After some leaks that seemed too big to be true, it was confirmed today that Spider-Man is coming to Marvel’s Avengers as a PlayStation exclusive character. He’s being added free in 2021 via an in-game event with “unique challenges” for the hero to face, bringing his web-slinging movement and fighting style to PlayStation players’ rosters of superheroes. But while the addition of the character is exciting for PlayStation fans who want one more piece of ammo in the never ending and ultimately silly console war, it ultimately doesn’t serve the character well. Instead of joining the Avengers in a meaningful role, Spidey gets demoted to guest character; just one more hammer to throw at the waves of bad guys instead of a meaningful addition to the ongoing living narrative Crystal Dynamics is building in Marvel’s Avengers.
From a business perspective, it makes sense. After all, Spider-Man (and the property’s ridiculously complex deal between Sony and Marvel) has been something of a feather in Sony’s cap. Marvel’s Spider-Man as a PlayStation 4 exclusive. Marvel’s Spider-Man Miles Morales is perhaps the most anticipated PS5 launch title. The character is more or less synonymous with PlayStation now. As one of the most popular and recognizable heroes, bringing him to Marvel’s Avengers makes a lot of sense, and it’s an enormous win for Sony, who has already seen an increase in preorders for the PlayStation version of the game since this announcement. With free upgrades to the PS5 version of the game and Spider-Man not coming until next year, that’s a pretty damn effective way to continue to drive interest in the next-gen PlayStation platform.
But this makes Spidey little more than a marketing bargaining chip. Crystal Dynamics promises that more heroes, missions, and story will be added to Marvel’s Avengers over time. The narrative will continue to evolve post-launch, including the addition of the first free post-launch hero, Hawkeye, who will join the game with an in-game event, his own story missions, and become another critical piece of the narrative moving forward. But being exclusive to PlayStation, Spider-Man can’t be a part of that living world narrative and evolving journey except as an awkward seventh wheel, a character who is simply there to web up bad guys but not be a part of the story.
To that end, team composition is supposed to be part and parcel to Marvel’s Avengers, so how well will Spider-Man really “fit?” Will he simply feel like a tacked-on bonus consolation prize for having picked up the game on PlayStation? Will he be integrated with the other characters and in the world effectively? How much work does Crystal Dynamics need to do to make two versions of the game—one with Spidey and one without? Sure, I’m as excited as anyone to play as Spider-Man, but I lament what could have been had the character been allowed to be on all platforms as a core part of the Avengers, not some guest character made to sell consoles.
The Difference Between Exclusive Games and Exclusive DLC
“But what about Marvel’s Spider-Man? That’s PlayStation exclusive!” Why, I’m glad you asked, figurative reader who I just made up for the sake of being able to address this argument. There’s a big difference between an entire game being a console exclusive and a character or piece of content from a third-party game. One is still a complete and full experience, while the other is chopped into bits to be sold for feed at the market. Marvel’s Spider-Man was not creatively limited by being a PlayStation exclusive. The scope of Spider-Man in Marvel’s Avengers is.
In totality, I don’t think console exclusives are bad. Exclusives sell platforms. Exclusives drive competition. Exclusives make everyone better in the long run. It’s why I’m saddened by but understand Microsoft’s acquisition of studios that I love. You’ll be missed on PlayStation, Double Fine, but I’m hyped for what that Microsoft ownership will allow that studio to do creatively. But exclusive add-on content always falls into two camps. It either makes other platforms feel like they are missing content, or—and more often—the exclusive content is ultimately unimportant fluff with no depth, created purely to exist as a marketing bullet point. Either way, it either compromises on Crystal Dynamics’ creative vision or does a disservice to Spider-Man.
I’ve heard some speculation that Spider-Man could be a timed exclusive, which would allow PlayStation players to play as the web-slinger ahead of his broader debut at a later date, but if that turns out to be true, my criticism is on the messaging surrounding the announcement and intentionally obfuscating that fact (again, assuming it’s true). Imagine if the announcement was “Spider-Man is coming to Marvel’s Avengers to play a critical role in a new story evolution next year, but PlayStation players will be able to get their hands on the web-slinging hero first!” Now his exclusivity essentially becomes a trial period for PlayStation players to try Spidey out, with the promise of engaging story content to come.
Celebrating Spider-Man being exclusive to PlayStation versions of Marvel’s Avengers is celebrating a mediocre implementation of a character who deserves better. I have faith that Crystal Dynamics isn’t about to phone it in, but I do believe the developer’s hands are tied in terms of how much they can actually do with the character given this exclusivity. He’ll be little more than a wisecracking webslinger, throwing out one-liners and beating up the bad guys while the rest of the cast takes center stage in Marvel’s Avengers’ evolving story.
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