2023 has been a fantastic year in the world of video games. It feels like every week, there’s a major new title grabbing the attention of gamers and making its mark in a crowded field. Whether you’re looking in the AAA world or searching through indies, you’re sure to find some fantastic new titles for all different kinds of players.
With about a third of the year remaining, it might be a good idea to check in on gaming’s big three first-party publishers to get an idea of how their year is going. We’ve seen many game releases that are exclusive to one console, and it’s worth finding out who has assembled the best exclusive library out of the three. So, let’s do that: here’s a look at every first-party publisher’s exclusive lineup, and who has been the biggest winner of the three.
In many ways, Xbox has had a much stronger year in 2023 than in 2022, at least as far as exclusives are concerned. Whether in a good way or bad way, their big titles have certainly gotten gamers talking. Still, this is another strange year for Microsoft, at least as far as their major titles are concerned.
On the positive end, we got to see the surprise release of Hi-Fi Rush, a rhythm-action hybrid title from Tango Gameworks that will no doubt go down as one of the year’s finest titles. This was a massive switch-up from Tango’s typical horror titles, and it proved to be an incredibly refreshing adventure. Furthermore, 2023 has finally seen the long-anticipated release of Bethesda Game Studios’ Starfield, which despite being polarizing among some gamers, has still been a well-received title and a much-needed bounceback from Bethesda’s last major release, Fallout 76.
Still, Xbox’s year has also been plagued by the disappointing reception to Arkane Studios’ Redfall. Another wildly anticipated title announced several years ago, Redfall suffered from its commitment to an always-online infrastructure, wasting the talents of a studio known for making some of the most acclaimed single-player adventures of the last decade. This title also collapsed under the weight of technical issues, many of which the team is still working to figure out now.
There’s been a noteworthy pattern to this year’s major Xbox exclusives as well: all of them have been published by another team Microsoft owns, Bethesda. It feels like Microsoft should be thanking its lucky stars that it owns another self-autonomous publisher like Bethesda, because without them, where would Xbox be in 2023? Had they been unable to get those titles exclusively available on Xbox, we’d be looking at another disappointing year for the console.
Outside of those games (and the much smaller indie puzzle-platformer Planet of Lana), the only Microsoft-published games we’ve gotten this year have been Xbox Series X ports of Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition and Age of Empires IV. Solid titles, yes, but games that appeal to a very specific niche and probably wouldn’t push Xbox Series X|S consoles off the shelf. Furthermore, the only other major exclusive to look forward to this year is Forza Motorsport, and while Forza is a quality series, it’s another one that largely appeals to a specific niche (and doesn’t exactly change much across new entries).
True, Xbox’s biggest selling point has been Xbox Game Pass, and it’s essentially been the big reason to own an Xbox console today. But if you’re in the business of playing games you can only find on a specific console, Xbox may not be the place for you…or rather, it may not have *been* the place before Xbox purchased Bethesda. Because now, Microsoft has a fallback of sorts if it can’t get many games out in a given year.
2023 may be the first time in a while that Xbox fans haven’t had to say “Wait until next year.” One can only hope, though, that they won’t have to say it again for the foreseeable future. 2023 has been a decent year, and the future looks a bit brighter for the console, but here’s hoping Microsoft can add a bit more quantity to really help the Xbox fire on all cylinders in the future.
When it comes to PlayStation, you know what you’re gonna get. Typically, Sony will only release one or two major titles in a given year, but those titles will be so mind-blowing that it’ll be worth the waiting game. This year, though, Sony has played the waiting game even harder on its playerbase.
Quite frankly, if we exclude the multi-platform MLB The Show 23, Sony has only published two wholly new games this year, and both of them have been virtual reality titles. Horizon Call of the Mountain and Firewall Ultra are the only Sony-published exclusives that have released so far this year, both specifically on Sony’s new PlayStation VR2 headset. And sure, Sony has added VR2 support to last year’s Gran Turismo 7, but this is still an otherwise slow year for PlayStation.
The “less is more” approach also paints a grim picture for the PlayStation VR2 as well. While the VR2 is a marked improvement over Sony’s first VR venture, the publisher is simply not putting out many of its own games for this (very expensive) headset. How do they expect to sell such a premium item if they won’t give fans many games to play on it? Sure, indie developers have done a fantastic job with it, but with Sony running the show, you would hope they’d pick up the slack a bit more in that regard.
That’s also applied to its non-VR titles, as outside of the Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores DLC, Sony has left indie developers (and Square Enix) to put out attention-grabbing exclusive games. While Final Fantasy 16 was a big hit, Forspoken left a big dent… big enough to close its lead developer Luminous Productions. Meanwhile, games like Tchia and Goodbye Volcano High have filled some niche gaps, but haven’t quieted the concerns about a lack of exclusives.
