Exclusivity has been a hot-button topic in the past two decades with the dominance Microsoft and Sony have had on the video game industry. Specifically, the different generations of Xboxes and PlayStations have sparked an interesting rivalry between the two home consoles. Sony, of course, had the advantage of being in the home console market earlier than its American competitor, but, since Microsoft debuted the Xbox in 2001, the vying for power between the two companies has pitted consumers against one another. Technical specifications were once the crux of the arguments favoring one console over the other. However, with the astounding advancements in technology that have made the graphical differences between the competitors’ modern consoles negligible, exclusivity has become one of the primary differentials between the two brands.
The divide between PlayStation and Xbox fans has never been narrow. Both factions offer plenty of reasons as to why their chosen side is superior. Nevertheless, when considering exclusivity, Sony has had the market all but cornered since the launches of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. While both consoles sport a multitude of titles that are only available for one console or the other, such as God of War and the Uncharted series for PS4 and the Halo and Gears of War franchises for Xbox One, many multiplatform games receive content that is either exclusive to PlayStation users or releases earlier for PlayStation users. Destiny and its 2017 sequel saw timed exclusive content come to PS4 at each game’s initial release, and that exclusivity has lasted for almost an entire year since Destiny 2’s launch. PS4 fans also find themselves with access to DLC in games such as Call of Duty: WWII earlier than their Xbox One-owning counterparts.
Much of this exclusivity has to do with the relationships between the platform holders and game developers and publishers, and, indeed, the positions seemed reverse in the days of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, with Microsoft holding a slight advantage over Sony—so, the dynamic shift causes gamers to wonder what happened to flip the script. The answers are not complicated and, in fact, have less to do with console quality and more to do with business decisions. The easiest answer is that Sony acquired more developers under its corporate umbrella than Microsoft in the years prior to the launches of the modern consoles. Sony also made deals with more companies it did not acquire (i.e. Activision and Square Enix).
However, as with all console wars, power plays were inevitable. E3 2018 was demonstrative of Microsoft’s most ambitious maneuver since the flag-waving of the Xbox One X unveiling at E3 2017—which was a relative failure in the attempt to inspire confidence in the company’s future endeavors. In an attempt to regain lost ground, Microsoft announced several exclusive games and developer acquisitions during its E3 2018 press conference. Furthermore, the company officially informed fans that the new Xbox is in the works, as if trying to get the jab in before Sony declares the PlayStation 5 a reality. Of course, whether or not a new Xbox is necessary with the recent release of the One X has also been a subject for debate, as discussed by OnlySP’s Ben Newman.
With titles such as God of War and the Uncharted series, along with the prevalence of opportunities to beta test AAA games such as Call of Duty: Black Ops IV before their Xbox-favoring counterparts, PlayStation loyalists may still find their favored brand coming out on top—not to mention the earlier release of DLC for PlayStation fans in other Call of Duty titles. That said, if Microsoft can step up its game with not only major franchises (Forza, Gears of War, and Halo), but also its upcoming releases—such as Session and Crackdown 3 (PC versions notwithstanding)—the industry may see a shift in the current console war. However, PlayStation and Xbox are not the only consoles vying for position.
Of course, the community must not forget the underdog, for Nintendo is still alive and well and pumping out additional installments in its decades-old franchises. Super Mario Odyssey, Mario Kart, and Super Smash Bros. are going strong, with the newest Super Smash Bros. slated to release in December 2018. While the Switch may not be a primary competitor in the console market, it is still relevant and has kept Nintendo healthy, especially given the major titles that have come to the platform (i.e. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Fortnite).
The industry’s landscape has become blurrier than ever before, with each brand’s fans constantly debating the supremacy of their favored console. Certainly, each device has its strengths and weaknesses, but, at the end of the day, which console someone prefers to play is a subjective matter, and no amount of bickering over the minute technical differences between systems is likely to sway anyone to one side or the other. Outside of exclusivity, the modern PlayStation and Xbox’s mechanical and graphical performances are not vastly different and the debate narrows down to one of customer loyalty and mere preference. Nonetheless, the exclusivity road is long and winding and will ultimately determine which brand thrives and which exists in its competitor’s shadow.