As any gamer knows, one of the key considerations when deciding which console to buy is the list of games available for, and exclusive to, the consoles. The vast majority of game releases are simultaneously available for both Playstation and Xbox. Yet there are some games with which Sony and Microsoft continue to compete, by developing the games so as to be available only on their own console. We know these games as ‘exclusives’, and in the past few years, players and critics alike have noted that the PS exclusives are of considerably better quality.
Examples of fairly recent and highly popular Playstation 4 exclusives that have been the subject of resounding praise include including Bloodborne, Uncharted 4, Horizon Zero Dawn, Spider-Man, and God of War.
Meanwhile, Xbox have struggled to produce quality exclusives, with their flagship games like Sea of Thieves launching to lukewarm reviews. Even classic Xbox franchises such as Gears of War, Destiny and Forza have earned good reviews at best, but with none being universally acclaimed and lauded with awards in the same way as, for example, God of War.
In fact, Microsoft have struggled so badly with their in-house exclusives that both Fable Legends and Scalebound, two games many players were looking forward to, have been straight up cancelled.
So why is it then that Microsoft have been having such a hard time producing high quality exclusives for their consoles, while Sony have been reliably flooding the market with at least one masterpiece annually? The answer lies partly in company culture and partly in the realities of game development.
Microsoft is a big company that manages both PC gaming as well as console gaming while Sony exists with a laser focus on its consoles. When Xbox Game Studios (which used to be called Microsoft Studios up until February this year) oversee the development of a new game, they need to make sure that it ships both for Windows and for Xbox. This places a high technical demand on developers who need to ensure that the games run fluidly on both console and PC. In other words Microsoft’s Xbox exclusives are exclusive to the Xbox in terms of consoles, but need necessarily also be made available on PCs.
Meanwhile, Sony have no such issues as their games can launch on Playstation and Playstation alone. The effect of this contrast is that Sony can focus super closely on the development of games for their own system. This translates into a solid wealth of expertise and trained developers who know their technical systems inside-out. Xbox Game Studios, on the other hand, often find themselves publishing games developed by studios specialized in one way or another towards either PC or console gaming. Such studios may find it challenging to accommodate their designs to the platform with which they are less comfortable.
This is the same reason why a lot of developers, specialized in particular platform or console, fail to deliver the same quality when development specifications change. Games that were developed especially for virtual reality headsets typically provide a much more immersive and seamless gaming experience than games which were only later adapted to be compatible with VR after already having been released as a regular PS4 or Xbox game. Consider also how land-based slots and casino game developers like IGT struggle to bring the same standard of casino games online and compete against studios like NetEnt, where developers focus entirely on online and mobile-based casino gaming. In short, by sharing game dev talent across PC and Xbox, Microsoft are asking developers to spread their time, resources, and expertise too thinly.
The security that Sony possess in knowing that their developers and studios are well-oriented and specialized in developing games specifically for Playstation and only Playstation translates into more room for creative freedom and innovation. This is where the culture of the competing companies comes in. Sony have shown time and time again that they are both bold enough to bet on risky projects as well as wise enough to pick out new promising franchises and game worlds while Microsoft have become more and more heavily reliant on their established franchises to generate quality exclusives.
Take this year, for example - Microsoft are banking on on their sequels Gears 5, Crackdown 3 and Ori And The Will Of The Wisps to make the case for players to opt for Xbox over Playstation. Meanwhile, Sony’s upcoming exclusives include Wild, Ghosts of Tsushima, Death Stranding, Dreams and Babylon’s Fall, all of which are new and fascinating games and intellectual property.
In other words, this year it looks like Microsoft is playing it safe and aiming to keep loyal players of e.g. Gears of War on their console. But Sony is taking more of a risk and creating new and interesting game franchises to attract new gamers. Well, as the saying goes - the greater the risk, the greater the reward. And Sony looks to be racing towards ever greater rewards as more and more players pick up a Playstation in order to enjoy their quality exclusive games.