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Exclusivity Deals – Why do game developers sign them?

September 27, 2016 — by Manish "Trigger-Happy" Rajesh0

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ConsoleFeaturePC

Exclusivity Deals – Why do game developers sign them?

September 27, 2016 — by Manish "Trigger-Happy" Rajesh0

We try to wrap our heads around the trend of developing console exclusive games. Where’s the sense in that?!

If you’re a true blue gamer, be it on the PC or any of the consoles, then there has probably been a time in your life when you’ve wanted to play a game that has been exclusive to the other platform thanks to the exclusivity deals signed. It’s no secret that the majority of us here at Digit are PC gamers, and we openly brag about it and even show our undying allegiance to the “#PCmasterrace” every now and then too. But that doesn’t quite mean that we’ve never wanted to play some of the games that have been released exclusively on consoles. On the surface if one were to think about it honestly, it would seem like the decision to go exclusive only limits a game dev’s options. There’s no way that all consoles do equally well, there’s always one console that does better than the other. So if you made an exclusive for a console, honoring the exclusivity deals, that isn’t on the top, isn’t that a loss of business?

So why exactly is it that game developers go for exclusivity deals?

The short answer – money. Well obviously it had to be that, there’s no other reason for them to intentionally want to do so otherwise. Companies that make consoles – Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, etc. (are there any others?) – often pay game developers to maintain exclusivity. They take a large amount of money for that exclusivity. But money can’t possibly be the only factor here. There has to be other underlying factors that come into play as well, after all, the company is deciding to give up on a large percentage of possible business and profits. There are very few people who buy multiple consoles, in fact, not everyone can actually afford more than one console. The price of belonging to the divine hybrid master race is just too high.

When we say exclusivity here we’re talking specifically about third party games and developers.

Why? Well look at it this way, if Sony were to develop and publish a game, they would want to make it exclusive to their own console, i.e., the PlayStation. They don’t really have any incentive to make it available to the competition. That game is a reason for people to buy their own console. Just take the Halo franchise for example, look at what it did for Microsoft. Halo has often been called the sole reason people bought the Xbox consoles. And since Bungie was, at the time, an owned subsidiary of Microsoft, it would make sense that they would opt for such exclusivity deals. Similarly, if you didn’t know yet, Naughty Dog is a subsidiary of Sony’s, which is why the Uncharted franchise is exclusive to the PlayStation. And just look at how that worked out for Sony.

Why do game developers sign exclusivity deals

Now if you guys weren’t aware of this, Microsoft really wanted Rise of the Tomb Raider to be an Xbox exclusive. Keep in mind however, that Rise of the Tomb Raider is a third party title, developed by Crystal Dynamics and Published by Square Enix. You should be able to make some sense as to why Microsoft would want to do this. It’s prequel, the Tomb Raider reboot, was a widely appreciated title, and those of you who’ve played it should know that it’s a really good game. Microsoft’s move to make Rise of the Tomb Raider an Xbox exclusive is an understandable one, they needed something to be able to compete with Uncharted.

Why do game developers sign exclusivity deals

However, this didn’t go down too well with the masses. The Tomb Raider franchise has been around for a long time, much before the reboot. And pretty much every title has been available on the PlayStation console. For Eidos to suddenly make Rise of the Tomb Raider an Xbox exclusive – even if it was just for one year – one would understand why the people were all “angry mob” about it.

The fame game

Now in the case of games like Tomb Raider – which are popular enough on their own to actually help boost the sales of a console – exclusivity deals works mostly in favour of the said console. Square Enix is more than capable of being able fund the development of a game like Tomb Raider on it’s own, and they could’ve easily marketed the game to both the PlayStation and the Xbox easily, especially since the prequel was hugely successful. Then why sign a deal with Microsoft at all? No matter how you look at it, exclusivity deals seems like a loss for Square. They may get a boost in sales once the game releases for the PlayStation this October, but the game is a year old now, the hype is gone. Sure the plan was to compete with Uncharted but it didn’t even manage to do that, in fact, Uncharted sold three times more than Rise of the Tomb Raider did in its first month.

Why do game developers sign exclusivity deals

However, this can work the other way around as well. When a hardware company indulges in exclusivity deals with a third party game developer, this could be a boon for the game developer as well. Developing a game is not cheap, popular game devs can get by but others could be in quite the pinch. This was especially prominent when crowdfunding wasn’t as big as it is today. By signing exclusivity deals, not only do the get the funding from the hardware company to be able to create the game they way they want to, the hardware company will also market and push their game for them. Simply because doing so is an asset for them as well.

exclusivity deals

Let’s take a look at one of the planned Xbox One exclusive releases, Cuphead. Cuphead is a platformer – since retro games seem to be all the rage right now – and from the looks of it, a really good one, though we don’t know that yet. Does it look good enough to warrant buying an Xbox just to play it? Err, maybe not, but we get it on PC anyway so that’s not the point here. People on the PlayStation don’t get to play Cuphead, but they might actually want to play the game if it turns out to be good. The funding one gets from signing exclusivity is no small amount, it can actually significantly affect the quality of the game itself. Now Cuphead was originally set to be a small indie game according to the developers. Nothing too complex, a few bosses here and there, they were only a three-man team after all, what more could they do? But thanks to Microsoft, they were able to create the game without any limitation, in all its glory so to speak. So yea, Sony fans won’t get to play Cuphead, which sucks for them. But those who do get to play Cuphead should be able to enjoy a full experience, which otherwise wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for the funding they received from Microsoft. So in short, for smaller developers, signing exclusivity deals could be the difference between success and failure.

Why do game developers sign exclusivity deals

Final verdict?

So in conclusion, what can we derive from this? Ultimately, it’s all about the money. The reason companies sign exclusivity deals are because they believe that they would make more money out of it. They don’t have to spend more money on developing other versions of the game for other consoles. It’s a trade-off. A gamble. A double-edged sword. Which is something companies have to take from time to time, a risk. But AAA companies don’t really have to take that risk or make that gamble. It makes absolutely no sense for third party AAA companies to make their games console exclusive unless they’re getting an absurdly large amount of money from the hardware company in question. The console company has to make an offer that will offset the losses that the developer might incur because of making the game an exclusive, and in case of AAA titles, this will be a HUGE amount.

No true gamer likes exclusivity. Everyone would love to play ‘em all. So if the world could do away with the exclusivity deals, that would be nice. Thanks.

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Manish "Trigger-Happy" Rajesh

If he's not gaming, he's... no wait he's always gaming.

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