Sony Is Taking The Concept Of PS4 Exclusivity Way Too Far – Forbes
Sony is in a strong position this console generation in part because of its growing roster of must-have exclusive titles on PS4. These games are constantly used a cudgel to bludgeon Microsoft which has a far more sparse roster of Xbox-only titles. Thatâ€™s been true the last few years, and this E3, the narrative remains intact.
But more and more, Sony seems to be expanding the definition of PS4â€™s â€œexclusivityâ€ in increasingly unhealthy ways. Weâ€™re not just talking about games Sony has developed/secured for themselves, rather, PS4 is using its market position in some pretty irritating ways.
The first issue is cross-play, which Sony refuses to implement on PS4. First we saw this with Rocket League, which had Xbox One and PC cross-play (and just added Switch), but PS4 opted out of joining everyone except PC. Now weâ€™re seeing it with Minecraft, where cross-play is coming to Xbox, Switch and PC, but Sony, once again, is saying no.
Everyone knows the reason why Sony is doing this, but it doesnâ€™t make it less annoying, and itâ€™s even worse when theyÂ make up ridiculous excuses for their decision. While the clear reason is that with Sonyâ€™s massive PS4 install base, they want to pressure people into buying more PS4s as the only way to play with their friends, this is the excuse we got about cross-play from PlayStation global sales and marketing head Jim Ryan, speaking to Eurogamer:
â€œWe’ve got to be mindful of our responsibility to our install base. Minecraft – the demographic playing that, you know as well as I do, it’s all ages but it’s also very young. We have a contract with the people who go online with us, that we look after them and they are within the PlayStation curated universe. Exposing what in many cases are children to external influences we have no ability to manage or look after, it’s something we have to think about very carefully.â€
Eurogamer pressed, saying that Nintendo, the most family-friendly company on earth, doesnâ€™t seem to have a problem with cross-play, but all Ryan says is that he personally has â€œno philosophical stance against cross-play.â€
The idea that Sony is avoiding cross-play because of worries about exposing children to other networks is disingenuous, to say the least (Rocket League, for instance, doesnâ€™t even have game chat). The issue at stake is clearly Sony not wanting to given its competitors access to its huge install base, yet Sony is trying to act like theyâ€™re walling off access for some altruistic reason. Itâ€™s ridiculous.
Past cross-play, we turn to a game like Destiny 2, where Sony has once again secured a deal to hold back exclusive content from the game as part of a multi-year deal with Activision, and the Sony-only stuff was showcased in its own trailer at E3, showing off the usual Strike, multiplayer map, ship, armor set and exotic weapon that Xbox One players wonâ€™t have access to for at least a year, if ever. This prompted some questions directed at Xbox head Phil Spencer (by again, Eurogamer), who did not mince words regarding what he thought about Sonyâ€™s exclusive content deals.
â€œI’ve been pretty open about, I’m not a fan of doing deals that hold back specific pieces of content from other platforms. You don’t see that in the deals we’ve done with Assassin’s and Shadow. We’ll have a marketing deal on those, but I don’t say, hey, I need some kind of Strike or skin somebody else can’t play.
I don’t think it’s good for our industry if we got into a point where people are holding back the technical innovation of game developers based on a marketing deal.â€
Xbox is certainly not blameless when it comes to exclusivity deals, but Spencer seems to be drawing the line between a time delay, ie. Xbox getting DLC a month early for The Division, and exclusive content, like these items drawn up specifically for PlayStation in Destiny. That content is supposed to arrive in the game for Xbox players a year later, but sometimes it just never shows up (Xbox Destiny is still missing many PS exclusives even with the sequel three months away). It makes the game worse for everyone with those maps/weapons/missions unable to show up in the rotating special activities of the game for both groups because of the lopsided access.
But Spencer is addressing a larger, even more troubling point. When he talks about â€œholding back the technical innovation of game developers based on a marketing deal,â€ heâ€™s responding to Eurogamerâ€™s original question about whether or not these Sony-deal-having games will get to make the most out of Xbox One X on the performance side. In this instance, it seems likely that say, Destiny 2 could probably run at 60 fps on Xbox One X even if thatâ€™s not possible on PS4 or PS4 Pro. But because of this inked deal with Activision, there is probably a stipulation that denies Microsoft the â€œbestâ€ version of the game, and lo and behold, the official word is that Destiny 2 is locked at 30 fps across all consoles (itâ€™s not limited on PC). This may not beÂ the singular reason this is happening, but it’s easy to suspect it’s a factor.
While I have my doubts about Microsoftâ€™s Xbox One X being able to deliver on its â€œtrue 4Kâ€ and 60 fps promise for many games, it is a new layer of awful that if there are technical improvements that could be made to games, that Sony is artificially limiting that potential because of these exclusivity deals. This isnâ€™t to say Microsoft wouldnâ€™t be doing the exact same thing if their roles were reversed, but thatâ€™s not the reality of whatâ€™s happening. We may be entering an era where Sony isnâ€™t just getting exclusive items for third party games, but they may actually be demanding that games run a certain way across all platforms as a condition of these deals. Iâ€™m not sure if everyone will agree to that (even if Rockstar has an RDR2 deal with Sony, itâ€™s hard to imagine them doing this), but that at least seems like what could be happening in one of these initial examples with Destiny 2, though Sony nor Bungie will confirm that, and even Microsoft is reluctant to say that out loud and point a finger directly. But Spencer comes pretty close to that here.
So while Sony is winning one exclusive war by making great games, it feels like theyâ€™re using their newfound market dominance in ways that are distinctly anti-consumer, whether its walling off players from cross-play, locking away in-game content or actually lowing the potential performance of the games themselves on rival platforms. Fans of all platforms should agree that this is simply not healthy for the industry at large.
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