How we should consider exclusives, and what they mean to the industry.
Exclusive video games are probably one of the biggest talking points in gaming. Perhaps the most scathing criticism of the Xbox One is that it has no exclusives, while the biggest draw for both the Playstation and Nintendo systems are their exclusive games. PC gamers will often counter claims that consoles are better by saying how the PC actually has more exclusives than all the consoles combined, (which is true, but the vast majority of them are shitty indie titles, so it's not as impressive a claim as PC gamers make it out to be). Regardless, exclusives are clearly important.
I could go on to list the many AAA exclusive that make the PS4 such a force in the gaming industry right now, but I've already done that enough in previous articles. We're aware of how much draw a Mario or Zelda game has for Nintendo, or even franchises like Pokémon, Donkey Kong, or Metroid. They've got their party based spin off likes Mario Kart, Smash Bros, and Mario Party. All of these are exclusives and for many people they're the only reason to pick up Nintendo systems. In reality this is the mainstream gaming scene.
Mainstream gaming can be divided comfortably into four key areas right now. Nintendo seems to have this niche of it's own which is interesting, it's heavily focused on nostalgia and milking old franchises but it's usually high quality. Not as high quality as the automatic 9/10 or 10/10 reviews every Mario or Zelda game gets just by existing, but there's rarely anything truly terrible. For the most part it's ignored by the AAA industry and often considered in a similar vein to indie games so we'll discuss them there.
The first area in gaming is large AAA narrative games, which we'll come back to in a moment as I have a lot to say on them. The second big area though is the AAA multiplayer focused "live service" trend, and this is the one that's growing to encompass almost everything. This can be anything from third person PvE games like 'The Division 2' to first person competitive shooters like 'Call Of Duty'. They're largely the same thing, and most games are headed that way even if it doesn't seem like it at first, even games that try to portray themselves as the first category like 'Red Dead Redemption' by including a large and well publicised campaign, still put extreme amounts of effort into their online modes with the intention of creating these constant casino like experiences. That's what the multiplayer gaming scene is really, it's a casino experience. It's encompassing sports games like 'FIFA 2019' and open world games like 'Fallout 76' and 'Anthem', even if they are massive failures.
The thing is, these things are massive failures critically but they're still making money and that's because they're borrowing from the third category, the third area of the industry. Something I loathe to even call gaming and something that is certainly not AAA that's for sure. Mobile gaming and casual games. These apps on phones, browsers, and other devices; whether it's on Facebook or on Android/iOS it doesn't matter. These aren't games. As my opening article said, these apps are designed to manipulate people not provide any real gameplay but what they have done well is con a lot of people out of a lot of money with disgusting levels of gambling mechanics, recurrent spending, and addiction methods. It's these apps that made it so that I choose not to have a smartphone right now at all. I genuinely don't own one. (Well, I do, but there's no SIM in it, I use it as an eBook reader and to read a messenger app when away from the computer, but that's all, and that's only because a friend was upgrading and selling their old phone cheap).
The fourth and final area of gaming is one I like to embrace. It's the one I eluded to earlier that despite being AAA, many Nintendo games get lumped in with. The indie game and retro game revival scene. I love this because they're almost always passion projects. They're usually great value for money. They often focus on genres I adore such as 2D platformers. There's a lot to love there... but they're the smallest part of the games industry and while the PS4 may have a decent library of indie games, and the Nintendo Switch has become the indie game darling taking over the position from my beloved Vita (a system far underrated), there's not enough cash in the pot. Indie games have to compete with each other and there's simply too many people making them. Sure there's loads of awesome games, but there's also a lot of shit, and in storefronts like Steam the new games get completely buried while piracy and keysellers ensure profits stay unfortunately low. Physical releases are hard to justify so games get lost in the shuffle and eventually forgotten about entirely. It also doesn't help that the second category is intentionally creating games that demand every waking moment of players time, and the third category of games are often cash-grabs made by people like Konami for example with no soul, designed to ape nostalgia but really just con the player. This makes people cautious of non-AAA games.
So what about that first category? That one I skipped over?
Well the problem is they're really expensive to make now, and without gouging the players for microtransactions and pushing gambling AAA publishers won't make games like that any more. They're not prepared to make games that might sell 1-5 million units and then be done at the current price of production because they could instead put in a bit more money and make a "live service" that keeps making them money over and over and over and over...
This is where exlusives come in. The reason exclusives are important is that they give a system it's identity. The only reason someone would want a PS4 over an Xbox One or a PC is that they have games that are exclusive to that system; and Sony is thankfully pushing a certain mentality of games. They're creating games that are designed to be finished because they don't want just one game. They want a library. They don't want you to play a single game and con you. They want you to play a dozen games and develop a relationship with their brand. It's a different kind of con job. Don't believe for a minute it's not part of a con job, because it is. They want to make you emotionally invested in their brand. To see "Sony Playstation" and feel a connection. To hear "PS4 Exclusive" and consider buying it anyway sight-unseen, because you've got that link with them.
This is where I admit my bias. I have that link. I own a PS3, a PS Vita, a PS4, and on release day I will buy a PS5 without question. I loved most of the PS4 exclusives and a good chunk of the PS3 exclusives, and I've got so much enjoyment out of my Vita. Exclusives like 'The Last Of Us', 'Horizon: Zero Dawn', 'Uncharted 4', 'InFamous: Second Son', and 'Marvel's Spiderman' where amongst my favourite games recently. Enough that I bought games like 'Days Gone' and 'Yakuza Zero' largely on the strength of the Sony brand and the recommendations of the wider gaming community. There's been some exclusives I didn't enjoy such as 'Bloodborne', but it doesn't alter my perception that much. I still expect great experiences on Playstation.
While Sony can maintain this perception they're golden, the problem is, this perception relies on competition. We need something like Xbox doing the same thing or it's pointless. Otherwise Sony can make mediocre shit and as their only competition is nothing it'll still win. Now sure, there are a few narrative focused AAA single player games that are not exclusive. Games like 'Devil May Cry 5', 'Assassin's Creed Odyssey', and 'Middle Earth: Shadow Of War' all exist... and they're all filled with fucking microtransactions. Or you can play 'Red Dead Redemption 2' and be coaxed into it's microtransaction filled online mode that mimics all the other live services out there, and now we're back safely in category two territory. We need exclusives right now, because without the motive of pushing the platform the greed of the industry ruins even single player games. That's the sad reality we have.