True exclusives are something of a dying breed. The days of seeing wildly different games stacked upon the platform-specific shelves of high street retailers are slowly fading away...
... and not just because the high street is dying a slow and painful death.
Microsoft, of course, have never really been one for investing hugely in talent. Unlike Sony over the past decade, or Nintendo in the decade before that, Microsoft's notable first and second party output can probably be counted upon one hand. There's Halo and Forza and Gears and Fable and... Kinect?
The Redmond lot have, particularly in this generation, relied more heavily on splurging out on contracts for third-parties, pushing the quality of their XBLA output (which has been fantastic), and, of course, delivering timed exclusives.
So when Microsoft say that they're investing $1 billion into new games, what exactly does that mean?
It didn't take long for the rumours to begin of course. A retailer listing that had the Xbox One as the sole platform for Mirror's Edge 2 emerged as "proof" EA had signed an exclusive deal with Microsoft. Then there are the whispers of a clandestine arrangement with Bethesda for Fallout 4. Given that Bethesda have had timed DLC arrangements with Microsoft for plenty of their games before -- Skyrim, Fallout 3 to name but two -- it wouldn't be surprising to see that happen again, but we rather doubt that Bethesda would pledge such a popular franchise singularly to one, unproven platform.
That would take a sizeable chunk out of Microsoft's $1 billion.
Timed exclusives are, of course, a severe annoyance to those on the negative side of the divide. It's galling perhaps because it's entirely business-led, and can seem fundamentally negative with regard to the consumer. It monetises impatience, rather than rewarding creativity. The internet has given us a sense of entitlement to want things as soon as they're available, and barricades put in place by suits for financial reasons don't really resonate with consumers who just want to play as soon as they can. Time differences mean you lose the watercooler moments if you're not involved, you run the risk of being behind the curve, less informed, and vulnerable to spoilers.
There's a psychological sense of gratification being first: you feel like you're being looked after, treated as a premier gamer rather than a second-class virtual citizen with your nose at the window.
But it's a risky venture to place your eggs in such a basket at the start of a console cycle. The Xbox 360 had an enormous headstart, and rapidly took over the market, creating a huge install base that Sony has had to claw back and fight every step of the way to balance the scales. On an uneven playing field like that, where you've already invested in a console and (crucially) so have your friends, timed DLC can work wonders. And if you had both consoles, you'd perhaps end up plumping for the one that could extend your playtime immediately when it came to buying multiplatform titles.
Being first is important. It's fairly risible, but it's clearly important, otherwise Microsoft wouldn't keep doing it.
But games are changing, and as gamers are playing single titles for longer periods of time, increasing the tail for many franchises, it's something of a double-edged sword for timed exclusive DLC. Should the pre-owned market come under serious threat from the Xbox One's policies, consumers will wait longer before buying their games. There will always be one or two games that players will scramble to buy on day one, but games are still expensive and, as this very site will attest, waiting a few weeks can save you a good £5-10 if not more.
I'm not sure if Microsoft can afford to try and influence console choice by focusing on what you'd lack if you went elsewhere (timed DLC) as opposed to what you'd gain by choosing their console (exclusive games).
Sony came out with two major franchise returns in their presser back in February, with Killzone: Shadow Fall and Infamous: Second Son, as well as news from Jonathan Blow (The Witness) and Evolution Studios (Drive Club) and the curio that is Knack. Microsoft pointed incredibly briefly towards Forza 5 and Remedy's mysterious new IP, Quantum Break, whilst also announcing exclusive material from EA Sports and timed exclusives for Call of Duty: Ghosts' DLC.
Neither presentation was hugely impressive, but then they weren't really supposed to be. If anything, they were both primers for next month.
With everyone primed for a software-heavy E3, it is to be hoped that now we've gotten much of the hardware stuff out of the way, the marketing guff and buzzword-laden waffle might be put to one side and we'll see presentations that are essentially showreels of all of the juicy games.
Make no mistake, whatever Microsoft's reveal suggested; it's all about the games.
We've been promised 15 first-year exclusives by Microsoft; eight new IPs. There are two of the exclusives named above, Crytek's Ryse, Rare's revival, and a visual hint towards the possibility of a new Crackdown title. That's a good start, but it's not enough. We've been on Microsoft's back for years about exclusive games, tying up franchises for the long term, and focusing in on what really shifts consoles: experiences you can't get anywhere else. The precedent, once you remove the novelty of their headstart for this generation, is not hugely encouraging.
With the competition lined up on their shoulder for next-gen rather than lagging behind, timed exclusives won't cut it, nor will relying on Xbox LIVE. To shift the Xbox One outside of the dudebro, US-centric demographic they shot for last week, Microsoft will have to come out with all guns blazing at E3, not to mention some big names that you won't find anywhere else.
And no, we don't mean a sequel to NBA Baller Beats.