago and they've been looking for new ways to sell a complete game in pieces ever since because record profits are never enough.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 8 Aug 2020 @ 7:13am

      If Spider-Man were DLC, this situation wouldn't be an issue. (Yes, we’d have a whole other issue to talk about.) But he's not DLC. Unless Sony made a concession of which I’m unaware, Spider-Man will remain excluded from Xbox and PC versions of Avengers forever. People who play the game on non-Sony systems will always have an incomplete version of the game.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Aug 2020 @ 1:42am

    So why do this at all?

    Because the people who run companies measure their success by what they own. Politicians tend to be the same way, and would rather own more by expanding their empire than reach the same end by cooperation. It is the root cause of the pissing contest between Trump and China.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 10 Aug 2020 @ 8:09am

      Re:

      "It is the root cause of the pissing contest between Trump and China."

      I think you're giving Trump too much credit. He's basically pissing on the oval office carpet and calling it "China". And the only reason he does it is to provide the impression that;
      a) China is the Big Bad, and
      b) He, Fearless tough-talking wannabe führer of the west, is doing something about that.

      Arguably China is a Big Bad of a sort, just that they are mainly being Bad against their own people. Xi Jin Ping is more or less just ignoring the embarrassing man in the white house who's leaking pee all down his own trouser leg and tweeting up angry commentary.

      Neither of the two at play are focusing on expansion. China is focused on rebuilding the middle kingdom and has its hands full with building up the infrastructure catering to 1,8 billion people - and "re-educating" dissidents, of course. Trump, meanwhile, is focusing on isolationism and has his hands full with selling every american those messages of "Ausländer Raus!" and "Untermenschen" long held dear by the Very Fine People.

      In the end all the full-on hysterics begins and ends with matters fully as trivial as the executive order where Trump names a social media platform mainly used by teens to exchange weird dance videos with as an "enemy of the nation".

      Say what you like of Emperor Xi but at least he can pretend to statesmanship, doing "subtle & sinister" with the best of them. That's a politician (arguably no compliment).

      Trump? He's the whiny minion with self-esteem issues pandering to any of those real dictators and strongmen out there he envies and looks up to so much.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Aug 2020 @ 4:15am

    third party exclusives make no sense,
    A AAA game x will sell twice as much if they are released on xbox and ps4.
    Both consoles are basically pcs with controllers designed to work on any hdtv .many games released on the switch will never be released on xbox or ps4.
    Nintendo does not release its games on other consoles .
    unless you use an emulator you need to buy a switch to play mario or Zelda games.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Aug 2020 @ 6:02am

    Speaking of exclusives Orcs must Die 3

    OMD3 has been exclusive to the Stadia system so far. Those of us who have purchased the previous iterations, Orcs Must Die and Orcs must Die 2 have been hung out to dry on steam until whatever time period runs out and it can be released on other platforms. I honesty wish they credited people like me who paid for Orcs Must Die Unchained before it was released since we helped keep the studio alive.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Aug 2020 @ 8:57am

    It’s super weird that everyone is acting like this is some stunning and unfortunate new phenomenon while I’m over here fondly remembering my days as a Link main in Soul Calibur 2 from eighteen years ago.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 8 Aug 2020 @ 9:23am

      Link is a character that has always been a “Nintendo exclusive”; he showed up in a game that appeared on multiple consoles, with each console getting its own exclusive character. Spider-Man is a character that has never been exclusive to any console (or console maker) in the history of gaming; he became one for Avengers when Sony paid a shitload of money to exclude him from Xbox and PC. If you can’t see the difference between the two, you’re not looking hard enough.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 8 Aug 2020 @ 9:11pm

        Re:

        You’ve got it backwards though, Sony owns Spider-Man just like Nintendo owns Link. They didn’t pay for exclusivity, Microsoft just didn’t pay for a license.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          ryuugami, 9 Aug 2020 @ 12:56am

          Re: Re:

          The article clearly and unambiguously states that Marvel owns the rights for Spider-Man in video games.

          Sony owns the rights for movies.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Stephen T. Stone (profile), 9 Aug 2020 @ 4:16am

          Sony owns Spider-Man just like Nintendo owns Link

          No. No, they do not. Whereas Nintendo owns all Legend of Zelda IP, Sony owns no Spider-Man IP other than the films it has produced and (maybe) that kick-ass PS4 game. Marvel (which is owned by Disney) owns the Spider-Man IP. Sony has paid a ton of money to keep Spider-Man from appearing on any other console besides PlayStation, which means consumers who choose to play Xbox or PC will be paying full price for an incomplete product.

          System-exclusive games are one thing, especially when the makers of that system own the IP (e.g., Nintendo and The Legend of Zelda). System-exclusive characters can work only if they’re explicitly tied to the system on which they appear (e.g., Link in Soulcalibur II for the Gamecube). But system-exclusive characters that aren’t tied to any system or the companies what make them (e.g., Spider-Man in Avengers) make no fucking sense at all, even when they’re part of a “timed exclusivity” deal that makes some people wait for a complete product while others get it on launch day.

          If you can justify Spider-Man being a PlayStation-exclusive character in Avengers for any reason other than “Sony is greedy as fuck”, by all means — step up to the plate and swing, Mighty Casey.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Thad (profile), 8 Aug 2020 @ 2:12pm

    With Avengers, it’s easy to see how this could play out in a similar fashion. While the main storyline of Avengers seems to be playing out around six launch heroes, Black Widow, Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Iron Man and Ms. Marvel, the entire point of the game is that it will be an ongoing story that unfolds in time. It’s easy to see how a character like Spider-Man, a prominent Avenger in both the MCU and the comics, could have been integrated into a major storyline at some point in the future as the game expands. But the fact that he’s exclusive to PlayStation essentially insures that he cannot be a major player in the story, relegated to some sort of introductory side mission, and that’s it, or as a tag-along to other missions without a major active role.

    Those glasses are so rose-tinted I think I hear Cyclops asking where he can get a pair.

    Truth is, Spider-Man's membership in the Avengers was always driven by marketing, not storytelling. Bendis didn't put Spider-Man and Wolverine on the Avengers because it was a natural outgrowth for their character arcs. He put them on the Avengers because sales were down and when you put Spider-Man and Wolverine on the cover, they go back up again.

    Same thing with Spider-Man's first MCU appearance in Civil War: he wasn't there because he was integral to the story -- frankly, it doesn't make that damn much sense for him to be there at all. "Hey, there's going to be a big fight between two different factions of superheroes; let's go get that high school kid from Queens to help us." Spider-Man was in the movie because people wanted to see Spider-Man in a Marvel movie, not because there was an important plot reason why he needed to be there.

    I mean, I'm a Marvel fan from way back, but Marvel's always been a business and it's always been exploitative. If you think exclusive characters are bad, wait'll you hear about variant covers.

    Frankly it's better now with Disney in charge than it was a few years ago with Perlmutter still handling the spinoff media and refusing to put any character Marvel didn't own the movie rights to in any video game at all.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Ninja, 11 Aug 2020 @ 8:18am

    Ease of use (no software knowledge needed), mobility and affordability (decent graphics without spending thousands) are among reasons cited by console lovers I know. A lot of them stick to the console that fulfills their needs instead of aiming for exclusives. Myself included. Even though I own a powerful Ryzen 7/RTX rig I value having a console to move around and play with friends, my partner. I used to try and buy other consoles for my favorite franchises (ah Kratos you devil) but now I stick to the one with most diverse catalog/offers.

    If a Steam console becomes a thing I may actually ditch all the rest.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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