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Ex-PlayStation Boss Has Mixed Feelings About Console Exclusives

Photo: Robyn Beck (Getty Images)
Photo: Robyn Beck (Getty Images)

During the PS4 and PS5 era, PlayStation has established itself as a destination platform for exclusive series like Spider-Man, God of War, and The Last of Us. And now, former PlayStation boss Shawn Layden, who ran Sony’s gaming division from 2014 to 2019, has shared some ambivalent opinions on the nature of console exclusives.

In an interview with GamesBeat from March 8, Layden talked about how mobile gaming, live service games, and free-to-play titles continue to disrupt the game-making business. More specifically, the publication asked the former PlayStation CEO his thoughts on growing the games market, as companies like Microsoft look to bring its exclusives to consoles outside of Xbox.

“When your costs for a game exceed $200 million, exclusivity is your Achilles’ heel,” Layden told GamesBeat’s Dean Takahashi. “It reduces your addressable market. Particularly when you’re in the world of live service gaming or free-to-play. Another platform is just another way of opening the funnel, getting more people in. In a free-to-play world, as we know, 95% percent of those people will never spend a nickel. The business is all about conversion. You have to improve your odds by cracking the funnel open. Helldivers 2 has shown that for PlayStation, coming out on PC at the same time. Again, you get that funnel wider. You get more people in.”

The cost of AAA games has ballooned in the last decade or so. Back in 2014, Activision Blizzard spent $500 million on the first-person live-service shooter Destiny. Thanks to a recent leak, we learned Insomniac Games’ Spider-Man 2 cost $300 million to make. Those same documents, which came to light in December 2023, revealed that two other PlayStation exclusives, Guerrilla Games’s action RPG Horizon Forbidden West and Naughty Dog’s post-apocalyptic adventure The Last of Us Part 2, cost more than $200 million. The budget for the upcoming GTA 6 has been reported to be as high as $2 billion. Developers have decried these costs as “not sustainable” for the industry at large, and it appears as though as Layden agrees with the sentiment.

However, he offered a somewhat contradictory statement just a day later. Speaking to the What’s Up PlayStation podcast on March 9, Layden said that console exclusives were a necessity for companies because they were “key” to getting recognized by gamers, particularly in the mid-to-late ‘90s (and even now).

“Exclusivity will always be important, it helps focus and highlight the features of your platform,” Layden said on the podcast. “But, as your platform becomes established, and as the market recognizes where you sit in that pantheon of gaming options, I think the necessity of exclusivity becomes a little bit less.”

Kotaku has reached out to Sony and Layden for comment.

Five years after Layden’s tenure, PlayStation doesn’t seem too keen on changing its exclusivity strategy. Sure, some of the company’s first-party games, like Sony Bend Studio’s zombie-action game Days Gone or Sucker Punch Productions’ open-world samurai game Ghost of Tsushima, have made their way to PC, but none have been ported to a Nintendo or Xbox console yet. At the same time, though, Microsoft appears totally fine with bringing its exclusives to PlayStation. Times are changing.

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