Console wars can be won or lost on the strength of a contender's gaming catalogue – especially when it comes to launch titles. No matter how powerful the tech, if it doesn't host the games people want to play, it can be hard for a new console to make its mark. It's something Sony knows all too well, and it's taking no chances with the release of the PS5 later this year.
In the battle for gamers' hearts and wallets, one of Sony's big focuses for the PlayStation 5 is platform exclusives. After all, it’s a tactic that worked for the console’s predecessor, the PS4. The manufacturer is lining up a host of games that you won't be able to play anywhere else – or at least not on the PS5's biggest rival, Microsoft's Xbox Series X.
From big, Sony-published franchise entries such as Gran Turismo 7, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart and Horizon Forbidden West, to huge third-party buddy-ups like Spider-Man: Miles Morales, there are plenty of tempting PS5-only titles on the way. But those are just the ‘full’, or lifetime, exclusives…
Something else that Sony is seemingly embracing is the concept of ‘timed exclusives’. These are games that will make their debut on the PS5, with an exclusive initial release window – usually around a year – before being free to branch out to other platforms (including the Xbox Series X). The question is, though, what’s the point of this strategy?
The benefits of timed exclusives
In positioning the PS5 as a must-buy console from day one, Sony wants as much exclusivity in its early gaming line-up as possible. It’s all about squeezing out the competition.
The thinking is that, if you’re a fan of a particular franchise or you’re excited about playing a certain game, you’ll have no choice but to steer away from the Xbox Series X and towards the PS5. Morally dubious or not, it’s an effective tactic that’s had proven results. (They don’t call them console wars for nothing.)
With timed exclusivity, it’s much the same line of thought – one that is perhaps more enticing to third-party developers, who ultimately want their games to be played on as wide a range of platforms as possible. Whether it’s a genuine PS5 exclusive or just a ‘console exclusive’ (i.e. the game will still be available for PCs), the point is the same – you won’t be able to play it on Xbox Series X for potentially another year.
With gaming’s focus on community, timed exclusivity is key. A year is a long time to wait if you want to feel part of the conversation and excitement around a game’s release. By the time a game makes its way to rival platforms, that hype will have died down considerably.
Look at this year’s Final Fantasy VII Remake, for example. The game was a huge critical and commercial success when it was released on the PS4 earlier this year, selling over 3.5 million copies within the first three days. It won’t be hitting Xbox platforms until March 2021. If you’re a Final Fantasy super-fan (and there are a lot of them out there), could you really have held out that long?
What this means for the PS5
Add the PS5’s line-up of timed exclusives to its library of full exclusives, and that’s a lot of games that you won’t be able to play on the Xbox Series X during its launch window. Early console sales are key – which is why Sony is pursuing timed exclusivity so aggressively.
Speaking on the Kinda Funny Games Daily podcast recently, games journalist Imran Khan hinted that Sony was spending a lot of money to “lock-up” a host of exciting titles, ensuring that they make their debut on the PS5 – even if they end up on different platforms at a later date.
“There are things you will be shocked to find out that Sony is…locking up for timed exclusivity,” he said, teasing that some of the titles were “huge”.
Khan later followed up his comments on gaming forum ResetEra (via T3), saying: “There isn't a major third party out there Sony failed to approach asking what kind of deals they could work out. It is not like Microsoft was not willing to offer, they just didn't want to pay the asking price, because Sony approached with pretty high numbers in the first place.”
Timed console exclusives already announced for the PS5 include Gearbox’s hack-and-slash fantasy Godfall, colourful indie adventure Bugsnax, epic space odyssey Jett: The Far Shore, classic platformer reboot Oddworld: Soulstorm, and open-world RPG Project Athia – the stunning-looking new game from Final Fantasy maker Square Enix.
Many industry folk are referring to timed exclusives as the PS5’s “secret weapon” in the upcoming console war – one that could blow Xbox innovations such as the Project xCloud streaming service out of the water. On the strength of the PS5’s initial line-up, it’s hard to disagree.