Are Exclusive Games Anti-Consumer?

So, the other day, while browsing through several Reddit threads, I came across a discussion regarding console exclusives, in which the original poster asked why the whole concept of “exclusives” was perceived as being anti-consumer in practice.

The notion of exclusives within the gaming industry has been contested for some time, with some believing the practice to be inherently anti-consumer in nature and others failing to see any malicious intent in the concept.

Ultimately, all the arguments made within the thread got me thinking about the question: are exclusive games really anti-consumer, or do they encompass a fair business practice that most consumers wouldn’t necessarily have a problem within any other industry.

Days Gone PS4

Days Gone. (Credit: SIE Bend Studio)

To answer this question, it’s important to first define the term anti-consumerism as well as look at some of the arguments many pose both for and against the idea in relation to exclusive games.

What is Anti-Consumerism?

Anti-consumerism is a social ideology which emphasises resistance towards the mass consumption of consumer goods. It is strongly associated with opposing business action that may in some way harm society (for example, destroying the environment for the purposes of profit.) The term is most commonly used in criticising the growing prevalence of economic materialism within society and other key related issues.

Bear in mind that this is an oversimplified definition and there is a lot that could be said about the concept, but for the purposes of this discussion, the definition has purposely been kept brief.

Anti Consumer

Got to buy them all.

With regards to gaming, the term is used to describe several different trade practices within the industry, such as Sony’s refusal to allow cross-play features with their systems, the implementation of microtransactions (both cosmetic and game-altering) within popular titles, and, as previously stated, the creation of platform-exclusive titles.

Arguably, while it may be easy to see how some of the actions within the gaming industry can be described as anti-consumer, it is still difficult to suggest that all such actions can be considered such on any level.

Why Do Some Believe Exclusives Are Anti-Consumer?

The most popular argument with regards to exclusives being anti-consumer is the idea that it forces players to invest in a secondary system simply for the purpose of playing a handful of titles; an act which would not have been required if said games had been available for all platforms. This idea does largely fit with the idea of promoting materialism as suggested in the provided definition.

Console exclusives

Exclusive games: the reason to buy a console?

Some also argue that exclusive titles aid in segregating the gaming community by forcing people to select a piece of hardware on the basis of which exclusives they would like to play, but this seems rather debatable. This notion places a lot of emphasis on how exclusives may impact a person’s decision to invest in a particular system, which isn’t always that much. Even if there were no exclusive titles, some people would still pick PlayStation and others Xbox for a host of other reasons.

Why Do Some Believe That Exclusives Represent A Fair Business Practice?

Those who believe that exclusives are not inherently anti-consumer suggest that the practice is one seen across various industries, but only the gaming community takes issue with it. Those discussing the issue within the Reddit thread suggested the automotive industry as one of many examples to illustrate this point suggesting that one does not buy a Honda and then expect the same features seen in a Ford, thus it is unfair to expect same features when buying a gaming device.

Then, there’s also the argument that exclusives may actually be more beneficial to the industry than harmful in that the competition forces industry leaders to keep thinking forwards in order to outpace their competition, in turn, leading to better products for all. One perhaps could see this concept in the fact that we see Sony and Microsoft constantly come up with new ideas for their platforms in order to get people to invest in them. It could be argued that in these instances the consumers win.

Law and Order

Are exclusives just a unique selling point?

Finally, another popular argument suggests that many exclusive titles as we know them would perhaps not exist in their current form if the developers of those titles had not received funding from Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo. One such example mentioned within the Reddit thread was that of Cuphead – a game partially funded by Microsoft and thus exclusive to Xbox and Windows. Debatably, Cuphead may not have been the success that it is today if it had not been partially funded by Microsoft.

So, Are Exclusives Inherently Anti-Consumer In Nature?

With the previously stated definition of anti-consumerism in mind, it would be difficult to really consider the creation of platform exclusives as being wholly anti-consumer. While these titles may ask a person to invest in a specific piece of hardware, their existence does not inherently harm society in the manner described in the previous definition.

Halo Xbox One

Halo 5. (Credit: Microsoft Studios)

Rather, some believe that exclusive titles work more in swaying the decision of a potential consumer rather than asking the consumer to buy more goods for the sake of buying them. Many do believe that once a person has bought a specific console, there really is no reason to buy the other platform because, for the most part, it performs exactly the same function. The person makes this decision knowing full well that that investing in a particular system may have some drawbacks in that a competing system may introduce better games, features or policies in future.

As to whether exclusives do actually benefit the industry, this is debatable. As previously mentioned, a lot of great games have been funded through exclusive deals, but at the same time access to these games is limited, preventing a whole load of people from experiencing them, which obviously is a massive disadvantage of the practice.

Personally, I don’t really know if I believe that exclusives are anti-consumer or not. Quite simply, it is a very difficult question to answer, with both sides of the argument eliciting some very valid points. I think overall, perhaps, a more accurate way to describe exclusives is to suggest that while the existence of such products is not necessarily anti-consumer in nature, it is also not pro-consumer either.

Regardless of whether the creation of exclusive titles can be considered an anti-consumer practice, it does seem as if the practice is not going to die anytime soon.

What do you think? Are exclusive games anti-consumer? Should the practice be done away with? Please share in the comments down below.