I grew up playing games. On my shelves, their cases still outnumber the books I own. They range from every iteration of the PlayStation, Wii, Game Boy, and DS. Some of my favorites were inFamous, Ratchet & Clank, Shadow of the Colossus, and more recently The Last of Us and Bloodborne. These are all third-person games, but there’s another connection: they’re all PlayStation exclusives.
I never had an Xbox growing up. I never got to play Gears of War or Halo or any other exclusive they had. I played what I could and am happy I did, but I can’t help but think that I missed out. This disappointment goes both ways. It’s not solely in the fact that I couldn’t play games, but rather that people couldn’t enjoy the same things I did. They could never experience the narratives I loved.
Why? These exclusives inflamed console wars back in the day. Kids debated over what was best to buy. Business. It’s just business. If exclusives were praised and upheld by their side, it would fly off the shelves. Debates would lead to publicity, publicity to money, and money to even more money.
Who benefited? Did Sony and Microsoft benefit? Yes. Did we benefit? Did we, the collective of players around the world, benefit? Did we benefit from keeping games from each other? No. It’s a simple no. Picking consoles wasn’t just about picking what you wanted to play. It was about choosing games, games that defined others’ childhoods, and throwing them away. What’s consumer-friendly about that?
Over time, console wars have faded. Yet, exclusives still remain. It’s unfortunate, but unless consumers start protesting with their wallets, nothing will change. The same can be said for DLC, pre-order bonuses, and just about everything else. I have the late TotalBiscuit (John Bain) to thank for teaching me that. At the very least though, issues with exclusivity rarely happen with anything else. Hmm…
Oh, right. Well. Damn.
Now we face site exclusives. However, I hesitate to bring myself to blame anyone. Certainly this divides the amount of people who can watch an exclusive. Yet, to what extent? The traffic on official streaming sites pales in comparison to the numerous illegal sites. What this means then is that people who are willing and able to support the industry are able to do so. Those who will pirate anime will continue to, exclusive or not.
Studios sign exclusivity deals because they’re apprehensive about releasing a product they spent so much time and money on globally. In fact, sometimes they get the budget for production straight from the deal. If they at least get a hold of a deal, they guarantee a certain amount of money and that certainty feels great. Then, with sites willing to sign deals, studios became aware that there is a market for them outside of Japan. This has the effect of promoting anime in the west. So, there’s no problem right? Well, I’m not sure.
To me, it feels like we’re punishing people who watch anime legally. They have to pay monthly subscriptions on multiple sites just to watch a few one-offs simulcasts or a handful of series in their catalogue. How then do we reconcile this? Do we boycott anime? Do we pirate anime? If we do, isn’t that just damaging the industry globally? It’s easy to say a solution like creating a centralized platform for anime but I doubt that will ever come to pass. For the first time, I can’t think of anything. Even ideals past the one already mentioned don’t appear in my mind. It’s frustrating that I can’t offer a solution, but perhaps that’s why I started writing this. While I don’t have an answer, I want it to be found. Now, I can only hope others will recognize a problem that streaming services share; not to defame them, but so that we may come together and formulate an answer.