Uphill Climb: Losing the Battle of Console Exclusives

Opinion by Marc Hollinshead,
It wasn't until early 2011 that I acquired my Xbox 360. Although I was regrettably late to the party, I was immediately hooked by what the current generation of consoles at the time had to offer for a gamer such as myself. Having spent many of my high school years playing The Sims and PC MMOs like Runescape and World of Warcraft, there was a sort of nostalgia gained from holding a controller again. It was no surprise, though, that I took to the world of Xbox like a fish to bait. The plethora of titles, the achievements, the immediacy of the set-up — all of it gelled so well with me. Nothing else was needed to satisfy my desire to play.

That was until May of 2016. For an entire year I endured the lack of Bloodborne in my life. As a huge fan of the Souls series, seeing this game mesmerise fans on a platform that I had no access to was torturous. So I did all I could to soak it in for myself as an Xbox owner: Let's Plays, reviews, lore videos, wiki pages and more. Of course, it wasn't truly enough. Other PlayStation 4 games were catching my eye and an itch was forming that could only be scratched in one way. So I gave in. I bought Sony's latest console and played the hell out of Bloodborne.

To this day I don't regret my decision to buy a PlayStation 4 whatsoever. Why? It comes down to just one word: exclusives. Much of the system's success has arguably come down to the wide variety of exclusive games that are available to gamers. In the short year of owning a PS4, I have adventured through the beautifully Gothic city of Yharnam, unravelled the mystery of a child killer, travelled the globe in search of ancient artifacts and slashed my way through feudal Japan as a Samurai warrior (bonus points for whomever recognises every game). My time so far with Xbox has certainly consisted of thrilling stories and encounters, but little of it was in the form of exclusive titles. I wish that would change. While my head says PlayStation provides the ultimately better and more varied experience, my heart still lies with Microsoft's console.

Oh, <i>Bloodborne</i>. I'd play you all over again on Xbox.Oh, Bloodborne. I'd play you all over again on Xbox.

I've always held the opinion that gamers are gamers, whatever their preferred system is. Even if the Xbox One was inferior to the PS4 at launch because shinier graphics were found in the latter, what does it matter? You're still a gamer if you're enjoying a game, even if the frame rate isn't quite as smooth as you'd like. This is originally what drove my initial thinking of "why own both consoles?" Games are games, right?

But no. It's never quite that simple. Competition is needed to ultimately drive the market, and to do that, you need console sellers, games that would compel you to take out your wallet and pay upwards of £300 just to play that one game you've craved since its release of that one that's coming out soon. It doesn't matter if a console lets you watch videos on YouTube all night long or share your own game clips; if it's missing key titles in its library, it's incomplete.

A game that only offers a bit of mindless gameplay and nothing more doesn't go as far as it used to. Many gamers want a hard-hitting story, and relatable characters to accompany that story. They want a game that will keep them up hours after their bedtime because they simply have to know how the story is going to end. An example of this would be Heavy Rain. Story was the primary focus of this chilling tale, putting you in the shoes of four different characters who are all tied together by an overarching plot. It wasn't without its faults, but it was widely praised because of its unique approach to its story, truly tailoring itself to fit the choices you made. Xbox had nothing of the sort at the time of its release, and still doesn't today.

Despite this shift in game development that Heavy Rain accentuates, many declare that gameplay is still king. And who's to blame them? We are playing games after all. Recognising the importance of plot is all well and good to sell a title, but having meticulously crafted gameplay that blends perfectly with the story being told can result in a game close to the brink of perfection. I give you The Last of Us. This PlayStation exclusive was lauded over by practically everyone who came in contact with it, and that is because of its fantastic blend of gameplay and story. Most critics and fans agree neither was sacrificed for the other. Both worked in tandem to present a narrative that, while not unique in its own right, breathed new life into the zombie apocalypse setting. Ellie and Joel were realistic representations of people who had to endure years of living in this hell, and the gameplay mirrored that. Stealth was regularly encouraged, and crafting first aid kits and tools from random materials throughout the game helped to give you the edge you needed. Naughty Dog created what is considered a masterpiece, and with The Last of Us Part II now in the works, there is little doubt that the developer will do it again, knowing their track record.

The Last of Us is a fairly new franchise in a much bigger timeline of gaming history, but it's Naughty Dog's previous work that really helped strengthen Sony's corner. Every gaming generation has an icon or two, and while Xbox has the likes of gun-toting Master Chief and Marcus Fenix, PlayStation has Nathan Drake. This male analog to Lara Croft, as many have decided to label him, has captured the hearts and imaginations of many fans due to who Drake is. Over the course of four games, gamers saw him come from somewhat humble beginnings as a wisecracking treasure hunter, to a family man who deserves the chance of finally settling down. Like The Last of Us, Uncharted meshed gameplay and story into a masterful experience that won many awards, praise and support for Sony's system.

Two of gaming's biggest icons of recent years, and they're confined to one platform.Two of gaming's biggest icons of recent years, and they're confined to one platform.

