Platform exclusivity (also known as console exclusivity refers to the status of a video game being developed for and released only on one particular platform. Most commonly, it refers to only being released on a specific video game console or through a specific vendor's platforms (either permanently, or for a definite period of time)
Exclusivity is a topic used in discussions of the advantages and disadvantages of rival vendors in the video game market, and one which is used for marketing by vendors involved. Industry analysts generally agree that there is a correlation between availability of exclusive titles, and hardware sales.
Usage in the video game industry
A video game's exclusivity to specific hardware may either be permanent, or timed—the latter case allowing a game to be released on different console platforms and/or PCs after a specific timeframe lapses. Permanent exclusives are often developed (first-party title), published or heavily-funded by the console manufacturer. In some cases, the exclusivity may only apply to a game's console release, either for games being ported from PC to console (such as PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, whose console release was a timed Xbox One exclusive), or games being released on PC along with a single console.
Games may also include features and content that are exclusive to specific consoles, such as features that leverage a specific platform's distinguishing features, or appearances by characters from the platform's first-party franchises (such as Banjo and Kazooie being playable characters on the Xbox 360 version of Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, and Fox McCloud from Nintendo's Star Fox series being playable in special content on the Nintendo Switch version of Starlink: Battle for Atlas). Timed exclusivity may also apply to downloadable content for an otherwise multi-platform game, such as Activision's exclusivity agreements with Sony Interactive Entertainment,
Exclusives are typically at the forefront of promotional efforts during gaming conferences such as E3, in order to help drive sales of hardware, as a consumer choosing between options may be swayed by the different range of games available on each different console. Analysts have stated that sales figures in the past have indicated that there is a relation between hardware sales, and the release of software specifically for that hardware. They state that there is also data which shows that during holiday periods, when consumer spending is generally higher, hardware with a list of exclusive releases generally outsell those with a smaller selection. Correlations have also been drawn between the sales of software, and the sales of relevant hardware, as in late 2009 the Wii dominated both the hardware and software charts.
Exclusivity in PC gaming
In the PC gaming market, a form of platform exclusivity has emerged involving digital distribution, whereby an online retailer acquires exclusive rights to distribute a game by means of either vertical integration between a publisher and a distribution platform, or through a financial arrangement. Microsoft Studios employed this strategy on certain first-party releases by making them exclusive to Microsoft Store (formerly Windows Store), including cross-buy support with Xbox One. This also made the games, such as Quantum Break, exclusive to the Windows 10 operating system, due to the use of Universal Windows Platform (UWP). Games on the UWP architecture also included technical and compatibility limitations that critics and consumers considered unfavorable and contrary to norms (such as locked frame rates and incompatibility with third-party tools). However, Microsoft would later re-release Quantum Break on Steam with support for Windows 7 and newer, and announced in May 2019 that it would begin to offer more of its flagship first-party titles on third-party platforms such as Steam to widen their availability, and in Win32 architecture to remove the limitations of UWP.
Epic Games Store has faced criticism for employing this strategy. One prominent case was that of Metro: Exodus, which was abruptly announced as being an Epic Games Store exclusive only shortly before its release, even after taking pre-orders on Steam. Its owner Valve Corporation criticized the move as being unfair to consumers, but stated that it would still fulfill and support the game for those who had purchased it prior to the exclusivity deal. Justification for these complaints have included allegations that the store client is spyware, minority shares in the company being owned by Chinese conglomerate Tencent (thus subjecting it to Chinese government influence and possible espionage), lacking features in comparison to the market-leading Steam (such as per-game communities and cloud saves), and subjection of the PC gaming industry to exclusivity deals reminiscent of those seen on consoles.
Epic Games states that its store is more favorable to publishers by taking a smaller cut of revenue than Steam (12% in comparison to Steam's 30%, including waiving separate revenue sharing associated with Unreal Engine). In response to the criticism, Epic Games stated that it would be less aggressive in seeking exclusivity deals if Valve reduced its revenue cut, and that it would try to avoid repeating the "pushback" associated with the Metro controversy.
Impact of exclusivity on sales
In addition to sales data supporting the relation of hardware sales to software titles, CNET stated that "one of the biggest decisions when choosing a video game system has to be the exclusive games". The focus of E3 on exclusive titles at each manufacturer's press event also reflects the marketing power of exclusive titles, in addition to exclusive hardware.
Many media reports include exclusive hardware and software as points of consideration for consumers. They also draw attention to the relevance of such exclusive titles for the developer, as there may be a potential for greater sales volume when releasing on multiple platforms. Firms such as Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo also use exclusive titles to their advantage in order to create marketing strategies. Microsoft claimed that the Halo series, specifically Halo 3, was a key "payoff" in their strategy when entering the console market with the Xbox and Xbox 360. It is not uncommon for big firms such as Sony and Microsoft to buy small publishers in order to preserve exclusivity for themselves.
The Wii's dominance has also been credited by the media to a focus on exclusive technology and sales, rather than on pure technology inside the hardware. Microsoft attempted to reduce Nintendo's dominance from their motion control technology with the release of Kinect. Similarly, the PlayStation 3's lack of "killer exclusive titles" was said by analysts to contribute to its suffering sales in 2007.
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