Why Titanfall’s exclusivity deal won’t help anyone involved very much
Titanfall is almost upon us. The hype generated by this game is going through the roof, it’s almost palpable. Since it was revealed the game has received very positive reactions from everybody, the press praised Titanfall when they had the chance to play it at gaming events and gamers from all around the world loved it when they were able to try out the beta that was available last month. One of the aspects of the game that raised a lot of questions and generated discussions online is the fact that Titanfall won’t be coming to PlayStation platforms because of an exclusivity contract signed between Microsoft and EA. Now, in the eve of the game’s launch I am going to talk about this exclusivity deal and will tell you why I think it won’t help any of the participating parts very much.
Did it help Electronic Arts?
A new generation of consoles has began not long ago and since then over 10 million new consoles, of which 6 million are PlayStation 4, have found a place in the homes of gamers everywhere. Back when the deal was made, before the next-gen consoles where released, maybe even before they were officially announced, EA couldn’t have predicted the way sales would shape up and at that time it seemed like a safe bet for them to side with Microsoft. Unfortunately for EA, Microsoft made some missteps and received a lot of bad press for it which led to a negative impact on Xbox One sales. Because of this, Microsoft is now in a position where they have to catch up to Sony, unlike previous generation when Sony was behind them in sales. Ultimately, this affected EA because now they can’t count on as many sales as they could have if the Xbox One was a more successful console. And seeing as the PlayStation 4 is currently the best selling console of this generation, it’s more salt in EA’s wound because maybe, just maybe, all those potential Titanfall buyers would have generated a bigger profit for them than what they got from Microsoft.
But why did EA accept Microsoft’s offer? I believe they accepted the offer because they weren’t confident enough in the project Respawn was working on. The reasons behind their lack of confidence could be various, maybe the lack of a singleplayer campaign or maybe because the graphics weren’t the most impressive or simply because they just needed the money. EA saw Microsoft’s offer as a helping hand, a guarantee that they will make a profit on the game and Microsoft would be the ones that took the risk and the fall if the game bombed in sales. Microsoft saw the potential in the game, props to them for this, and sealed the deal while they had the chance. Fast forward until today and it seems like Microsoft made a wise decision when backing up Titanfall. However, after EA has seen the amount of interest the game has generated they know they are sitting on a gold mine just waiting to be exploited. And the next time Microsoft will approach them they won’t be as easy to convince, if at all.
Will it help Microsoft?
No, it won’t help Microsoft, or better said it won’t help them in the way they are expecting it to. I believe Titanfall won’t be the Xbox One system seller that Microsoft crave it to be and the reason is fairly simple. It’s because the game will also be released on Xbox 360 and PC, platforms with a very big install base. Let’s look at it like this: the majority of Xbox 360 owners that like multiplayer shooters and are interested in the game’s performance already bought an Xbox One last year when the console launched alongside Call of Duty: Ghosts and Battlefield 4; the ones that aren’t so interested in the performance have settled with the Xbox 360 version of those games. And I think it will be the same situation in Titanfall’s case, Xbox 360 owners will not be pushed over the edge to get an Xbox One when they can enjoy the game on the console they already own. The same goes for PC gamers, they will most likely buy the PC version because that’s the platform they invested in and that’s where their friends will be playing. So the target Microsoft is trying to reach at is the gamers that only have a PlayStation. Sure, it will get them to sell some consoles, but I don’t see it emptying store shelves and putting them ahead in the sales race.
I consider this exclusivity deal more like a service for actual Xbox owners, to offer them a game that fills a gap, that helps them through the drought of exclusive titles until the first party studios Microsoft has start rolling out their big projects in Autumn. A true megaton and a real Xbox One seller would have been if Microsoft went all out with their offer and convinced EA the only console version of the game would be available on the Xbox One. I understand this meant a lot more money from Microsoft and this surely is the reason it didn’t go that way, because it was too risky even for them. But that would have been a perfect way for Microsoft to market the Xbox One as the only console that can run Titanfall, thanks to the power of cloud computing. Seeing that a 360 version of the game is also possible, people start to think Microsoft’s statements about the cloud are just dust in their eyes.
How does it affect Respawn Entertainment?
Respawn, even if they have talented and experienced developers, is a small new studio that hasn’t proved itself yet, but they seem to be on the right track with Titanfall. One of the reasons Vince Zampella and Jason West, the founders of Respanw Entertainment, left the Call of Duty franchise behind was because Activision weren’t giving them enough control over the games they were creating. So they decided to depart and start working on their dream project which would shape up to be the game that is known today as Titanfall. According to some insiders, the initial agreement between the parties was that Microsoft was going to receive a timed console exclusivity of the game for 1 year. This was the deal Zampella and West agreed with. Time passes, but negotiations between EA and Microsoft continue behind the scenes. When EA drops the bomb that Titanfall will be a permanent Xbox console exclusive even Zampella is taken by surprise, as it could be seen from the messages he posted at that time on Twitter. I don’t think Respawn was pleased by the decision EA made without their consent. From an artistic perspective, every developer wants as many people as possible to play and enjoy their game. Yes, I know there are first party studios that only do exclusive games, but they know that upfront and are doing it willingly. It wasn’t the situation here, Respawn was still going to develop Titanfall for PlayStation platforms at one point, but following the contract EA signed they were forced not to and this affected their creative process.
Now let’s look at it from a business standpoint. Call of Duty became the juggernaut multi-million dollar franchise that is today also because it was available on as many platforms as possible. If Respawn aspire to transform Titanfall into such a franchise they need to break the exclusivity shackles that holds it back and offer their next game the biggest exposure they can.