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Separate is NOT Equal: Thoughts on Exclusive Game Content

Written by: Big Ross, CC2K Staff Writer

ImageIn some respects exclusive content has always been a reality for gamers.  If you wanted to play Super Mario Bros. or Legend of Zelda you simply had to own a Nintendo.  Sonic the Hedgehog was only playable on the Sega Genesis, Metal Gear Solid could only be played on the Playstation, Halo: Combat Evolved only on the Xbox.  This trend is still alive today with exclusive titles continually being developed for each of the big 3 consoles: Nintendo’s Wii, Sony’s PS3, and Microsoft’s Xbox 360 (sorry PC owners, I’m leaving you out of this discussion).  But that’s only one part of what I want to talk about here.  More and more exclusive game content is becoming the status quo, and I’m not sure I like it. 

First things first.  Let’s be clear that exclusive game content is a marketing ploy, plain and simple.  It’s a tactic used by various corporations to do nothing more than increase their profits by offering consumers something they can’t find anywhere else.  As I see it, exclusive game content comes in three forms: the already mentioned console-exclusive titles, console-exclusive content for multi-platform releases, and retailer-exclusive content for certain (usually highly anticipated) games.  Let’s take these one-by-one.


Console-Exclusive Games

This is the one category that I have the least problem with.  It’s the games themselves that drive this industry, so it makes sense that each of the Big 3 wants to draw consumers to their console with games unavailable on any of their competitors’ products.  Sidenote: with the Wii Nintendo took this concept to the nth degree by creating an entirely new way to play video games, and its runaway success, not to mention the fact that both Sony and Microsoft are developing motion-sensing components for their respective consoles is a testament to just how effective this strategy has been for them.

I honestly can’t remember what drove me to buy Microsoft’s Xbox.  Very likely Halo: Combat Evolved had a lot to do with it.  And while I can count on one hand the number of games that I really enjoyed (the two Halo games, Star Wars: KOTOR 1 & 2, and TES III: Morrowind), they were enough that I stayed loyal to Microsoft with the release of the Xbox 360, even while Sony was working on the PS3.  Although games like MGS 4: Guns of the Patriots, Killzone 2, and God of War III have been very tempting, I simply don’t have the capital to add a PS3 to my gaming collection.

This begs the question, do console-exclusive games actually work?  Do they actually make a difference in determining which console gamers purchase?  In something of a non-scientific poll, 86% of gamers asked that very question said yes.  Yet the predominant opinion seems to be, “if I could afford it I’d own ’em all.”  Can’t say I disagree with that statement.


Console-Exclusive Bonus Content

This category consists of bonus content available to owners of a particular console for a game that is available on more than one.  One of the earliest examples of this that I remember were the bonus playable characters of Yoda and Darth Vader for Soul Calibur IV.  Initially Yoda was only available on the Xbox 360 version, and Vader only on the PS3 version.  A more recent example lies with Batman: Arkham Asylum.  Sony managed to net exclusive content in the form of the game’s Challenge Rooms being playable as The Joker.  Whereas players of Soul Calibur IV eventually found that the character not available initially on their console was made available via DLC (downloadable content), which was something of a dick move considering players had to pay for something that arguably should have been available for free, there is no indication the same will happen with Batman: Arkham Asylum

This is where I start to have a problem with exclusive content.  It’s one thing for one of the Big 3 to internally develop an exclusive game, or for an independent developer to choose one platform to build their game on, but the whole idea of a multi-platform release is for the same gaming experience to be available to gamers regardless of the console their playing on.  Granted, these are minor “bonus” content items, the absence of which doesn’t really negatively affect the game.  But still.  As a matter of principle, why should I be penalized for my choice of console?  Why should anyone else?  If my choosing an Xbox 360 means I can’t play God of War III, or someone else’s choice of the PS3 means they can’t play Halo 3, so be it.  But when a game comes out and is available for both at the same time, what’s the point of netting bonus content for one platform at the expense of the other?  Certainly no one would go out and buy an entire console simply for the sake of some bonus content.  It’s just annoying.

Retailer-Exclusive Bonus Content

This is perhaps the most annoying kind of exclusive content, and I say that having taken advantage of it in the past.  Used & new games retailer Gamestop has nearly monopolized this practice with their bonus content available only to people who pre-order a game from them.  Examples include exclusive access to the playable character of Sgt. Johnson in the multiplayer component of Halo: ODST (as seen above), exclusive access to the “Dem Bones” Scarecrow challenge room in Batman: Arkham Asylum, and early access to a free, playable demo of Brutal Legend

Again, I realize I’m splitting hairs here.  Do any of these bonuses make that big of a difference?  No.  But you might argue if it is important, just jump through Gamestop’s hoops and get your reward.  But what if there isn’t a Gamestop in your area?  What if you aren’t the type to get so worked up over an upcoming game that you pre-order it months in advance?  What if you’re simply unaware of this promotion?  Is there any reason these shouldn’t be made available to everyone?  I don’t think so.

At least some game developers seem to be resisting this new surge in exclusive content.  Owners of Batman: Arkham Asylum, regardless of whether they have been playing it on an Xbox 360, PS3, or PC (I guess you’re not completely out of this discussion!) saw free (that’s right, FREE!) DLC available for all platforms on the exact same day just last week.  How’s that for equality?!  And developers of Assassin’s Creed II have issued assurances that even though Gamestop is offering an exclusive bonus levels to those who pre-order the game, these levels will be made available to all eventually.