AAA PC Exclusives make no sense in 2020 (Opinion)
[This article was drafted prior to the 2020 US Protests and the tragedies of George Floyd, David Dorn, and others. It was delayed due to temporarily pausing on Game Infinite content during our temporary supportive shift. It is a unrelated topic of discussion and does not have any context to these events.]
I have been thinking about writing a short opinion article about this topic for a while now, and with the launch of Valorant, one of 2020's biggest new multiplayer titles, I think it is the perfect time. I think the very concept of AAA PC exclusives are ridiculous. They have no reason to exist. By "exclusive", I do not mean "storefront" or the battle between Epic Games Store and Steam, that is purely business, which I understand. What I mean are AAA studios, successful studios with plenty of development resources to chose from, choosing not to port games to console. I don't believe there are any technical reasons, and the business reasons make even less sense. I guess I could fathom a game so technically difficult it only could run on high end PC's, such as some of the "next gen" coming to PS5 and Xbox Series X, but as mentioned those are even coming to next-gen consoles. The reason most games are built to run on as wide a possibility of platforms as possible is because it is good business to get your product in as many hands as possible. You see, with any product, in any industry, in order to purposely marginalize your product into some minority percentage of a potential customer base there has to be a huge financial counter balance. If you say, will purposely restrict your product to only available to 30% of potential interested customers, there should be a reason (other than pride or false scarcity) to balance it. A perfect example like I said is with third party console exclusives. If Microsoft, Nintendo, or Sony pay a third party developer handsomely for exclusivity, or helps pay for development, it counter balances the lost of revenue from potential sales on other platforms. Sometimes this practice even allows for a game to exist in the first place. This doesn't exist on PC as no one is paying AAA studios to "keep" their game on PC.
There are over 100 MILLION playstation 4's. Estimates say the Xbox One has sold close to 40 or 50 million units. The Nintendo Switch has sold over 55 million units. Imagine looking at 200 million customers and going "Nah". The hype for next-gen consoles is sky high with PS5 and Series X being exciting and top in gamer's minds. Don't even get me started on the BILLIONS of android and iOS devices on the market that are powerful enough to run many modern games.
I have said this before but "forced pc exclusivity" doesn't help third party developers. Console exclusives make sense when they are first party and owned by the console makers themselves, or if a console maker paid for the development, but even Microsoft has started to see the benefit of bringing Xbox games to Nintendo Switch. However, there is no win for PC exclusives. No one is paying them to keep their games on PC.
I said something similar back when Bethesda announced their new Quake game. It was a new AAA multiplayer shooter coming exclusive to PC. It looked cool but when it was announced that it was a PC exclusive, I was disappointed as I love shooters on Xbox best. I can see the argument somewhat, as Quake was a brand best known on PC. However, Valorant is a new IP so it has even less excuse. I pick on Valorant a bit in this article because it is the game that inspired my article, but Riot Games are not the only ones doing this questionable strategy. Amazon is getting into games (and apparently didn't learn from launching a phone on only one carrier) and is only bringing their first game to PC. Being a new entry to gaming they should have gone as wide market as possible.
Riot games is known for League of Legends, and it has taken them a decade to realize that other platforms exist with a mobile version coming this year and console versions coming in the years to come. I tried League for the first time this year, and wondered for such a popular game why this didn't already exist on other platforms. I loved Arena of Valor on the Nintendo Switch and the fact is MOBA's work perfectly fine on other platforms. MOBA's in general are genres especially ripe for Nintendo Switch and Mobile. I understand that porting to console takes time and money, but for AAA studios it is almost always worth it. Almost every major AAA studio releases their games on console for this reason. The cost of porting is far less than the benefit of being on all three platforms. The cost of maintaining a live service game across three platforms is there too, but the likes of Overwatch and Fortnite tell us that Multiplatform is financially superior.
I've had friends defend this practice by saying certain genres don't work on console, and "not sure" how they could port it. I don't think this is ever true. League and countless other MOBA's prove they can exist on console and mobile. RTS works great on mobile and can be done right on console. Fortnite proved the most popular game in the world can exist on everything. Let's be honest, Valorant is no different than Overwatch, Call of Duty, Fortnite, Apex Legends, Rainbow Six Siege, or other mega-popular shooters; it would run and work fine on console. Getting your game in as many gamers hands as possible is the literal best strategy for free to play games, because the revenue will always be a percentage of TOTAL player base.
While some game studios are moving forward, with Multiplatform and even cross play and cross progression, some studios seem stuck in the past. In 2020, no AAA studio should really release a AAA game on pc only. Some reports say that the COVID-19 Pandemic is going to cause a 7% drop in personal computers, a market that was already decreasing year over year against competition from mobile devices and consoles. It is just bad business and makes no sense. Cross-gen, cross-platform, cross-progression are the future of gaming, not games stuck on PC for no reason. Making a AAA PC exclusive in 2020 is just such a backwards way of thinking. This is just my opinion that Riot and select others are stuck in the past, an opinion I feel backed up by the math and business of most game publishers. That being said Riot is free to do what they want, I just disagree.
Riot has used an very interesting marketing tactic that is so cleverly manipulative that frankly, I am surprised EA didn't think of it. They released the game in a closed beta that the only way to access it was via Twitch views. Not only did this strategy artificially boost its Twitch views, (a common measure of success and popularity for esports/mulitplayer games) but it offered up an unprecedented false scarcity to make the game more desirable. Not only could players not have it right away, they were "forced" to watch others play it before getting access themselves. Imagine wanting to play a game and not only being told no, but being told they have to watch others play it first. It is crazy how successful it was, proving a game can be a hit before it even releases. I am sure the game will be a long term success just because of Riot's reputation and customer base; because of this ridiculously clever marketing release tactic; and because the game is FREE. I don't want anyone to think I mean to say this game will fail, I doubt that very much. My only point was that however successful the game will end up being, it could have been even more if Riot had just not been stuck in 2000 and promised a console port eventually. Valorant, free on console, with cross-play and cross progression would have been an unstoppable force in 2020.
*Update* Apparently I wasn't the only one who wanted to know about a console version of Valorant. GameSpot asked Riot about the possibility of a console port in the future. It is kind of the half answer one would expect, but I thought it was interesting. At a minimum, the positive is the fact they do say they "are prototyping it" which admittedly is slightly better industry code than "never say never", I was not surprised that they expressed the same opinion I stated earlier in the article. They, like other die-hard PC fans, have some misguided attitude about how games run on console. They directly reference a hesitation of whether or not it "could be ported". It's a just another tactical hero shooter and they feel like they have some unique special sauce. It is Overwatch, Rainbow Six, Paladins, etc... all games that run fine on console. Countless AAA studios have successfully adapted their shooters to run on consoles. This hubris attitude about games "only running on PC" is just never good business.