Editorial: Are Console Exclusives a Thing of the Past?

Wii U owners will not admit it, but Rayman is not a triple A caliber game.
Less than two million sold across three platforms!

Since the explosion of butthurt that came from the fact that Rayman Legends would be delayed to allow a simultaneous multi-platform release many people have begun to wonder if this is the fate for all third-party exclusives. This week, I will take a look at not only the current state of exclusive games, but also at what makes this generation so much different from the earlier generations.

Console exclusives during the days of the Super Nintendo and the Sega Genesis were what built up the majority of the respective consoles’ libraries. Very rarely during that time did we see games that were released on both systems. The games that did hit both systems were usually either arcade ports, sports games or movie tie-in games. The real crazy thing about some of these dual platform games was that they were not fundamentally the same. This was not simply a case of a game having superior graphics on one system, but rather some games having completely different experiences depending on which system they were played on.

During the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation days exclusives still played a major role. At the onset of this generation, Nintendo lost an important ally in Squaresoft. Squaresoft was an absolute monster when it came to developing great SNES exclusive titles, but they left Nintendo due to Nintendo’s wish to stick with a cartridge based format. Squaresoft once again was a monster when it came to developing exclusive titles, bringing the PlayStation a fair share of exclusive hits. Nintendo had their own share of exclusives however many of them were this was around the time that Nintendo consoles developed the image of having lousy third-party support.

Today, we are blessed with the ability to experience mediocrity on the PC at the same time as its console brothers!
Ten years ago, the PC version of RE would have been released months after the console version.

The release of the Xbox brought new things to the console wars. For one, it meant that there was finally a viable third company to compete against Sony and Nintendo, especially since Sega had quickly faded away. The Xbox did not have a large library of exclusive titles, and with ports to PC factored in, that number shrinks even further. Many third-party developers viewed the Xbox as a good destination for titles that they had originally been developing solely for the PlayStation 2. Around 2004, about 3 years after the release of the Xbox, publishers began to release their Xbox versions of games along with the PlayStation 2 versions.

The current line-up of consoles bears a good deal of resemblance to the last generation when it comes to console exclusives. Nintendo and Sony still have their first party support, while Microsoft thrived for some time with very few top rated exclusives. Microsoft introduced a concept with the advent of timed-exclusive DLC. Although the game itself was not an exclusive title, the fact that DLC would not be available for some time led to some gamers purchasing the title for the Xbox 360 as opposed to the PC or PlayStation 3. Today, ports to PC have become a more common occurrence. In the past, games like DmC and Resident Evil 6 would not appear anywhere near a PC, but the desire to maximize initial profits has led these games being released side-by-side their console counterparts.

Due to utterly horrible motion controls, as well as the under-powered hardware, ports to the Wii are often a shell of their other console releases. The Wii, as with all Nintendo systems, became known for its first party games, mainly because they featured our childhood heroes. On the other hand, where the PlayStation 3 has received spectacular third-party support, the Wii has very few top quality third-party exclusives, and fewer that sold well. To me the difference seems to come from the mentality of the two companies. Nintendo does not seem to care about their third-party exclusives, something they have been accused of for years. Sony, however, appears to understand how important these exclusives are. A game like Ni no Kuni did not face the same difficulties making its way to North America that Xenoblade Chronicles did.

U Mad?
Wii do not care about Rayman!

For me, the argument about console exclusives is dependent on which console is under discussion. Exclusives, whether they be first-party or third-party, do not seem to be a huge priority to Microsoft, now or in the future. Sony and Nintendo both support their exclusive games, but to different degrees. Nintendo has yet to release a statement regarding the Rayman Legends issue. Perhaps they knew that Ubisoft was leaning away from the game being exclusive because of lagging sales of the Wii U, or maybe it just did not bother them that much because it is not a first-party title. In the end, third-party console exclusives are not dead yet. Rayman Legends is hardly a triple A caliber title, no matter what Wii U owners thought a month ago. Sony, however, keeps their exclusives in-house by purchasing the studios that created their top titles. I can see this generation repeating itself with the next consoles in terms of exclusives, but what are your thoughts?

3 comments

  1. Here’s my take: consoles are in the past. Where I work, when not doing chivalrous upkeep of the jar of stolen souls that is lusipurr.com, professors have been known to ask us to come set up the “powerpoint machines.” Ha, we say, ha! Can you imagine a machine that only ran powerpoint? The world will soon be place where game developers don’t make ports. Instead, they make one game one time that the universal console will play, and when you’re not playing games on it, you will use the universal console to do everything else computers do. Hell, it’ll be your telephone and your camera and your PC and your tablet and your. Indeed, we move away from exclusivity, and the farther we go, the faster we go.

  2. I’m afraid to say that the answer will eventually be ‘yes’ (which does not, of course, preclude console exclusives from being released in future). We’re getting there, but there’s still a considerable distance left to travel.

    Part of this is because consoles themselves are a dying breed, as Joanna points out. The *massive* success of tablets, driven by the iPad (which sells far, far, far more units in a quarter than all the consoles do together in a year) means that there is a huge market for gaming there which is far more profitable than the usual avenues. Developers, being businesses, have realised this and are–each at their own pace–coming around to this reality.

    Simply put, think of it like this: the Wii U does not even have 5M total sales yet whereas the iPad sold 25M units worldwide last quarter; enough for about 10% of the US population. As a developer, you want to make a game that can go out to the largest possible audience. Which platform do you develop for? The one that many people already own and carry with them, or the one which comparitively few people own which requires them to be situated in their house near the hardware point?

    Yes, iPad games are less expensive. But, they are also less expensive to produce. And, even if a triple-A title was released, even at a lower price point, the huge number of sales should justify the expense easily. Remember, iPad is selling 25M per quarter. That’s the kind of sales that a console or portable manufacturer can only dream of.

    So PCs and Consoles are a dying breed, at least for gaming if not in general, and they are being replaced by tablet/phone devices like the iPad/iPhone and Android devices. That is the battleground of the future: not Nintendo v. Sony v. Microsoft, but iOS v. Google. And, in that field, the console exclusive war is currently being handily won by Apple. Don’t expect it to remain so.

  3. Third party exclusives are all but extinct – and those few third party exclusives that do exist, tend to only be exclusive due to their extremely limited commerciality [i.e. JRPGs on the PS3 or Wii].

    Mobile devices have indeed been eroding the market for console games. I don’t exactly think you can take the 25 million in sales of tablets and say that each one of those sales represents the same buying power as an owner of Wii U etc. That said, the sales of these devices are racking up so quickly that the market just cannot support the continued existence of three individual gaming consoles and two individual gaming handhelds [ESPECIALLY WHEN MOST OF THE SOFTWARE IS COMMON ACROSS MULTIPLE PLATFORMS].

    My suspicion is that eventually the console manufacturers will attempt to convert their infrastructure into PC digital platforms [a la Steam], but it’s anyone’s guess as to whether they will be able to make this switch in time to save their businesses.

    If the console manufacturers can fruitfully convert to content delivery, then we’ll see first party console exclusives turn into digital platform exclusives.

    * As a side note, the continued existence of a console might be a sustainable proposition if the other two manufacturers get driven out of the market… So I guess we’ll see.

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