In 2014, an anonymous Australian programmer made history in video games through the creation of a social experiment called Twitch Plays Pokémon. In this experiment, users would use the game streaming service Twitch to actively control the main character of 1996’s Pokémon Red by audience chat messages. This allowed hundreds and then tens of thousands of people to work with or against each other to complete the game not only on a new platform but also in an entirely new format.
Building from this idea, Montreal programmer Constantin Liétard has adopted a similar approach through screenshots of the same Pokémon Red game in his Twitter avatar. Updated every 15 seconds, users can comment under his Tweet to control the input one step at a time.
While fascinating from a technical perspective, this development is perhaps more important in that it demonstrates just how far gaming has come in terms of platform exclusivity. The original Pokémon Red was only ever officially released for the Game Boy, and yet, through clever means of emulation, it’s available today on platforms not designed in any way for gaming. Combined with other components of mainstream gaming stepping away from the exclusivity sphere, and move such as this could illustrate a trajectory towards a much more universally accessible gaming play space.
The What and Why of Exclusivity
At its roots, platform exclusivity started a natural component of different gaming systems. Originating on desktops, each of the different devices like the Commodore 64 or the Amstrad CPC had different sets of coding rules and hardware restrictions. These acted as limitations for many developers, who would target certain devices first either because of accessibility or maximum popularity concerns.
The idea of exclusives was originally designed to encourage interest in certain systems above all others. If a game was good enough, it could act as a major selling point, also known as a system-seller. The bigger hardware developers became, the more they could afford exclusive games, and the more this type of market grew.
Consoles solidified this concept as a permanent fixture, with first and second-party developers becoming many of the biggest names in the business. Nintendo was Mario and Zelda, Sega was Sonic, Xbox was Halo, and so on. While some of these former exclusives are no longer so, such as with Sonic games following Sega’s departure from the hardware market in 2001, there are still a few stoic holdouts. Some of these are likely never to come to other consoles, but this doesn’t mean strict exclusivity.
The New World
The most fundamentally component rocking the boat of former exclusivity comes from the concept of game streaming. Most famously found in Google’s Stadia, which launched in 2019, other forms of these systems have been around for much longer. Sony is the standout here in consoles, launching their PSNow system back in 2014. Microsoft and Nintendo, while slower, have also adopted game streaming access in 2019 and 2020, respectively.
What sets these systems apart is the sheer breadth of access that they imply. Primarily, they’re built on access from PC systems, but their actual avenues are far wider. Also able to connect to smartphones and tablets, the combined means of access mean that PlayStation, Xbox, and likely soon Nintendo games will all be playable from practically anywhere, without even owning a base console.
The Advantages of Compatibility
In its current state, the gaming market is worth around $90 billion, with indications that it could grow to $155 billion by 2025. Around 59% of this comes from the mobile market, which has shown some of the most rapid growth in gaming history. Looking at these numbers, it makes sense that publishers and developers would want to expand their potential customer base as much as possible.
In fact, this very idea is what helped Sega stay in business following their withdrawal from the hardware scene. By then having access to multiple platforms, they could massively increase their reach, which helped save them from bankruptcy.
For the related interactive entertainment world of online casinos, similar expansion also played a key part. While not struggling in the way Sega did, new online casinos bringing their games, bonuses, and wide selections to the mobile market proved immensely helpful. Websites such as this highlight how competitive the industry is since this move, considering how many new operators there are. This benefits the customer as it highlights how many bonuses there are on offer. Ultimately, valued at even more than the video gaming market, the worth of these new avenues has been undeniable.
Though all the console developers look to be marching towards greater multiplatform access, it’s Microsoft who has been pushing the most. This has gone so far as Microsoft announcing that they’ll offer no platform exclusives for at least a couple of years, a development which might pave the way for Sony and Nintendo.
While, it’s too early yet in the age of widening access to draw conclusions from the data, predictions based on existing market size could be just as valuable. There has never been as much to gain from more accessible gaming, with potential only growing by the year. Backed by better online connectivity, and improving device power all around, and the move away from exclusivity becomes all the more likely. We’re not saying that you’ll ever be able to play Mario on an Xbox, but at the very least, within the next few years, you could be playing it easily and legally on your computer or phone.