An in-depth look at why exclusives still matter in this day and age.
These days there are a lot of different types of gamers, and with that, comes a ton of different reasons why certain consoles are purchased over others. When asked, many gamers are likely to cite key factors like power, functionality, social features, online infrastructure, and library selection. The library is an interesting one because it can be swayed heavily by the exclusives that any particular platform offers that obviously cannot be found on other platforms. This can certainly be a deciding factor for a lot of potential console purchasers since exclusives tend to be more optimized for their platform and can add up over the life of a console to create an overall picture of a vibrant ecosystem that makes the console more enticing to those who might be new to it.
Also, nobody wants to miss out. If there’s a party going on in the other room, and you’re sitting by yourself, naturally you’re going to want to go join in the festivities. The fear of missing out is a natural part of human nature, and the video game industry is not immune to that. This is probably why the idea of console specific software exists at all, and will continue to for as long as their are competing consoles for them to exist on.
On top of selling more consoles with their exclusivity, branding identity is often aided tremendously by the available exclusives as well. Generally when you think of Nintendo, you think Mario, Zelda, and Super Smash games. Same with Halo and Gears when you think of Xbox, or Uncharted and God of War when you think about Playstation. These are all exclusives, and its important for consoles to have them as a means of identifying themselves and setting themselves apart from their competitors.
It would be much harder to argue in favor of your platform if the only games it could play were also on other systems. Sometimes the fact that one console’s version of a multi-platform game might run smoother or at a higher resolution can be helpful, but at the end of the day, that generally doesn’t move enough units on its own for companies like Sony and Microsoft to rely on. Obviously third party games like Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty matter, and will continue to play a massive role, but thats generally not what goes on the box for the console.
Console spaces need their flagship characters from franchises that can represent the overall experience of the platform. This concept has always been known, but really took off in the 90’s with the so-called “mascot” era, where every console needed their representative, and it does to some degree still continue today, although now-a-days its not just limited to wide-eyed cartoony platforming characters. It can be anything from Nathan Drake, Master Chief, or Mario.
One unavoidable problem though; Not all gamers care about that. In fact, a massive amount of gamers don’t care. Roughly half of console gamers couldn’t care less about exclusives, and either just want the console with the most power or some other factor like third party support of social functions. So while its true that Sony’s Playstation 4 is doing the best out of anyone this generation and they also seem to have the best line-up of exclusives, thats not necessarily a causational relationship. To assume that Sony’s success is completely due to its line-up of exclusives would be like assuming that corn dogs are the cure for the common cold because you ate one right before getting over it. Sony has definitely been knocking it out of the park with their exclusives lately, but its not like the Xbox One doesn’t have any. Forza, Gears, Halo, are all franchises that have at least one major appearance on Microsoft’s platform and yet the console continues to fall well behind its competition.
A great example of exclusives not really having the sway they appear to have today is just the previous generation, where the Xbox 360 and the Nintendo wii pretty much ran away with the market. Sure, they had exclusives, but they also had a lot of other things. The Wii had a new gimmick that hardcore gamers balked at but younger gamers and families loved, and it even attracted a fitness audience for a while. The 360 ran away with mainstream gamers with their online functionality the likes of which nobody had ever seen with the Xbox Live service. By the end of that generation, the PS3 had the most quality exclusives but just barely managed to catch up to comparable sales numbers to the 360. Exclusives weren’t enough to give Sony a victory by any means, and it was clear that there were other factors that Sony needed to work on with thier next machine, which they largely did with the PS4.
So while the easy, quick answer to the question of whether or not exclusive’s matter is indeed “yes”, its still much more illuminating to ask how much do they matter, and for which platforms and generations do they have the most impact. For the WiiU, Exclusives mattered almost none, as the WiiU had lots of marketing and third party issues that stood in the way of the platform being a success.
Yet, at the same time, exclusive software may be what saved the PS3 from relative failure, as that console had a pretty rough start because of similar issues. For the Xbox One they aren’t doing much good, Yet the Switch is doing quite well and the attach rate for that console is almost entirely based on exclusives. The Xbox 360 did quite well, even though the draw to that system was not really the exclusives. So there really is no blanket answer to how much exclusives matter.
It really just depends on the situation. When a console has nothing but exclusives, they can still fail, yet when a console has very few exclusives, but in theory get everything else right, they can be very successful. From the eyes of Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo, exclusive games may matter, but there’s no logical reason to treat them as a be-all-end-all solution to every challenge they might face. Between social functionality, third party support, overall power, marketing strategy, and a plethora of other factors, there’s just too many variables at play to bet everything on exclusivity of certain titles.
But at the same time, there are plenty of reasons to keep a healthy, vibrant first-party line-up to add to the other reasons for gamers to sink their money into their platform. For those reasons, console exclusives do matter, and will continue to matter. Its just important to remember that console exclusives are not a replacement for other things that we expect consoles to do, but rather, console exclusives are better utilized when they are used as a way to add to and strengthen a console that already meets our expectations.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to GamingBolt as an organization.