Perhaps every game not being available for Xbox, iPad, Fridge, and Toilet isn’t the best way to be doing business.
Should our game be on PC? Xbox? PlayStation, or Switch? If we go for PC, should we put it on Steam or Epic? Perhaps release it standalone on its own launcher? This is the question every game developer must at some point ask itself, and the answer is critical to a game’s success. So with the recent launch of said Epic Games store, it’s time to ask- what’s the big deal with Market Exclusivity? Why would you ever choose to sell to fewer people when you could just put every game on every platform and sell more copies?
Let’s explore that question. Currently, in 2019’s marketplace, there are three major consoles – PlayStation 4. Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch, as well as the PC market. There are also iOS and Android phones to boot, too. Why, given the chance, would you choose not to release your title on all of these fine platforms and reach as wide an audience as possible? The answer, of course, is simple – They aren’t all the same. The PS4 and XBONE are roughly equivalent, so most games that launch on either launch on both. The PC is potentially as powerful, so oftentimes they join the trifecta – Sometimes after some delay, given how varied a platform PC is, which sometimes means extra development time. The Switch, of course, isn’t anywhere nearly as powerful as its cousins and thus can struggle to handle the more cutting-edge graphics and software of the time, and thus it’s not uncommon to see titles like Call of Duty skip out on it, just as they did with its ancestors. The Switch does, though, have a far more varied and unique control scheme, boasting the Joy-cons, joint console and portable status, and Amiibo support, which makes it a far more experimental and intuitive platform with many unique ways to interact with the game. Phones are a bit shit, but at least you already have one without having to buy a new £300+ machine.
I’m sure you’re getting the picture; game systems are, on the most base levels, simply not comparable. What works on the switch might not work on PC. Imagine trying to play Starcraft on a Playstation, and you’ll understand what I mean. But that’s not always the case; there’s also the ever-present loom of money. Take, for example, Bayonetta 2. I’m sure I could think of a more recent title, but frankly my dudes I’m fighting the old writer’s block, so we’re going with it. Bayonetta 2 released, initially, as a Wii U exclusive, even though Bayonetta 1 had initially been released on PS3 and Xbox 360. Why did this happen? After all, Bayonetta is hardly the kind of character you’d have imagined would fit in well between Link and Kirby on the Nintendo Roster. So why was it a Wii U exclusive? The answer, of course, is money.
But that’s naturally not the full story; at the time. Bayonetta was facing the possibility of being a 1-game franchise, as its mediocre sales – despite debuting at number 1 on the charts on release week for PS3 – the game had fallen down to the eighth place for PS3 and fifteenth for Xbox a week later; despite its critical acclaim and niche yet fervent fanbase, the game was not viable to see a sequel. That was, of course, until Nintendo saw an opportunity. The Wii U was a famous flop for Nintendo, and it needed more games to sell in order to pick back up the pace; and so, Bayonetta 2 was an investment that allowed the franchise to continue by paying money to Platinum up-front in exchange for exclusivity. In return, the exclusivity would draw more people to pick up the Wii U. Sure, Bayonetta 2 didn’t sell as many units as Bayonetta 1, but it was still a viable product thanks to the money Nintendo paid for it. Businesses are not always B2C (Business to Consumer), but sometimes B2B or B2B2C. In this case, the money made off of the Bayonetta 2 product came from both gamers and Nintendo.
This is why exclusivity happens – It’s an investment on the part of the publisher, developer, and platform holder. Develop for one platform – and save time and money in the process – and in return gain funding and expertise from the developer they are exclusive to. This may, in the case of titles like God of War or Spider-Man, just seem like corporate money-shuffling, but consider how it can affect games like No Man’s Sky. No matter your opinions on the game itself, it is doubtless an indie title that was given the great honour of support from Sony’s marketing team – a gigantic boom when you consider how many games are released each day that you’ll never hear about – in exchange for not exclusivity. I think you’ll agree, that must have been a no-brainer for Hello Games’ dev team.
But why do it without said payment? Why choose to limit yourself to a single console? And why limit yourself even further? Metro: Exodus recently cooked up a storm by releasing exclusively on the Epic Store on PC, as opposed to the granddaddy that is Steam. An argument between Deep Silver and the PC fanbase ensued, and whilst it’s easy to accuse either side of being childish, I think there are greater implications of this decision that lend the decision some credibility, perhaps even some nobility. Allow me to explain.
There are a LOT of games on steam. Like, a lot a lot. 2017 alone saw the release of over 7,000 titles, that meaning a new game was released on the platform over nineteen times a day. How is a game to stand out in these conditions? How can I as a small game developer get my title noticed? And more importantly, how am I going to make money off of it, given Steam takes a 30% cut of all sales, and regularly has its codes show up on sites like G2A, which actively cost me money? Steam’s monopoly has been great for consumers, offering a single market through which all PC titles under the sun can be bought with an integrated friends list and achievement system, regular sales, and various trading and community tools. But it’s a swamped market, and a title with a low budget will struggle to see any return on investment. And remember, those games are made by people with mortgages to pay and families to feed. So, perhaps it’s time to recognise that a platform which gives a bigger cut to developers and allows it to exist alongside fewer competitors might be worth a shot.
But here’s the rub – It’s not Metro: Exodus which gains legitimacy as a product here, but rather their presence as a big-name title developed and published entirely separately from Epic Games themselves gives the platform itself legitimacy. EA’s origin has taught us that it doesn’t matter if a big-name game is on Steam or not; the brand will lead you to seek the product out on whatever platform it happens to be hosted on; I don’t find out a new entry in my favourite series is out because I notice it on the storefront, I know months beforehand and will follow it wherever it goes. As the Epic Store becomes increasingly supported by titles like Metro, people will be more willing to browse the store, granting visibility to titles there in a way Steam’s avalanche of new releases simple doesn’t allow. In other words, Deep Silver’s choice to release exclusively on Epic is a choice, yes, rooted in that extra 10% cut of sales – But its implications have the potential to break Steam’s monopoly, possibly making it easier to market your smaller products and thus giving thousands of Indie devs greater job security, which I think we can all agree is a good thing. In a competitive marketplace, Steam and Epic will have to constantly improve the experience of releasing on their platform in order to avoid losing out on releases, and this can only happen if big titles like Metro: Exodus are willing to take sides.
Or maybe I’m dead wrong, and Deep Silver should just go ahead and release on Steam. Who knows?