Opinion – The Destiny of Timed Exclusive Content, What Does the Future Hold?

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Timed exclusive content is nothing new. Microsoft got the ball rolling last generation when it started locking down Call of Duty expansions on the Xbox 360 for 30-day periods before jumping over to the PlayStation 3. To many, it was an annoyance. To others, it was bragging rights. But for the most part, it was more or less harmless. 30 days isn’t all that long to wait. But more importantly, when you get your hands on that content, it’s still relevant. Can we say the same thing for content over a year old?

In a move that has baffled many and been a point of contention among console flag wavers the past few weeks, Destiny developer Bungie has struck a deal with publisher Activision to lock down content to the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 3 for at least one year or more before making its way to Xbox One and Xbox 360. Looking at this without console prejudice, is there really any argument that can make a move like this sensible? I know, I know. It’s just business.

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Looking back at the last generation of consoles, let’s grab our best example of additional game content that took too long to hit another machine and didn’t quite help out relations between developer and gamer. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was released to the masses with great fanfare, glowing reviews, and massive sales. Everyone was playing Skyrim. Bethesda released a string of amazing DLC that, for one reason or another, just couldn’t bring itself to launch on the PS3 console. It wasn’t exactly a preconceived timed exclusive agreement but a development hiccup within the studio, and by the time they’d ironed out the kinks, it was an over 7-month delay. Many PS3 gamers had given up by this time and sold their copy of the game or had simply moved on to the next flavour of the month.

In order to combat the fact that the shine on this DLC had long since worn off, Bethesda decided to release one piece of content a week at a 50% discount from its regular price. A noble thing to do, no doubt, but even at that cost savings, for many gamers, it was just too late. A simple search on VGChartz shows that not only did it piss PS3 gamers off, it also killed off Skyrim’s sales on that console (8.03 million global on Xbox 360 and 5.57 million on the PS3). Let’s not forget the fact that this is all single player content that you can pick up and play at any time. How irrelevant do you think that content would have been if it was multiplayer DLC?

Fast forward a couple years and here we are now with Destiny. If you’re a PS4 owner, you’re likely doing a happy dance without a care in the world while you joyously play your Destiny beta and await the release of the game in September. If you’re an Xbox One owner, you’re likely bemoaning the fact that you had to wait a few days to do even that. You try to block out the thoughts of getting screwed out of content, but it’s probably bothering you just the same. Of course, I am embellishing here, but the fact remains that Xbox One owners are getting the shaft. It also begs the question; will overall sales of Destiny suffer on Xbox One due to this disparity?

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I, like many others out there, am lucky enough to own both of these competing consoles so my views on this are purely objective. This doesn’t mean I’m going to purchase Destiny for my Xbox One, of course. Why on earth would I spend the same amount of money on a product but get less for my return? I’m no mathematician, but I know simple economics when I see them. A lot of Xbox One owners are likely asking themselves the same question as they realize they will be without a co-op mission, multiplayer map, and oodles of gear and cosmetic fluff. Not only that, if they purchase the season pass for Destiny’s expansions, they’ll be shortchanged there too for an entire year! How would gamers have felt if they had paid for the same expansion DLC in, say, Battlefield 3, but one console only received 3 out of the 4 new maps, getting access to the 4th map one year later? By then, Battlefield 4 is already out. Putting it into that sort of perspective makes it clear that it’s just an odd practice. The game is already sold and in the hands of gamers. Why continue to lobby for a console maker after the fact? Oh, I know… money.

But wait… it’s not like they won’t get it right? The simple fact is that when this year-old content is eventually released, there’s a good chance that it just won’t matter. One almost wonders why Bungie and Activision don’t come out and call it what it really is; console exclusive DLC. In a year from now, how many Xbox One owners will be actively playing Destiny? If I were to venture a guess, I’d simply say not nearly as many as during launch. Even with the enticement of finally getting this formerly exclusive content, the odds are that Xbox gamers just won’t care, so why not just call it console exclusive content and maybe even knock a few dollars off the Xbox season pass, if the content is significant enough? Otherwise, telling a large portion of your audience that they’ll get the content one year later just comes across as insulting, no matter how you word it. While details of the pricing or availability of this content is non-existent at this point in time, it’s a fair assumption to say that the point is moot anyways. Half price? Who cares!? We finally have Half-Life 3!

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It’s tough to fault the devs and publishers for the trend of timed exclusive content as we all know Microsoft and Sony aren’t afraid to whip out the cheque books to secure their audience. The issue at hand is the question of whether or not it’s a fair practice to the consumer to expect them to pay the same price for less and for such a lengthy period. Not only that, this extensive time lapse between the availability of the extra content leads us to wonder what the next inevitable step is; fully console exclusive DLC on multiplatform titles? That’s a debate for another time, but even a multi-console owner can see that it is dangerous waters to be wading in. Choosing a copy of a game based on which extra content you want more or if you’re a completionist facing the reality of possibly purchasing more than one copy is an issue that comes to mind. But what’s the worst part? When Destiny launches this September 9, it’s going to be your own hard-earned dollars spent on their product that tell these companies that these sort of practices are okay. Let’s face it; whether you’re an Xbox or PlayStation gamer, you’re not not going to buy Destiny, right?

What are your thoughts on this trend? Is Bungie just conducting business, or are they alienating an entire console base? It will be interesting to see how this all plays out in the future, but it seems like we’re on the cusp of some big changes in the industry and we have to ask whether or not they’re good ones.

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