With the next generation coming soon, will timed exclusives matter?
Do timed exclusives matter? It’s an interesting question as we see more and more games with this style of launch. Coming out on one platform for a while, or everything but one platform, only to eventually release on everything later on after the dust has settled. One could debate on whether or not this is a smart thing to do endlessly, as there are compelling reasons to release as a timed exclusive just as there are good reasons not to.
Depending on the climate of certain audiences and the nature of deals made behind the scenes, either strategy could work out well or be completely disastrous and lead to worse problems for the developer than they would’ve had if they’d gone in a different direction. Today, we’ll take a closer look at this emerging dynamic in game releases as it seems to grow in popularity, but through the lens of the imminent next round of consoles from Microsoft and Sony. Will they have the impact they’re intended to have? Will they matter at all?
"Deathloop is reportedly a PS5 timed-exclusive."
In short, a timed exclusive is when a game is exclusive but only for a predetermined amount of time. In that way, and in light of the fact that everything, whether through proper means or not, will eventually be playable on something, you could say that every exclusive is technically a timed one. For the sake of conversation though, we’ll just focus on what is intended to be exclusive. Games like Uncharted on PlayStation, or Mario on Nintendo certainly pull their weight with moving hardware and getting gamers invested in their ecosystems. If not for them, there wouldn’t be nearly as much of a compelling reason to get one system over the other, or to buy another once one is already owned.
This seemingly makes Microsoft’s decision to release basically their entire library on PC going forward, appear as a potentially disastrous one. Seeing that Sony’s PS4 rode the waves of it’s steady stream of exclusive first-party games all the way to 100 million+ units sold- a number that dwarfs the Xbox One by 2:1 if not more. With that being the case, wouldn’t it make sense for Microsoft to hoard as many IPs as possible to their Xbox Series X console, thus giving them rebuttals for Sony’s inevitable onslaught of future masterclass games from their army of studios?
Yes it would. Every time Sony brings up Uncharted, Microsoft could answer with Halo. When Sony advertises the next Horizon game, Microsoft could push out a trailer for Fable. While Sony’s grip on the market does seem quite firm at the moment, things have, can, and will change over time. There would be nothing wrong with Microsoft attempting to fight Sony on their own turf and chip away at their lead in regard to exclusives. After all, the PlayStation 3 ultimately did that exact thing while competing with the Xbox 360.
"There are apparenty no plans to launch GhostWire: Tokyo on Xbox Series X, for now."
As many of us remember, the launch of the PS3 was stymied by many things. Price point, a not-so-great controller, and arriving about a year after the 360 were all things that didn’t help, but perhaps the biggest roadblock to Sony moving it’s PS3s early on was its lack of exclusive titles. This problem was compounded by the fact that many third-party games ran better on Microsoft’s less powerful and less expensive console, but that wouldn’t have been as big of an issue if Sony came out of the gate with more exclusives ready to go on day one.
PS3 games like Killzone 2 and Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune didn’t come out until well after the launch of the system and this culminated into a real problem for the PS3 that would linger well into the next few years until developers would get the assistance they needed to get their games up and running on the hardware and releasing within reasonable amounts of time. Some games wouldn’t even get that, and would have to give up on the PS3 entirely and move over to the PS4 like The Last Guardian or to the Vita like Gravity Rush.
This void in meaningful exclusives didn’t feel satisfactorily dealt with until the later years of the generation where the console would eventually catch up with the 360. Timed-exclusives could have temporarily filled that gap for Sony early on, but that was an approach they largely passed up for whatever reason.
"Medium will hit the Xbox Series X first with possible release on other console platforms later."
However, now that Sony’s first party studios have been firing on all cylinders for the past several years and delivered a treasure trove of outstanding games only playable on their respective console, the tables have turned, and now Microsoft finds themselves in a position where the case for their system has spent years being a tougher one to make due to their lack of exclusives compared to Sony’s PS4.
