Phil Harrison, who's watched the console games industry evolve over decades, shares his insights on console exclusives--and why Microsoft's Xbox division has so few of them.
Games industry professional Phil Harrison has enjoyed key leadership positions in both Sony (President of Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios in 2005) and Microsoft (Microsoft Game Studios in 2012) throughout the years, and is in a qualified position to weigh in on the market's paradigm shift away from platform games exclusivity. There was a time where both Xbox and PlayStation thrived on their respective first-party IPs and franchises, but higher and higher costs have softened the once-essential strategy, leading console-makers like Microsoft to focus more on cross-platform integration, monetization of live services, and third-party support over its own core franchises.
There was a time not so long ago that exclusives were guaranteed system sellers--the Halo: Combat Evolveds and Metal Gear Solids of older eras. But now the console landscape is dramatically different: third-party games from publishers like Activision, EA, and Ubisoft typically dominate, despite being used as content that fills in the spaces between major first-party releases.
Sony has still held true to the this tactical approach of exclusives, releasing strong content like Horizon: Zero Dawn and Uncharted on the platform, but Microsoft has evolved to embrace a multifacted dynamic that unifies Xbox consoles and Windows 10 powered PCs.
In a recent interview with Eurogamer, Phil Harrison was asked why Microsoft has so few first-party console exclusives. According to Harrison, Microsoft and Sony face higher costs to make specific first-party exclusives and the risk of reward isn't always high. Exclusives can be a gamble, especially unproven new IPs, and there's no guarantee it'll pay off; even when the risk is somewhat mitigated and softened with proven earners like microtransactions, the games can simply fail.
"Both Microsoft and Sony have the same challenge, which is the cost of development to compete has gone up so dramatically you really have to be launching on multiple platforms to have any chance of making money," Harrison said, highlighting the challenges, risks, and costs involved with this strategy.