There's some new Dragon Age: Inquisition DLC out today, as you may have heard. It's called "Jaws of Hakkon" and you can get it for Xbox One, PC, and... well, that's it. Did you play Dragon Age on PlayStation 4? Sorry. No DLC for you this week.
See, publishers EA and Microsoft have come to an arrangement dictating that the folks behind Dragon Age can't release their new downloadable content on PS4 just yet. As Microsoft announced during their E3 press conference last year, the Xbox gets "premiere content" for Dragon Age first, which means anyone who bought the game on PlayStation will now have to wait an unspecified amount of time to play this new DLC. It's safe to assume that Jaws of Hakkon will come to PS4 eventually, but EA won't say when. (There's no word as to whether we'll see this DLC on the PS3 and Xbox 360 at all, but at this point it's more than reasonable for publishers to ditch last-gen consoles.)
Arrangements like this have become uncomfortably common in the video game industry, where "exclusive" is as powerful a buzzword as "visceral" or "nine out of 10." Parades of suited execs take the stage at E3 and Gamescom to proclaim that their platforms will get all the Biggest Games, all the Hottest Exclusives, all the Premiere Content. Flashy gameplay montages and lofty promises are met with raucous applause from crowds of fanboys and executives with dollar signs over their pupils.
But when the hype stops sizzling, we're ultimately left with the cold realisation that "first on Xbox One" really means "we are paying to make PS4 users wait." When Sony talks about how Destiny is Best on PlayStation™, what they're really saying is that they're screwing over Xbox users by carving out chunks of DLC. It's a practice that's been going on for years now, and though these companies have found ways to brand timed exclusivity deals as a positive — "look at us, we've got the best content!" — this is all just one big battle over who gets to deprive people of more stuff.
Adding insult to injury in this particular deal is that apparently there's a clause preventing EA and BioWare from even mentioning the words "PlayStation 4," let alone indicating at all when it will be out. Says executive producer Mark Darrah:
We can not discuss when Jaws of Hakkon will be coming on other platforms
— Mark Darrah (@BioMarkDarrah) March 23, 2015
If you want to see just how frustrating this corporate silence can get, witness this email exchange I had this afternoon with a PR representative for EA:
Let's take a step back and try to imagine what Microsoft could possibly be thinking here. What's the logic behind forcing EA and BioWare to stay silent about an inevitable PlayStation release date? Do they think that PS4 owners will go out and spend $US410 on a new Xbox One and a new copy of Dragon Age because they don't know when Jaws of Hakkon is coming to PlayStation? I mean, come on. Do they think that keeping a PS4 release date secret for a few weeks or months will sway new console-buyers into choosing Xbox? As Kotaku bossman Stephen Totilo points out, "This would be like not telling people in another country when a movie is coming out in their region for fear that that would stop them from getting on an aeroplane to fly to America to see it."
This sort of timed exclusivity is a load of bullshit. Straight up. That's not to say that exclusive console games are bullshit — platform-makers like Sony and Microsoft are certainly welcome to fund and develop games for their own consoles, especially when it leads to great series like Halo and Uncharted. That sort of competition is good for fans — if Microsoft's bottomless bank account can help save Titanfall or if Sony's stewardship turns Bloodborne into a phenomenal PS4 game, that's a win all around, even if it means you have to buy both consoles. It's certainly eyebrow-raising that the next Tomb Raider game will be first on Xbox for an unspecified amount of time, but the developers at Crystal Dynamics have hinted that the game might not have happened without those sweet Microsoft bucks, so again, we can see the logic there.
But when the big guys start opening their wallets not to create but to deprive, as Sony did when it convinced Activision to keep two out of Destiny's eight strikes PlayStation-exclusive, and as Microsoft is doing with this timed Dragon Age DLC, that's when customers ultimately lose. Right now, Dragon Age: Inquisition's DLC is finished. People are playing it. And the only reason PS4 owners can't get it yet is because Microsoft paid to keep it away from them.
Think about that, next time you hear Microsoft or Sony talk about exclusives at E3. Next time you see a suited executive brag about how all of the best content is coming to their console first, remember what it actually means: someone paid money to ensure that fewer people will get to play it.