The recent announcement of Destiny’s first expansion, The Dark Below, has got Xbox gamers’ knickers in a twist over a new form of console warfare: platform exclusive bonus content. The Dark Below is a $20 expansion that, in terms of content, has a rather shallow clip. But on Xbox platforms its packing even less ammo due to the blatant omission of a Strike. These 30 minute missions comprise a good deal of Destiny‘s replayability, and Sony platforms get an extra one for the same exact price simply because Sony forged an alliance with Bungie and Activision during Destiny’s development. I find that absolutely repugnant. Yeah, I’m pissed because I play on Xbox and I don’t get content that I paid for, but even if I had a PlayStation I’d be pissed about this anyway. This kind of inside deal does nothing but lower the quality of games, damage the industry’s already fragile image, and cheat consumers out of their product. These deals need to stop.
Let’s get one thing straight from the start: console exclusives suck. In an ideal world we’d have one platform that plays everything, but we don’t live in that world. Sony and Microsoft have spent the last decade launching PR salvos at each other, and they’re poised to spend the next one doing the same thing. One of the only ways that Sony and Microsoft can differentiate their nearly identical products is through console exclusives. Coercing franchises to declare their undying loyalty to one platform has become standard industry practice at this point, and though none of us really like it, we’ve all grown to accept it as a necessary evil. But this exclusive bonus content in Destiny is something far more insidious.
Destiny is ostensibly a multi-platform game, but before it even came out Sony did everything they could to hijack Destiny for the PS4. As part of their “Better on PlayStation” campaign, Sony bought up a whole suite of bonus content including weapons, a Strike, and a multiplayer map to make Destiny look more appealing on their platform. The repercussions of this inside deal were only felt once the game had been out for a while and people realized how barren of content it was. Destiny desperately needs new things for its players to do in order to keep them entertained, so naturally expectations for the first expansion were high. Hence, players got pissed when they discovered that Sony was once again holding content hostage for their platform. This bonus content doesn’t make the game “Better on PlayStation” as Sony would have us believe, it just makes it worse on Xbox. By buying up exclusive content for the PS4, Sony created a propaganda campaign telling people games are better on PS4 when all they’ve actually done is sabotage games on the Xbox One.
I’m not trying to demonize Sony and evangelize Microsoft here; we all know that Microsoft has its own suite of underhanded tactics. Sony’s recent actions may be reprehensible, but what I find more distressing is this: what happens when Microsoft launches a counterattack campaign? I find the thought of publishers carving up pieces of games like territory on a map downright ugly. Eventually it will be impossible to buy a game anywhere and be guaranteed the full experience. It will be a market filled with compromised visions and unhappy consumers.
Here’s the sad truth: bonus content is a complete farce. There’s nothing “bonus” about it. All bonus content is merely a piece of the game that was captured during development so it could be ransomed as a “bonus” later on. “Give us your money or you’ll never see this content again!” In the past do you know what bonus content was called? The game! When you get bonus content, you are actually getting what the full game was meant to be from the start. When you don’t get it, you are being denied access to part of the game for no good reason. The quality of the game is being purposefully lowered for a marketing gimmick. Even worse, I think publishers grossly overestimate the sway exclusive content has over the consumer. They waste untold sums of money capturing POWs and I doubt they can empirically tie that cost to any significant boost in sales.
Bonus content has never swayed me into purchasing one platform over another, nor has it swayed anyone I’ve met. For most people, there are only two things that truly influence choice of platform: where you already play, and where your friends play. Was your last console a PS3? You’ll probably get a PS4. Are all your friends getting Xbox Ones? You’ll probably get one too. People fabricate all kinds of reasons about why they picked one faction over another, but these are the only two things that really matter, and they are all that should matter. The PS4 and Xbox One are nearly identical. Buy what you’re comfortable with and forget about bonus content. Forget about underhanded industry tactics. Forget about the console war. With luck, maybe one day the industry will too.