Console Exclusivity: Good or Bad?

Private Eye Case File Private Eye Files

“Video games cost money, everyone knows that. The top video games to make, at least of those that published their budgets, all included for current inflation, include games like GTA 5 with a cost of 278 million, Final Fantasy 7 with 221 million, Star Wars: The Old Republic with over 218 million, Destiny with 145 million. This is costs for wages, rent, hardware, software licensing, even marketing budgets. The list goes on for the expenses, as every game tries to compete to become the next big hit in the review lists. When you need to port games to different consoles or even to computers, that is different sets of code that need to be written to make everything work the same, which means less people working on making the game as people need to make sure it works on whatever system you’re trying to sell it to,” Drraagh offers with a sigh as he looks around his room, taking in the mess of papers and computer chips everywhere.

“That is why we will get some console exclusives like The Last of Us, Sunset Overdrive, Gears of War, Uncharted and so on. These games picked one console, allowing them to make the most of the hardware and software provided with it, but it is not a new thing that has been going around. Remember that “Genesis Does What Nintendon’t” ads showing what the Genesis could do better than Nintendo. It then had to increase a library, using instantly recognizable games which used the names and likenesses of celebrities and athletes such as Pat Riley Basketball, Arnold Palmer Tournament Golf, James ‘Buster’ Douglas Knockout Boxing, Joe Montana Football, Tommy Lasorda Baseball, Mario Lemieux Hockey, and Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker. Of course, we cannot forget one of Sega’s biggest characters, the blue hedgehog Sonic. This meant that if you wanted to play specific games, you needed to own one system or the other making it into a rivalry. This was back in the day when most households would only be able to afford one console and an occasional game from time to time, so once you made a choice you were stuck with it for a long while.”

“More recently with the gamers now having their own jobs, they can afford to buy more games and even sometimes more consoles, allowing them to have more options on what they play. Of course, not everyone chooses to have all the consoles, sticking to one or two for their main gaming. This means, as a designer, you need to determine if your game is worth spending the money to convert to multiple systems or is better staying on one system for. The costs to convert versus expected sales are some of the biggest decisions since your game could be a mega-hit or a flop. This is also one reason why games can be a risky proposition, since the mega-hits studios develop are offsetting the failures they launched as well first before they start considering profits. Thus why some people may take the less costly approach and make a game for one system, since if it fails they’re not out as much money as might have been. As for choosing the system if we were to look at the most recent numbers it may be a general consensus of where to go, as while the numbers may not be fully accurate, analysts we spoke to estimate the Xbox One at around 35 million, compared to the PlayStation 4 at more than 73 million. Of course, most games that are made for the Xbox are also ported to Windows, so that does open to that market.”

Drraagh sits back in his desk, putting his legs up and looking at the ceiling. “In the old days of computers and early console gaming, you could license your product out to companies to port it to other systems. I make game X for the Amiga, sell the license of the game to company Y who makes it for the NES and another who makes it for Commodore or whatever. That doesn’t happen now as the same studio will do the work themselves, or at least market it like they did. This will mean games that they know will get big returns will be marketed to more systems, such as the sequels of successful games. Look at the fact that both Xbox and Playstation and then later the PC got Grand Theft Auto 5, especially with the online version being a constant source of revenue for Rockstar. Most games, unless they release DLC or Lootboxes or use a subscription or some other sort of pay-to-play system, do not get any money beyond what is given out after the game is released, so they need to figure some way to get your cash,” he adds as his index finger and thumb rub together.

“While Genesis may have had Blast Processing to allow it to more action on the screen than the SNES, modern consoles are pretty similar in terms of specs. Graphic fidelity and operations per second may vary in some ways, but the general being able to do things on the console is not as big an issue as it was. So, what we are finding is games like The Last of Us or Cuphead making waves and being only on one console is  more about money than anything else. And if you wonder what the money is being used for that causes this, there are a lot of pieces that could cause it. Some examples are access to development resources, the console manufacturer requires pay for the exclusivity up front, assistance from the console partner in marketing, time saved in development for not porting, and sometimes just being able to reach a deal with one console,” Drraagh finishes as he stands up and looks around. “Designers need to be able to choose the right niche to fit in to make back what they put in, along with more money to make a profit for launching the next game.”