By now you may be thinking I'm just a PlayStation fanboy who wants everyone on TA to switch over to a superior system. Xbox has its fair share of icons as well. The aforementioned Master Chief and Marcus Fenix have gone down in the history books alongside Nathan Drake, some would say — and I would agree. However, PlayStation doesn't need to lean on its older franchises like Uncharted and God of War to keep people coming back. Plenty of new properties are gracing PS4 seemingly all the time and I for one haven't been without a game to play since buying the console. Just this year alone, we've seen Nioh, Team Ninja's response to the influx of "Souls-like" titles, and also Horizon Zero Dawn. In the few months since its release, Aloy has shot to stardom with some even reckoning she's beating Lara Croft as a strong female protagonist. We've also seen Crash Bandicoot re-enter the market with a remaster of the original three games — though rumors indicate this is a timed exclusive — along with Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, the latest entry in the franchise that puts the focus on fan favourite, Chloe. Not to mention luaded imports like NieR Automata, Persona 5 and more.

Can we truly say that Xbox is on this level with its exclusives? I'd be inclined to say no. This year may be the most painfully obvious of all toshow how Xbox is so lacking. Since its launch, Xbox One has relied heavily on its three biggest franchises to sell consoles and games. Forza, Halo and Gears of War have all received a hefty amount of instalments, and they have regularly taken precedence over original new properties. Indie titles have of course littered the marketplace for both Xbox and PlayStation, but those aside, AAA releases have definitely been weaker for Microsoft's first-party. Racing and shooting are the two prominent genres when looking back on Xbox's biggest names. PlayStation's exclusives cover a much larger genre pool.

Last year, we finally saw Xbox turning to something in the same vein as The Last of Us and Uncharted with Quantum Break, and that got me excited. Finally, something that could tell gamers without an Xbox that they were missing out on something special. The story was unique, gameplay was an enjoyable mix between shooting and unusual time powers, and the TV show was something rarely seen in a game before. However, I felt as though something was missing. It was a blast, sure, but Jack Joyce was no Aloy. The game didn't have me up until 2 am when I had work in the morning like Uncharted 4, and it had me watching the credits far too soon. Xbox was on the right path with this one, but they just needed to refine it a little more.

Aloy, yet another iconic hero for the other guys.Aloy, yet another iconic hero for "the other guys."

With the likes of Cuphead recently releasing, and upcoming titles like Sea of Thieves, it seems as though Microsoft are finally realising that it takes more than racing a car round a track and testosterone junkies to round out a first-party lineup. Ori and the Blind Forest was a beautiful example of what potential Xbox One could unlock as was Sunset Overdrive. But does anyone remember Scalebound? Of course you do. The game that looked to be a potential console seller got completely scrapped out of the blue. What went wrong? Microsoft had their chance, but apparently for reasons we never found out, the project fell apart. I know I was excited for the game, and so were many others. Other would-be exciting exclusives like Fable: Legends were canned too, which collectively have made these last few years of comparing competing game systems the hardest yet if you're rooting for Xbox to succeed in this space.

I may have spent the last few paragraphs indirectly bashing the Xbox brand, but I do still truly love the console. It's where I started when I came back to console gaming in 2011, and where I still find a lot of my time today. More importantly, it's thanks to Xbox that I found TA and even have the chance of writing this article in the first place. And why did I find TA? Because of achievements. This extremely simple concept that has now grown into so much more means that I can't leave Xbox for PlayStation and probably never will. My fellow TAers and close friends are found on the system, and too much of my time has been devoted to building up my gaming library and gamerscore on my Xbox One. I could just as easily use my PS4 for multi-platform gaming and exclusivity, eliminating the need for an Xbox altogether, but I just don't want to. My investment is now too great. I'm loyal to Xbox, and I want it to do well.

I still believe in you, Xbox.I still believe in you, Xbox.

As another year comes into its final months and the industry looks back on another round of games, it feels as though PlayStation has really dominated with its exclusive titles yet again. I'm actually having to pick and choose which exclusives I want for Christmas for my PS4 as I'm quite literally spoilt for choice. Not so much for my Xbox One. Nonetheless, this inner struggle of mine means that I'm secretly (not so secret anymore) cheering on Microsoft. Phil Spencer looks to be heading the brand in a truly great direction. It's a multi-year fix that he and the brand have to perform. I'm willing to give them more time to show us new great console-selling exclusives, even as the past several years have been so disheartening.

For some, exclusives don't matter one bit. For others, it's the biggest concern when buying a console. Sony caters to that crowd and it's a market Microsoft has for so long seemingly been content with ignoring. But the criticisms are louder than ever these days. Thankfully, they promise to start listening. Now we wait for some results.
How important are exclusive titles when you're deciding which console to buy?
  • Most important8.62% (192)
  • Not most important, but still a factor46.56% (1037)
  • Not at all important25.19% (561)
  • I buy multiple consoles so I can play exclusive games across platforms18.37% (409)
  • Other1.26% (28)
We've had 2227 responses.
Marc Hollinshead
Written by Marc Hollinshead
To summarize Marc in two words, it would be "Christian Gamer." You will usually find him getting stuck into story heavy action-adventure games, RPG's and the odd quirky title when he isn't raving about Dark Souls and Mass Effect. Outside the world of gaming, Marc attends and helps out in his church on a regular basis and has a not-so thrilling job in a supermarket.