Content exclusivity is a necessary evil in the video game industry. On the one hand, it can cause strife and resentment in a community that ultimately shares similar values in entertainment, but on the other, it is a key drive for competition in the gaming market, which in turn spurs creativity. We could argue the negative or positive impacts console-exclusive games have on the industry and players, but one area of exclusivity with little to no benefit is timed-exclusive content, as a large percentage of Call of Duty: WWII players recently discovered first-hand.
Call of Duty: WWII just saw the commencement of its Days of Summer event, continuing the tradition that started with Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. The Days of Summer event is a relatively modest one, but the free map that dropped for the event may be the single coolest arena to ever make it into a Call of Duty game.
The map is a sandbox, not in the open-world action game sense, but rather a literal giant sandbox, in which players run around as tiny Green Army Men. Whether or not you’re a fan of the map’s tactical layout, you can’t deny the novelty of the aesthetic, made even more charming by its environmental hazard in the form of a giant Captain Butcher burning the center of the map with a magnifying glass. It is a genuinely fun addition to the game, but if you play WWII on Xbox One or PC, you don’t get to jump into this map for another month.
PlayStation has long had a deal with Activision to get post-launch Call of Duty content before other platforms, and this apparently extends to content added in free updates. The deal is for 30 days of exclusivity, and with the event having started on July 31st, only PS4 players will see the map before August 30th, despite the event ending on August 28th. The map is a permanent addition, so other players aren’t missing out in the long run, but it makes for a severely underwhelming event with the absence of its key perk.
This is a more specific and egregious example of the general problem with timed-exclusive content. As more third-party publishers stray away from platform exclusivity and force platforms to share games, console manufacturers have to do what they can to make their versions stand out. Timed-exclusivity deals have become more and more rampant as a result, and while I appreciate the necessity from a business perspective, the strategy isn’t player friendly.
When a full game is exclusive to a platform, it is often integrated deep enough that it wouldn’t work on any other platform. Even when said game would work fine elsewhere, it is still being made with the intent of building that platform’s unique brand, incentivizing gamers to gravitate to that platform. Timed-exclusive content is meant to serve a similar purpose, but the connotations are very different. Unlike a game that was built from the ground up for a particular system, timed-exclusive content is fully and intentionally compatible with all the systems for which the game itself is available. The only reason everyone is not simultaneously enjoying the content is because one publisher chose to pay extra, not enough to get the entire game exclusive on its platform, but just enough to inconvenience those who made a different choice.
The industry saw a comparable problem involving DLC during the last console generation. Publishers were frequently pulling content from completed games until shortly after launch, at which point fans would have to buy it for extra. While this problem hasn’t gone away, many publishers seem to have recently started leaning toward friendlier DLC practices. In both cases, however, we have the scenario in which content is ready and able to be added to a game, but is actively being withheld for greedy reasons.
Timed-exclusive content doesn’t build fellowship within a platform’s community, or even any healthy loyalty to that platform. It only causes division within the larger community of a particular game, which is even more poignant in a time that cross-platform play is such a major topic of conversation. Optimizing gamers’ ability to share experiences should be the goal, and yet timed-exclusive content found in games like Call of Duty, Destiny, and even the otherwise stellar-looking Red Dead Redemption 2 continues to fracture us. Gamers buy platforms because of a core group of enticing exclusive games, but deliberately limiting players’ ability to enjoy multiplatform content for arbitrary amounts of time feels less like buyer incentive and more like a mechanism for Stockholm syndrome.