In the wake of Quantum Break launching across both the Xbox One and PC, one editor has started noticing that exclusivity isn’t necessarily essential for companies anymore.
As long as there have been video game consoles, there have been exclusive games for them. Some of the best games of all time happen to have been locked to a certain platform, with gaming mascots like Nathan Drake, Super Mario, and Master Chief firmly cementing themselves as icons within the industry despite being limited to one line of consoles. While exclusives certainly have their place, however, it has occurred to me that companies are beginning to see the value in releasing their first-party games across other platforms.
This realization has been a hard one to handle for many gamers in the industry, with a lot of it coming to a boil in the wake of news that former Xbox One-exclusive Quantum Break would see a day-and-date release on PC for Windows. Those that have purchased Microsoft’s gaming console have been vocal lately, as the likes of Gears of War: Ultimate Edition and Killer Instinct make their way over to compatible computers. Despite criticism, the reality, it would seem, is that exclusives don’t really matter to move hardware anymore – at least within a certain context.
It should be noted that as long as there are competing platforms on the market, there will probably never be something like Halo 5: Guardians arriving on PlayStation 4. That immediately takes away a ton of appeal that accompanies buying one (or both) of the home consoles. With that said, falling in line with PC allows for Microsoft to start generating revenue off of hardware that really doesn’t take anything out of its bottom line, and that’s exactly why the house of Gates has begun pushing for it.
Microsoft isn’t the only company taking this approach either, as one of the biggest games releasing in 2016 is Pokemon Go on mobile devices. It won’t be the sole Nintendo property appearing on mobile platforms either, as the Big N has plans to release several more games featuring its IP within the next fiscal year – starting with a game called Miitomo. The company that kickstarted gaming as we know it today will soon have a steady focus on pushing its franchises onto hardware that it didn’t create. That’s not something it has decided to do lightly, but something that the ever-changing landscape of the industry has demanded.
Exclusives just aren’t carrying companies anymore, and (sticking with Nintendo) the Wii U is a prime example of that. For a company that has some of the most recognizable properties of all-time at its disposal, the Wii U has failed to generate a substantial user base. As of this writing, the console has moved a modest 12.6 million units in the span of a little over three years. During this time gamers have been treated to a medley of high-calibre exclusive games such as Mario Kart 8 and Splatoon, and those have done little but slowly build a shallow install base.
The Wii U has fallen so short of expectations that Nintendo is now launching a brand new system, codenamed NX, halfway through a console generation – with mass production of the platform said to be kicking off at the end of Q1 2016. When the likes of Mario can’t even move sufficient hardware, it’s immediately evident that there’s much more that consumers are looking for in a dedicated game console nowadays. This is why hardware manufacturers see the value in bringing software to a wider audience in order to generate more revenue, so it would seem that console-exclusivity (ala Quantum Break or Sea of Thieves) is a far better option than locking any given game to a single platform for eternity.
That’s why bringing games to PC and mobile are such solid options for publishers, as it allows them to more or less double dip on the market. Those that weren’t interested in buying a home or handheld video console at all can now download Pokemon on a phone they already own, or even boot up Gears of War on the PC they’ve never been without. If someone is gaming exclusively on a Windows PC (as millions currently are) then they probably aren’t sold by either side of the “console war” or the exclusives being offered by competing hardware manufacturers. If these games were to suddenly be made available on hardware they already own, though, then the barrier preventing them from accessing content they may have a slight interest in is suddenly non-existent.
Of course, this strategy can be used to influence future retail decisions as well, with Nintendo planning to bring exclusive software to mobile in hopes of enticing consumers to seek out a deeper experience with its home hardware and exclusive software. Those that enjoyed Gears of War: Ultimate Edition on PC, for example, may find themselves tempted to pick up Gears of War 4 for Xbox One. This is the obvious strategy that both Nintendo and Microsoft are pursuing, but it’s one that they stand to profit off of regardless – even if it doesn’t work out according to plan.
Minecraft is another great example of Microsoft putting profit ahead of platform, as the company has been, presumably, generating ample revenue from the title across almost every core gaming console. A few months ago the company even released the title on Nintendo’s Wii U, where it has been dominating the eShop charts ever since. The thing that companies need to realize, and Microsoft certainly seems to, is that not every game is a system-seller. Quantum Break, regardless of how well it reviews, isn’t a franchise as big or enticing as Halo. That’s the reality Microsoft has taken in, and it stands to benefit from it by building the cross-platform ecosystem it has been talking about for years.
Exclusives will always have a role to play in the gaming industry, but helping consumers to understand and appreciate franchises they may have otherwise never stumbled upon is just as important to IP holders. That’s why plans to feature cross-buy with Xbox One/PC titles are so appealing to so many, and why Pokemon Go was one of the most looked up games on Google in 2015. The more properties that find themselves on outside hardware, the better it’ll be for everyone. Simply put, accessibility is the key to success.