PSX 2015: What Do All These “Console Debut” Games Mean?

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While I personally didn’t freak out over any individual announcement from Sony’s 2015 PlayStation Experience event over the weekend, overall it was a pretty impressive display. Most people paying attention probably already realize what’s major about it — we’re seeing the return of Japanese developers to modern console visual fidelity. The only catch is it all might not be exclusive to PlayStation anymore.

The unveiling of games like Ni-Oh and Ni No Kuni II along with other games we saw at E3 and the Tokyo Game Show like the NiER sequel or 13 Sentinels: Ageis Rim is important because it signals the return of a certain flavor to console gaming. I really do think one of the main things that hurt the PS3 early in its lifespan was a lack of Japanese games as those developers struggled to catch up to the then-new hardware. The PS2 dominated due to a snowball effect of a plurality of Japanese developers exclusively supporting it. Those third party exclusives were the PS2’s main strength, and that asset was pretty much absent from the PS3’s library. The major Japanese games that did show up were almost all also available on Xbox 360.

Now we’re seeing either returning franchises or new games in the console retail space that aren’t quite AAA and can stretch out a bit creatively from the design mold of every game trying to chase the Call of Duty audience. It may not be the same as the PS2 era, but it’s starting to remind me of it.

A key difference though is that words like “console debut” and “PlayStation console exclusive” came attached to most of the games we sat at PSX 2015. Sony and Microsoft have been slinging those words around for a while to denote games that are basically either timed exclusives or are coming out on their console and PC (which they don’t really see as a competitor). At PSX though we’re seeing this happen for the kinds of games and franchises we normally don’t imagine being available outside PlayStation.

King of Fighters XIV is a “PS4 Console Exclusive,” which just means it won’t come out on Xbox One. Yakuza 0 is a “Console Exclusive,” Ni-Oh was a “Console Exclusive” on the show floor but “Exclusively on PlayStation 4” in the press release. Ni No Kuni II is making its “Console Debut” on PS4 which means it’s just coming out on PS4 first.

Here’s the thing: Sony never explicitly locked up all those third party exclusives it got during the PS2 era. That console just had such a massive install base that many developers didn’t need to release their games anywhere else. Now, no single platform is that dominant, and development costs are higher. While Microsoft has been trying to explicitly lock up third party exclusives by partially funding some games, Sony has decided it’s not worth it to do more than ensure a game comes out on PS4 first or maybe that its PS4 version get’s the main marketing push. And that probably will be enough.

Speculating on which of the aforementioned games is most likely to end up on PC is really a matter of looking at who is publishing each one. I’d say KOFXIV is the most likely judging by how supportive SNK has been of PC and Steam in particular recently. Koei Tecmo went back and listed Ni-Oh as something closer to a true PS4 exclusive in its press release but that company has also been one of the most prolific Japanese publishers on Steam recently. Yakuza is a weird one. SEGA has been a major PC publisher for years through the western developers it owns like The Creative Assembly (Total WarAlien: Isolation), but outside of Sonic games it hasn’t been releasing its internally-developed Japanese games on PC. Valkyria Chronicles was a first (for the most part) and SEGA seems to be pleased with how it did, but Yakuza is still a very Japan-centric franchise. Each western release basically happens on a wing and a prayer. Namco has been putting just about everything it touches on Steam except fighting games, but I’d still be a bit surprised to see it port Ace Combat 7 or Ni No Kuni II (has Level-5 released anything at all on PC?). Even freaking Final Fantasy VII Remake is only making its “debut” on PS4, and Square Enix has really been cranking out PC Final Fantasy ports.

Oh, and if you’re wondering about all those Steam database leaks from over the weekend, the last time a bunch of surprise games leaked out of Steam’s database roughly 80 or 90 percent of them did come out eventually. I wouldn’t be surprised if Steam did finally get games like Final Fantasy X or Garou: Mark of the Wolves.

Another theory I have for all those PS4 games though is that some of them might end up on Nintendo’s upcoming NX platform, if that platform does indeed somehow involve a console. Some developers already have NX development kits, and Square Enix already admitted the possibility of an NX version of Dragon Quest XI. Some of the franchises we saw at PSX as well as their publishers still have fairly strong recent history with Nintendo. Maybe they’re waiting to see the NX’s initial market performance.

None of these details even matter if you already own a PS4. It just means other people who don’t might also get to enjoy your game at some point. Any Sony fan that get’s annoyed at all this probably has too much of their identity wrapped up in the brand. Even if all these games do show up on PC or wherever in the future, they’ll all still probably make most of their sales on PS4. The number of people who’d rather get these games on PC and won’t buy a PS4 just to get them has gotten big enough to suggest a worthwhile return of investment for PC ports, but not big enough to significantly offset PS4 sales.

BULLETS:

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