When Sony's E3 2014 news conference kicked off in Los Angeles' Memorial Sports Arena last month, the first thing viewers saw was an epic sci-fi trailer focused on a bleak post-Earth future.
But the footage wasn't from a game made by one of Sony's own studios, which you'd normally expect a console maker's E3 presentation to showcase. Instead, the title was "Destiny," a much-hyped first-person shooter published by Activision and developed by genre veteran Bungie. Activision has budgeted $500 million to develop and market "Destiny," which would be the most ever spent to create a video game.
For seven-and-a-half minutes, Sony presented a healthy helping of "Destiny" gameplay footage. Then, Sony announced that PlayStation gamers would soon get exclusive access to the game's alpha preview build. And early access to the beta build later on. And a limited-edition white PlayStation 4 console that ships with a copy of the game.
"Destiny," due out this fall, is not actually a PlayStation exclusive. But that night, it was hard to believe otherwise.
The Sony-"Destiny" love fest didn't end there. Soon after E3, Sony announced a slew of timed-exclusive missions, maps and gear for the PlayStation consoles, and extras that aren't slated to hit Xbox consoles until the fall of 2015.
Considering that "Destiny" developer Bungie made Xbox a household name with "Halo," the fact that so much content is being kept off Microsoft's consoles may make many Xbox gamers feel positively gutted.
At the end of Sony's "Destiny" showing at E3, the tagline "Play it first, play it better" appeared on the arena's big screen. But for a game that has a huge community of Xbox fans eager to play it, "Play it first, play it better" isn't better for everyone.
Sony and Microsoft: A tale of two destinies
Before we start dissecting differences, let's get this out of the way: The bulk of what makes "Destiny" such an exciting video game will be playable regardless of whether you own a PS4, PS3, Xbox One or Xbox 360. (The title is being released for all four consoles.) All versions of the game will offer a sprawling, futuristic world, complete with story missions, multiplayer arenas and freely explorable environments.
The real problem, for the near future at least, is that PlayStation gamers will have more access to the "Destiny" experience, even though fans of both platforms are ready to pony up $60 for each copy.
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When the "Destiny" beta (which, for most, requires a preorder of the game) becomes available July 17, only PlayStation owners will be playing it. When the game returns from a two-day maintenance period on July 23, both PlayStation and Xbox players will get to play through July 27. Both parties get an early taste of one of the year's biggest games, but there's about double the available playtime for those on Sony's console.
Then, there's the actual in-game content. When "Destiny" is released on Sept. 9, PlayStation owners will have exclusive access to a co-op Strike mission located on Mars, a multiplayer arena, three extra pieces of armor, two weapons and three spaceships.
Neither Sony nor Activision have mentioned if you'll have to pay for this extra content, but either way, Xbox fans won't be able to expand their "Destiny" experience with these features until the fall of 2015.
These extra pieces of content might seem superficial, but for those who want to explore every possible inch of the game on Xbox, the year-plus gap is staggering. Between the exclusive access to the alpha, the beta, the white "Destiny" PS4 and the extra content, Sony seems hell-bent on telling gamers that there's no point of playing "Destiny" on any consoles other than its own. That's not OK.
A history of playing favorites
What Sony and Activision are doing with "Destiny" is nothing new for the games industry. Activision itself has a history of giving Xbox gamers the first crack at "Call of Duty" downloadable content, and that trend will continue with this fall's "Advanced Warfare." However, PlayStation "Call of Duty" players usually have to wait only about a month to get their hands on timed-exclusive map packs.
Given Activision's Xbox leaning over the years, is the "Destiny" content lockout its way of making things up to the PlayStation crowd? Possibly. But I don't think PlayStation gamers felt nearly as scorned by having to wait a few weeks for new maps as will the Xbox faithful who have to hold out for more than a year for much more content.
There's always the chance that Activision will throw the Xbox crowd a bone down the line and serve up some Xbox-exclusive add-ons for those feeling starved for new maps and missions. Activision had no comment when we reached out.
Halo, Bungie and fan entitlement
There's a big reason Xbox fans are taking the recent "Destiny" news like a sniper shot to the chest, and that reason is "Halo." Developed by Bungie, this first-person shooter singlehandedly made the original Xbox a must-have in 2001, and spawned worlds and characters that have become a recognizable part of gaming pop culture.
Bungie is making its first multiplatform game with "Destiny" (all the "Halo" games were Xbox exclusives, and Microsoft owned Bungie for several years), and the developer could very well have nothing to do with the game's pro-PlayStation leanings. As the publisher, Activision is the company convincing people to buy the game; Bungie is simply full of folks hard at work making it.
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Still, many of the studio's Xbox fans have been very vocal about feeling cheated, especially when Bungie dropped the news of the shorter beta period available for Xbox players. Below are a few impassioned comments added to Bungie's blog post:
On the flip side, there are plenty of fans who aren't worried about the PlayStation conundrum at all.
"Us Xbox fans had about seven [Halo] games, and [PlayStation users] had none,” commented user DaedricLord in a Bungie forum. "It's fair that they now get to see how awesome Bungie are."
User MysticJon feels that Activision and Bungie don't owe specific "Destiny" players anything special, as long as the game is great overall.
"Activision spent approximately $500 million to fund the development of Destiny,” MysticJon said in another Bungie forum thread. “Activision (and Bungie) has every right to do whatever they feel they need to do to make that money back and then some."
"Once 9/9 comes around, no one will care about any of this,” he added. “We'll be too busy playing this great game."
I'm an Xbox gamer. I can't wait to play "Destiny." While Sony's aggressive "Destiny" marketing has made me question whether I'm getting an inferior version of the game, I'm still confident that I'm in for a great experience. If Activision and Sony were just a wee bit less aggressive with their timed-exclusives, perhaps other Xbox players would feel the same way.
Hardware manufacturers' "Play it first, play it better" mantra is never going to go away. It's part of the business of games. Still, in the case of "Destiny," I hope that publishers learn not to build too big a wall between different versions of a title that just about everyone wants to play.