One thing I always hear, even from some of our staff, is that exclusives are anti-consumer, and thus, wrong. And yes, exclusives are anti-consumer to a degree, but that doesn’t mean that they are only a source of negativity. There is another side to exclusives that are often overlooked, and that is their benefits. Buried deep in the screaming and chanting of their negativity, exists a pillar positivity that is rarely spoken about.

Well, I think its time we changed that perception.

One consideration that many have a hard time digesting is the concept that something can have a duality (ironically, us humans can be quite good at this), that is, two separate states that exist simultaneously but on the surface appear to be either opposite or incompatible. For exclusives, this duality exists by both hurting consumers and the industry through barring the availability of a title or game, but also provides a positive impact by helping facilitate the necessary competition that is needed for a healthy market. Consider for a moment what having an exclusive title accomplishes.

On the surface, exclusives put a burden on consumers who wish to purchase those products. That burden can vary depending on the platform and various other factors, but at the least, the consumer needs to have the platform available to them to purchase and use said product. If, for example, the game in question was exclusive to PlayStation 4, then the consumer would need to own a PlayStation 4 before being able to play said game. This initially appears to be a bad practice as it restricts consumers ability to purchase across platforms and places a barrier between consumers and the game they wish to play. However, upon digging a little deeper, the answer becomes a little less cut and dry.

While it is true consumers are restricted, those restrictions create other benefits, some more obvious than others. Speaking for the game itself, having exclusivity can offer advantages to the game’s design when there are notable differences between platforms. The Nintendo DS family of consoles all feature a second screen, and more often than not, make use of the second screen in a way that adds value to a game’s design. Without it, many games wouldn’t have the same appeal and would need to adjust their game design to compensate if it was moved to another platform. In this case, by being exclusive to a platform that offers a unique feature, developers can design their game around a platform and make better use of it. If the same game in question was to be ported over to the PSP, it would likely need several changes to make it function at near or the same level it did on the Nintendo DS.

Yoshi's Island DS
Yoshi’s Island DS – Uses both screens to play.

But using the Nintendo DS as an example is fairly obvious, it has a whole second touch screen after all, and nothing else at the time featured such a thing. So what about where the lines are a little more blurred? Well, there are still two significant advantages to be had in being exclusive from a development standpoint: performance and time.

When a game is being designed for only one platform, it enables developers to take full advantage of that platform, and this extends even further on consoles, as there are far more limited variations. Developers don’t need to worry about designing their game around the specifications of Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft’s consoles, as well as PC—instead—they can focus on one, and push it to its absolute limit. It is this type of focus that enables companies like Santa Monica Studios or 343 Studios to put titles like God of War (2018) and Halo 4 (2012) out and make it look the way it does on the hardware available. This same level of fidelity isn’t practical for games that are on multiple platforms, as additional time is needed to test and adjust for each platform to assure its working, but for exclusives, that’s not a problem.

So far, however, all these points have been focusing on the development of the game itself. And while all these points are valid in their own right, there is one towering behemoth of a positive aspect that trumps all others, competition.

Yes, competition, the all-important nugget of functionality that is required to make a capitalistic economy healthy. Sometimes, what appears to be a bad thing for consumers, can actually be must worse without, and exclusives are one of these such things. Without exclusives, how do the two major competitors, Sony and Microsoft, compete? Do they compete on the pricing or features of their consoles? Well, they already do that, and the differences are negligible at best. Additionally, we have already seen with the original launch of the Xbox One that additional console features are secondary to the main reason people purchase consoles, to play games! So what can companies do to set themselves apart? Offer games that the competition can not.

This may appear as forced competition, but in reality, it’s merely companies protecting their interests, and in the process, creating competition. The fact that the consumer needs to make a choice when purchasing a console on the one thing that matters most is vital for the health of the market. If the differences between Sony and Microsoft are negligible, there is no true reason for them to exist the way they do if the market has its way, and one company will reign supreme. But, by having exclusives, now there exists a reason for them both to exists and compete against each other to capture the market. This environment helps breed innovation, and that’s important for anyone who hopes to see the video game market evolve.

The same can be said for Steam and other online stores such as Epic. Steam has long been considered the top storefront on PC, and thus somewhat untouchable. This has lead Steam to become complacent with its position and created an environment with minimal need to change or innovate; for PC gamers, this doesn’t create a positive environment. With all the faults the Epic Store may have, it is forcing competition between Steam by taking titles and making them exclusive to their store. Again, on the surface, this may appear to be purely anti-consumers, but when further examined, its actually creating a healthier environment that forces Steam to attempt to compete, and thus, innovate.

While consumers may experience some inconvenience and barriers to entry when playing the games they want, just remember, those barriers serve more than just making it harder to purchase or play games. What it is doing is helping facilitate competition with the one thing that works best in the video game industry, games.

And competition, it’s a good thing.