However, 2020 is a very different time than 2013 was. Streaming games, while still imperfect, is far more standardized. Cross-play on multiplayer games that allow players on completely different platforms to play together is quite popular. With this, the idea of exclusivity is becoming more and more of a fluid one. Even Sony is experimenting with putting once-exclusive games on PC.
The beauty of timed exclusives can mean that you don’t actually have to be responsible for a game to make it one of your crown jewels for a while. Microsoft keeping a game for itself for its first year was an interesting move, as it gave them a short-term solution to the lack of exclusives problem without the headache of actually financing and publishing a game themselves. While this likely made sense on paper for Microsoft, it also understandably irritated fans of the series who gamed on PlayStation, and would now have to wait a year to play the new one on their console or buy an Xbox One for one game.
This was not good for the publisher, who likely made the deal for timed-exclusivity with Microsoft well before that generation started, and well before they would find out that the Xbox One would be a far less viable platform for their game than the PS4 would have been. All-in-all, while Microsoft likely enjoyed the benefits of that exclusivity deal while it lasted, the publisher probably would have been better off had they launched the game across as many platforms as possible like normal.This may also be the case with Shenmue 3, which, despite being slated for a release on steam at launch, was not. Deep Silver made what seemed like a last-minute timed-exclusivity deal with EPIC Games, which angered tons of fans who had pre-ordered it on other platforms, like Steam, where, as of the writing of this piece, Shenmue 3 is still not yet available despite having launched on PS4.
"Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s deal satisfied all parties involved and continues to do well on Sony’s platform, where it will stay until 2021."
While Steam is so wildly successful that they probably couldn’t care less about what Deep Silver does with Shenmue 3, Deep Silver themselves definitely took a reputation hit while Epic rode the wave of their game all the way to the bank and acquired some more users for their platform on the way.
Does this mean that the benefits and drawbacks of timed-exclusivity generally add up to a wash, and ultimately, render the tactic as one that doesn’t really matter? Not so fast. As we now know, The Final Fantasy VII Remake is also doing this exact same thing, but this time, it’s a timed-exclusive for the PlayStation 4.
While there was a little bit of griping about it here and there, for the most part, the game was praised for what it got right and had a fairly successful launch. It made all parties involved satisfied and continues to do well on Sony’s platform, where it will stay until 2021. But what’s different? Why did this deal work out so well for everyone while the other high-profile timed-exclusives felt more like one-sided arrangements?
Well, for starters, Final Fantasy is a franchise that fans associate with PlayStation and have done so for 20 years. It’s true that many games have launched on different things, but if you are a fan of the series today, odds are, you own a PlayStation. Not getting a Final Fantasy game on Xbox or Steam feels, to most, like not getting LittleBigPlanet on Switch; Not a huge surprise. It would be cool but nobody is really expecting that. Also, Square Enix and Sony were very upfront about it’s timed exclusivity early on and didn’t spring it on people after millions were spent on pre-orders for other platforms. This is why Final Fantasy VII’s timed-exclusivity felt natural, and not weird like, say, if Sony had made a deal with 343 Studios and made the next Halo game a timed-exclusive for PS5.
So the truth is, that while timed-exclusives might not pan out in some instances, in others, they will. It just depends. Certain franchises and platforms might not mix, and even if they do, the way it’s exclusivity is revealed also matters, perhaps more than the exclusivity itself. If a series that has been associated with a certain platform suddenly moves away from it, and fails to divulge it’s exclusivity until after millions of dollars have been made on it’s newest entry, that’s a recipe for regret.
If it’s handled with care and openness, it can work out quite well for the developers, publishers, the platform itself, and gamers alike. Timed-exclusivity can also be a nice stop-gap for a platform that might need more time to get it’s own exclusives out the door. How well those deals work out, and how much they matter, like most things, comes down to execution. So, will timed exclusives matter and be relevant going forward? I’d say so. The question is, how will these gambles turn out for their respective platforms.
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.