Editor’s Note: Originally, this article was set to run before the article of Crystal Dynamics defending this decision… but somehow that didn’t happen. You can read that article here if you like, or if you haven’t already, you can read this one first, and recognize that time has no meaning any more, so the linear publishing of articles is no longer necessary… or maybe Mike just screwed things up. One of those.
For anything that isn’t first-party content, I will never understand why games sell as console exclusives. Maybe there is math out there that makes having a game publisher limit itself to one sliver of the potential market make sense, but somehow I have a hard time believing it. That’s all the more the case given that the recent trend has been less exclusivity, rather than more. While the PC market is now seeing platform exclusivity emerge, something which makes even less sense than with consoles, game franchises that were once jealously guarded exclusives, such as MLB The Show, are announcing opening up to more systems, including PCs.
But it seems the instinct to carve out something exclusive for your system is hard to shake. Or, that’s at least the case for Sony, which has managed to retain exclusive rights for the character Spider-Man in the upcoming Marvel’s Avengers game.
In a move already being roundly criticized on social media, Crystal Dynamics’ Jeff Adams revealed today that Spider-Man will be available as a free update for PlayStation players of this September’s Marvel’s Avengers game in “early 2021.” PC and Xbox One players, apparently, won’t get to play as him.
Adams announced the move in a PlayStation blog post, offering no insight as to why PC and Xbox players would miss out and outlining no exclusive content for those games. It doesn’t appear to be a timed exclusive. When Kotaku reached out to Square Enix, the game’s publisher, for comment, about that and the rest of the deal, we were directed to Adams’ blog post—which didn’t answer any of our questions.
Now, there is some complicated licensing potentially at issue here. While Disney owns the rights to The Avengers generally, Sony has retained many of the publishing rights for the Spider-Man character. In 2018, the excellent Spider-Man video game came out as a PlayStation and many assumed that Sony had the sole game publishing rights to the character. But that doesn’t seem to be true, no matter what noises Sony’s made in the past. Instead, these rights still seem to reside with Marvel, which has tended to lean towards the PlayStation. But, as the Kotaku article points out, it’s not as though Spider-Man has never made an appearance on other systems. He’s been in Nintendo games, along with other games, such as Marvel’s Lego series of games.
The idea behind these exclusive deals, be it for entire game franchises or for characters like Spider-Man, is to try to engender some kind of loyalty among the fan-base by having this exclusive content. And perhaps at one point that worked. But these days, the only thing Sony seems to be getting for its trouble is backlash. And when Forbes is out here saying that this character exclusive isn’t just bad for the other platforms the game will appear on, but bad for PlayStation players as well, then maybe it’s time to rethink this whole thing.
The problem with exclusives is that they not only hurt the obvious suspects, the platforms that are not getting X or Y exclusive, which in this case is Xbox and PC players, but they even hurt the platform that’s supposed to benefit from them.
With Avengers, it’s easy to see how this could play out in a similar fashion. While the main storyline of Avengers seems to be playing out around six launch heroes, Black Widow, Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Iron Man and Ms. Marvel, the entire point of the game is that it will be an ongoing story that unfolds in time. It’s easy to see how a character like Spider-Man, a prominent Avenger in both the MCU and the comics, could have been integrated into a major storyline at some point in the future as the game expands. But the fact that he’s exclusive to PlayStation essentially insures that he cannot be a major player in the story, relegated to some sort of introductory side mission, and that’s it, or as a tag-along to other missions without a major active role.
So why do this at all? Because old habits are hard to shake, probably. And, frankly, Sony’s gonna Sony. But that doesn’t make any of this less dumb, less bad for the gaming community, or less bad for even those who will get this exclusive character.