An Epidemic of Timed Exclusives

Gamers live in a divided world today. More and more, we are becoming tribes of fiercely territorial fanboys. It’s not good enough that we enjoy the company of our compatriots; we must ensure that everyone know how superior we are—and how inferior they are by contrast. The console wars have turned into the console cults, and we are all worse for it.

Ok, I’m being a bit hyperbolic there. The artificial borders constructed by our corporate masters may divide us, but we are at least all united in common cause. We all love our video games, and that’s a great thing for us.

Despite our mutual love, something has me worried. More and more, Sony and Microsoft are making it harder for us to experience the same joys. It started rather benignly during the last generation of consoles—Microsoft entered into a deal with Activision in which users of the Xbox 360 would receive access to new Call of Duty maps a couple of months earlier than their PS3 counterparts. Ok, I thought. Not too big of a deal there; I didn’t even bat an eye. To paraphrase Martin Niemöller, first they came for the map packs, and I did not speak out…

Microsoft’s deal with Activision seemed harmless at the time. It looked like nothing more than a thumb in Sony’s eye. It turns out it that this “timed exclusive” was foreshadowing a plague that we are witnessing the start of today.

You might have heard the recent news that Street Fighter V is on its way. “Yay!” you might be thinking if you are a fan of the iconic series. Not so fast my friend. That announcement comes with a minor caveat that Street Fighter V will be an exclusive title for the PS4 and PC—so if you are the proud owner of an Xbox One... tough shit. 

This doesn’t affect me at all, I was never planning on purchasing this title no matter how many consoles it was released on. Nevertheless, I find this trend disturbing. Let’s get something straight, first and foremost this is not one company paying for content for the benefit of their console’s adopters; this is one company shelling out cash to exclude content from those who dared to support their competition. It’s the corporate equivalent of taking your ball and going home. It’s petty, and I don’t understand why gamers aren’t more outraged over this practice.

Don’t get me wrong, gamers are outraged—nobody enjoys being on the disenfranchised side—the problem is that the outrage is often matched by the satisfaction of the opposite side.   

I’ve played way too much Destiny since that game has come out. In a couple of days from now, Destiny will be releasing its first set of DLC. This DLC costs $20 for both Xbox users and Playstation users, except that the Playstation users will be receiving exclusive bonus content that won’t be available until “at least fall of 2015.” Xbox Players aren’t just being denied an equal experience as Playstation users, they are being told that they have to pay for the privilege.

Suffice to say, fans of Destiny who happen to own the game on the "wrong" console aren’t happy about this. No fan of Destiny should be happy about this. As a wannabe MMO, Destiny is a game that encourages at least a modicum of social interaction and by denying so many people the opportunity to experience the full game you are also denying the rest of the community their participation in social circles—as well as that content being excluded from the ever changing weekly events. Both sides should be unhappy with this deal, but instead the most common response I’ve read has been, “Xbox users shouldn’t be upset since they’ve had exclusive CoD content for years.”

This kind of rationale is backwards in many ways. We should be demanding equality of experience, but instead we prefer an ever-oscillating scale of privilege—where my privilege today is justified by your privilege in the past. As if a community where nobody is left out is the less preferable option.

If this trend continues—and I don’t see why it wouldn’t—we are looking a future where almost a thousand dollar investment will be required just for the chance at fully participating in the gaming community. Dedicated fans of long running franchises will have to cross their fingers and hope that whichever console they purchase will be the one that pays for their beloved game. First-party titles are predictable exclusives, but third-party timed exclusives are fickle and there is no way of predicting which corporation will pay for them. Gamers will have to debate the pros and cons of each console before purchase without the most important information—what games can it play. Sony, Microsoft, and game developers should be concerned as well, because such an outcome will inevitably lead to a day-one-sales obsessed company's worst nightmare—players waiting before buying. 

I don’t have an answer for this ever growing trend. As awful as I might think it is, it would be irrational of me to expect a Playstation user or Xbox user to forego a game simply as a show of solidarity. However, I do know that this system is not something that we would tolerate in other aspects of our lives. We would never be satisfied if we could only watch a Sony Pictures film on a Sony Blu-ray player.