The good news is that Sony is set to launch one of the biggest games of the year, Spider-Man 2, this October. A game this massive will no doubt be a huge pick-me-up for the PlayStation 5’s light year in 2023. Furthermore, titles like Stellar Blade and Helldivers II are still expected to launch at some point this year, hopefully giving Sony a little more bang to round out the PlayStation 5’s lineup.
Still, something’s got to give with a lineup this quiet. Yes, Sony has always emphasized releasing “fewer but better” titles, leading to a lineup loaded with quality even if the quantity is light. But surely, this can’t be sustainable; Sony can’t have players waiting months on end for AAA titles, and they’re gonna have to try to switch things up at some point, right? The timed-exclusive deals Sony continues to pull off will no doubt aid the lineup a bit, but hopefully, Sony’s slow 2023 output – especially compared to 2022 – will serve as a wake-up call to up the quantity a bit.
When it comes to exclusive games, Nintendo almost feels like a cheat code. Even in some of their worst times – think the Wii U era – the publisher was still able to release some very strong first-party exclusives. Since the release of the Nintendo Switch, Nintendo has been on top of the world as far as providing a steady diet of high-quality exclusive games. And as it would turn out, 2023 has been no different.
Yes, the lineup has seen a few more re-releases this year, between Metroid Prime Remastered, Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe, Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp, and Pikmin 1+2, but not even that has hurt Nintendo. It helps that these have been quality re-releases of some beloved titles that have nicely filled gaps between Nintendo’s big guns. Even smaller developers have helped fill gaps with some cute little Switch exclusives, such as Disney Illusion Island and Fae Farm.
But Nintendo has not slacked when it comes to wholly new games, either. Fire Emblem Engage, Bayonetta Origins: Cereza And The Lost Demon, and Pikmin 4 have offered gamers fun, fresh experiences featuring beloved old characters and even a bunch of new ones. Even the release of Everybody 1-2 Switch – a game I quite frankly can’t believe is real – has done nothing to slow Nintendo’s madness this year.
Of course, it helps that they’ve had perhaps the biggest ace in the hole of any game developer or publisher this year. I’d be remiss if I went without mentioning the long-awaited release of The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, another fantastic evolution of one of gaming’s finest franchises. Truly, it’s the kind of game that should no doubt earn itself a lot of Game of the Year awards at the end of the year…well, unless Baldur’s Gate 3 has anything to say about it.
The craziest part about it is that Nintendo’s not done. The publisher just looks to be adding even more to the Switch’s loaded library of exclusives over the final few months of the year. Games like Detective Pikachu Returns, Super Mario Bros. Wonder, WarioWare: Move It!, and the Super Mario RPG remake will add even more to the large and diverse library the Switch has offered since its release in 2017.
It should be noted that Nintendo has faced some (admittedly valid) criticism as of late about the aging architecture of the Nintendo Switch. A system that felt technologically outdated even at release, there have been concerns about how the hardware has held up as of late. Without question, it has led to calls for Nintendo to upgrade and release that long-rumored “Switch 2” at some point.
It seems, though, that Nintendo has found the perfect workaround to these concerns: just make good games. This is a publisher that knows how to do the most with the least, and they’ve had such success with their games that they can momentarily quiet such suspicions. I mean, sure, I want a new, more powerful Switch as much as the next writer, but if Nintendo can continue to put out quality games in the way they have, I’ll be a satisfied camper…just make sure the Switch 2 is backward-compatible.
In this writer’s eyes, it’s truly no contest. Nintendo stands head and shoulders above the rest of the competition when it comes to exclusives. As far as the number of exclusives, there’s no debate that Nintendo has dropped the most titles, even if one were to exclude all the re-releases. When it comes to quality…well, of course, that’s a matter of personal taste, but I’d argue that Nintendo’s also brought it the best when it comes to a consistent stream of quality.
When it comes to being a console publisher, it goes without saying that you’re always gonna face your share of concerns about your platform’s future. The best way to quell those concerns, though, is to offer great games to your players so that they have a reason to come back to your platform. Nintendo may be in a pretty concerning position as far as its console hardware, but with how many wonderful titles have come exclusively to the Switch, you’d be forgiven if you hadn’t even thought for a second about the Switch’s outdated architecture.
Xbox has done a better job in 2023 with its exclusives, and the future may finally look bright for the system, but the flagging reliance on Bethesda does call to mind some questions about Microsoft’s own publishing job. And while Sony will have one of the year’s biggest titles when Spider-Man 2 drops, it’s no doubt disappointing that the publisher has made fans wait almost an entire calendar year between “major” releases.
Without a doubt, each console has offered up at least one exclusive worth playing this year…and conveniently, they’ve each dropped a big dud on their platforms. But when it comes to the overall package, Nintendo continues to be the top dog in the business with exclusive games. The publisher has continued to show that flashy specs and power mean nothing if you’re not giving players anything to play on their preferred device. It’s like what Reggie Fils-Aimé once said: “If it’s not fun, why bother?”