“4ThePlayers”. It's the marketing slogan that's helped drive PS4 sales to over 75 millions units, and has been a mainstay in Sony’s core messaging from the very start – providing a powerful contrast to Microsoft’s horribly muddled Xbox One launch.
When the PS4 released in 2013, Sony quickly positioned itself as the console that would champion the needs of gamers. You could trade used games, it didn't need to be connected to the internet 24-hours a day and it was free of needless gimmicks, like an expensive motion-sensing camera.
The consensus was simple: Sony cared about gamers, while Microsoft did not.
However, underneath the PS4's phenomenal success, an ugly side of Sony began to emerge. With cross-play leading the charge to unite gamers no matter which platform they owned, Sony’s decision-making suddenly became clear: it wasn't dictated by the needs of players at all, but by what Sony believed was best.
With its Marvel’s Avengers Spider-Man exclusivity deal, Sony is at it again. The deal means Spider-Man will only appear in the PS4 version of the game, meaning that the popular web-swinging superhero won't appear on Xbox One or PC.
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Property of PlayStation
So when did Sony's ugly streak begin? Way back in July 2014, Sony refused to include EA Access on PS4, which lets gamers subscribe and save on EA's range of titles including FIFA 20 and Battlefield 5.
A Sony representative told Game Informer (opens in new tab) at the time, "We evaluated the EA Access subscription offering and decided that it does not bring the kind of value PlayStation customers have come to expect," adding, "we don’t think asking our fans to pay an additional $5 a month for this EA-specific program represents good value to the PlayStation gamer."
Funnily enough, EA Access is now available on PlayStation 4, many years after it came to Xbox One and PC. Nothing has changed with the service, other than the library growing over time, but Sony has now decided that PS4 owners are getting value for money. I guess we should be thankful?
Next up was Sony's refusal to entertain the idea of cross-play and cross-platform progression in Fortnite. Speaking at the IFA technology show in Berlin in 2018, Sony chief executive Kenichiro Yoshida said, "On cross-platform, our way of thinking is always that PlayStation is the best place to play. Fortnite, I believe, partnered with PlayStation 4 is the best experience for users, that's our belief."
After much furor and pleas from the gaming community, Fortnite now includes cross-play and cross-platform progression on PS4, allowing gamers to play with other users who are having a "lesser experience", according to Sony.
These are but two examples of Sony throwing its weight around in recent years to keep consumers tied to its platform, but its third-party exclusivity deals have been a constant offender throughout this entire generation.
We’ve already seen controversial exclusivity deals for the PS4 versions of Destiny 2 and Call of Duty that blocked content on other platforms. But Sony’s latest acquisition really pushes the boundaries of what’s acceptable. In fact, it just bulldozes straight through it.
The company announced (opens in new tab) that Spider-Man DLC will be exclusive to the PS4 version of Marvel’s Avengers, the latest blockbuster superhero adventure game to hit shelves from Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix. That means you won’t be able to play as Spidey on Xbox One or PC, as he’ll solely reside on PlayStation 4 hardware.
Now let me make it clear, I have nothing wrong with exclusive games. It’s the reason I buy Nintendo’s new hardware every generation, and it’s why the PS4 is held in such high regard. God of War, Horizon: Zero Dawn and Ratchet & Clank are some of the best games I’ve played this generation, and I still believe in the power of great exclusive games.
However, what I don’t believe in is when a platform holder pays a small ransom to hold part of a third-party game hostage. It seriously devalues the product on other platforms, to the point that most gamers would do right to spend their money elsewhere. It also begs the question: if you knew you’d only push one version of the game, why bother releasing it elsewhere?
Sticking it to Marvel fans
Pre-order bonuses and in-game items have become commonplace, but the crux of the issue here is that Spider-Man isn’t just a free costume or vanity item – he’s a fundamental part of the game and, the last time I checked, a crucial part of The Avengers. The idea that Xbox One and PC gamers get to play as The Avengers but with a huge asterisk attached is quite frankly ridiculous.
To highlight just how absurd these types of exclusivity deals are, imagine this if you will. Metallica’s new CD hits the market, but the CD only works on three pieces of unique hardware. All three pieces of hardware do the same thing: play CDs. But only one of them can play Metallica’s album as it’s meant to be heard. The other two don’t include lead singer James Hetfield’s angst-driven vocals, because of a marketing deal. It’s a ludicrous situation that only happens in the gaming industry.
What makes this type of arrangement even more frustrating is that all three versions of the game will undoubtedly be priced the same. Yet, undeniably, PC players and Xbox One owners are getting considerably less for their money.
The question remains, then: did Sony really need to lock down Spider-Man to PS4? The answer is quite clearly no. PlayStation fans have already been treated to a truly superb Spider-Man game, too, which is a platform exclusive no less. And even though Sony owns the Spider-Man license, it didn’t need to spite every other gamer and Marvel fan who chooses to game elsewhere, just in the mere hope that someone will buy a PS4 for one game.
In the end, it’s a raw deal all round. People who own a PS4 are only winners by default, but it’s another distasteful example of Sony stifling the competition by picking up the ball and leaving everyone else to kick a rusty can around. Sony’s mantra of "4ThePlayers" is beginning to wear thin.
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