A common refrain through the Xbox 360 era was that exclusives no longer really mattered. With the explosion of indies and reams of high-quality third-party games, conventional wisdom held that a large library filled with top third-party games could pack more of a punch than a handful of exclusives. But then the current generation hit, and the Xbox One was streamrolled by the PS4. Why? Well, a lot of reasons actually, but exclusives were definitely a major factor.
This generation has brought with it an absolute torrent of games, eradicating mid-tier releases and making it far more difficult for otherwise high-quality games to stand out. Paradoxically, there are fewer tentpole releases than ever, with each publisher only releasing a handful of major games per year. This has created an environment in which exclusives are able to thrive, as their marketing dollars are able to drown out other games, and they have fewer major releases from third-party publishers providing direct competition.
Hence, the new contentional wisdom is that Sony won the generation because of its exclusives. (I would argue that Microsoft lost it more than Sony won it, but I digress.) Sony seems to agree, because it appears to be doubling down on this strategy with the acquisition of Insomniac—the studio behind last year's immensely successful Spider-Man.
"Spider-Man underscores how consequential Insomniac is to gaming in the overall," Sony Interactive Entertainment chairman Shawn Layden told Hollywood Reporter in an interview following the acquisition. "They are an impact maker. They are a style-setter. There are just a clutch of studios in that independent sphere who are at an accomplishment level of something like Insomniac."
Insomniac itself is an interesting studio. It has a very long history with Sony, producing a string of hits through the PS1 and PS2 eras, including Spyro and Rachet & Clank. It also has a long association with designer Mark Cerny, one of the PlayStation's chief architects.
Nevertheless, the beginning of the decade saw Insomniac branch out on to other consoles. These efforts mostly proved to be busts. Fuse was a famously awful third-person shooter that suffered from executive meddling by EA. Sunset Overdrive was heavily promoted on Xbox One, but reportedly didn't sell especially well. After a stint with smaller games on mobile and PC, Insomniac returned to the PlayStation fold with Spider-Man, and now its future appears secure for the next decade or so.
Insomniac joins Naughty Dog, Guerrilla Games, and Sucker Punch as one of a handful of well-regarded internal studios. Sony can also boast Sony Santa Monica, creators of last year's acclaimed God of War sequel, and Sony San Diego, which is quietly very profitable thanks to the excellent MLB The Show series. These studios combined give Sony some serious ammo heading into the PS5 generation.
Microsoft, meanwhile, is still playing catch-up. It has made a slew of major acquisitions in recent months, including Double Fine, Ninja Theory, and Obsidian. Xbox's most intriguing first-party studio right now is Forza Horizon developer Playground Games, which is in the midst of an aggressive expansion as it works on a rumored Fable reboot. There's a lot of potential in these studios, but it will be some time before they bear fruit for Xbox.
Granted, there's a saying about generals always fighting the last war. Microsoft doubled down on casual gaming after the success of the Wii, and it was burned badly. Sony wants to replicate its success from this generation on PS5, but there's always a chance that services like Game Pass and cloud gaming will be the real key to the new generation. Hey, you never know.
Whatever happens, the PS5 will have some excellent games to pair with what should be another strong console. My sneaking suspicion is that great exclusives will be more important rather than less in the next generation. After all, nothing sells subscriptions quite like exclusive content—Netflix and Disney+ have proven that much.
If that winds up being the case, the Insomniac acquisition could be more than just a great purchase by Sony. It could be the sort of pickup that helps PS5 win another generation.
Major Game Releases: August 19 to August 23
Here are the major releases for the week of August 19 to August 23. Want to see the complete list? Check out our full list of video game release dates for 2019.
- Life is Strange 2 - Episode 4 [August 22, PC]: The popular series continues with its latest episode. Caty has been following has been following the sequel closely, and you can read her recaps here.
- Oninaki [August 22, PC, Switch, Xbox One]: The latest from Tokyo RPG Factory is a decent-looking action RPG. Tokyo RPG Factory's previous efforts haven't quite lived up to the legacy of classics like Chrono Trigger, but Oninaki at least looks pretty, which was more than could be said for I Am Setsuna.
This Week's News and Notes
- A bunch of Death Stranding info dropped today, the biggest revelation being that it totally has a urination mechanic. I mean... who even knows with this game. It makes good copy, but I sort of wonder if Hideo Kojima is just trolling at this point.
- Ion Fury developer Voidpoint suffered some serious embarrassment over the weekend when transphobic comments from its developers were leaked from its public Discord server. Two thoughts on this one. First, don't be transphobic. Second, only community managers should be running an official Discord. To its credit, Voidpoint quickly reacted by donating $10,000 to the LGBT non-profit The Trevor Project.
- A fun little find from localizer Tom James: an original Katamari Damacy commercial.
- I got to check out Witcher 3 on Switch recently, and it's really good! It looks about as 75 percent as good as its console counterparts, which in itself is a really impressive accomplishment. If you haven't played Witcher 3 and you only own a Switch, it seems like an easy game to recommend.
- A ton of indie release dates for Switch were revealed this morning, including Ori and the Blind Forest. You can check them all out right here.
- Google Stadia similarly had a big streaming event today and... it was kind of not good? Exclusives were basically nil, and even with the inclusion of Cyberpunk 2077, its library looks quite thin. One has to ask: who the heck is even going to buy this thing?
- World's hottest man Idris Elba will be in NBA 2K20's story mode, which will be produced by LeBron James' production company. Swoon. Look for more interviews and coverage on Wednesday.
- And finally, a bunch of Gears 5 info dropped, including a campaign trailer. As an aside, my other headline for this week's Starting Screen was, "No game needs a reboot more than Gears of War." Next generation will be a great opportunity for Xbox to hit the rest button on these two franchises.
- Axe of the Blood God: It's a busy week on Axe of the Blood God as Kat and Nadia share their respective impressions of Witcher 3 on Switch and Grandia HD, and also sneak in a little more Fire Emblem: Three Houses chatter for good measure. Then it's on to the Console RPG Quest for the Sega Genesis, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary. Phantasy Star, Shining Force, the Sega CD... Kat and Nadia celebrate an amazing RPG legacy! Subscription info here!