With this Marvel’s Avengers game that I keep forgetting about but is still upcoming, they’ve apparently decided that Spider-Man is only available on the PlayStation versions of the game, and somehow this incident has everyone up in arms. I could only guess it has something to do with the massive Marvel fanbase given the size of the reaction to this. This is not the first time a character has been exclusive to a platform, and it probably won’t be the last. As well, given that there’s the apparent launcher wars on PC at this point, seeing this happen more there may be likely.
Considering the most recent Spider-Man-focused game was exclusive to PS4, and its standalone and/or expansion not-quite-sequel game will be on PS5, someone might get the idea that Sony somehow owns the rights to Spider-Man. Doing a bit of basic level research shows that the rights definitely belong to Marvel, who belongs to Disney of course, and that Sony just seems to be doing some work with contracts, but only as far as movies go specifically. Looking at the MCU films, the Spider-Man-focused ones are distributed by Sony, but the ones that have Spider-Man but aren’t all about him are going through the usual Disney channels. As long as Sony is coming out with a Spider-Man movie often enough, they get to keep doing whatever it is they’re doing. As well, Spider-Man has definitely appeared in other recent games on other platforms, including the Switch-exclusive Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, so Sony doesn’t seem to have exclusive video game rights over the character. Of course making the games would require some level of contract as well, but nothing seems to show that Sony has any exclusive rights for these characters on the level of their MLB contract. Rather, this seems like a deal struck between the companies to get people to continue to support Sony in whatever it is they do.
This is definitely not the first time this happened, even with Sony. Back in the days of the Batman Arkham trilogy, the first game allowed one to play as the Joker in a certain mode, but only on the PS3 version. Certainly Sony doesn’t have video game rights to the Joker. Even more recently, the multi-platform game Starlink had Star Fox and crew exclusive to the Switch version, including some level of integration into cutscenes and story and even having their own story missions. Granted, Star Fox is a Nintendo property and they’re notably strict about their character licensing, even to the point where their first-party games are being affected given the reports about Paper Mario: The Origami King, so it would make sense that Nintendo gets to keep their characters on their platforms, unless they decide to make phone games, which seems to be the one exception they make in modern times.
Given Spider-Man’s history with the Avengers within the various stories that have been made is generally on-and-off-again, one might wonder how much he’d even be integrated into the Avengers game, if it’s going to be something like how Star Fox was in Starlink with some cutscene and story integration mixed with a bonus storyline, which is what I’d expect so the developers aren’t dealing with two totally different main stories. Or maybe he’ll show up and just not be playable, which I’m pretty sure has happened elsewhere in other games with certain characters. The long and short of it is that having parts of games exclusive to one thing is a weird behavior that seems to be drawing out the console war at least, while for coming onto two generations, two of the companies have effectively been equal in technology, and the main thing different here is their strategy. Sony seems to have a strong focus on exclusives, while Microsoft is playing the accessibility angle, but both of their consoles look weird, will probably be expensive for a while, and have raytracing. At least Nintendo’s being much more different, for better or worse. I wonder what would happen with games if all three companies had nearly equal hardware as they did during the PS2, Xbox, and GameCube days, as games have changed since then.