OPINION: Console Exclusives are Good For the Gaming Industry

Saturday, November 17th, 2012

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It seems like such a bold statement, does it not? Conjuring up thoughts from the old days of the console wars of Mario Vs. Sonic; and not at an Olympic event, but going toe to toe to push the sales and technical specs of their respective console. That is where we get to the meat of my argument.

Exclusives: Nintendo Vs. Sega

Mario vs. Sonic, figureheads of an old console rivalry

Consoles are pretty diverse in terms of hardware and programming design. They always have been and will be for the foreseeable future. The 32/64-bit era, with the Nintendo-64, Sony PlayStation, and Sega Saturn, marked a period of huge differences in the systems. The PS1 and Saturn moved completely to disk technology while the N64 stayed with cartridge technology. However, just because two systems moved to CD technology does not mean they were the same. While both consoles shared certain titles, the differences were quite astounding. Games like Tomb Raider, Resident Evil, and Duke Nukem 3D had differences in textures, lighting, music, polygon count; you name it, it was probably different. And the reason why was optimization.

Exclusives: PS1 vs Saturn

Side by side comparison: PS1 on the left, Saturn on the right

Fans of any console will argue which version of a port is better until they are blue in the face. The important concept is not which version is better but understanding how exclusivity for optimization can create phenomenal titles for individual consoles. Think about it like this: Nintendo knows their hardware and programming inside and out so, naturally, their titles will showcase what their system can do or cover up technological short comings with a visually appealing mask. With that information, they can make a quality title fit for their hardware, rather than program a game that is mostly compatible for one system or another only to run into various software or hardware problems for another console. Just think about the problems with the PS3 version of the Skyrim DLC not being compatible with its hardware configuration.

During the 16 and 32 bit eras, consoles lived or died by the exclusive titles they had available, since they were the draw for the customers’ hard earned cash. Halo on the original Xbox DEFINED that system and gave it something to stand out; something the system needed with its price point. At the same time, the Xbox had competition from the Gamecube with its strong support of first party exclusives and the PS2 which had snagged up exclusive support from companies like Square Enix (the Final Fantasy series) and Team Ico (Ico and Shadow of the Colossus).


Some of the current generation exclusives

I am not saying cross-platform games are bad, but too many cause problems like sub-par programming to accommodate the lowest end console, not being able to take advantage of the more powerful consoles, or creating completely different styles for games. Take for example the PS3/Xbox 360 versions of Ghostbusters: The Video Game vs. the Wii/PS2 versions – the PS3/360 versions were realistic, the Wii and PS2 versions were very cartoon like. If many of the games are available on all consoles, rather than having a strong library of console exclusives, it becomes harder to justify buying a specific console over another. A consumer is less likely to buy a competing console without a solid list of exclusive titles to justify the cost, so buying multiple systems is often out of the questions.

I myself have had to make that call with the most recent console generation. I picked up a Wii simply for the console exclusives, as Nintendo had solid first party support. But they were lacking in a lot of the AAA titles, so I had to choose between a 360 and a PS3. While some of their titles were exclusive, most were cross platform (see: Fallout, Darksiders, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow). Since I had the Wii for my choice of exclusives, rather than basing my decision on God of War vs. Halo, it became an argument of which console was cheaper. I bought a 360. I would like a PS3, but the few exclusives it has combined with its price point made it prohibitive at the time.

In the end, the gaming industry needs competition to survive as competition breeds innovation. If we want to encourage that competition, we should do it by making at least some games that are designed to work for a individual console’s specs. Not only would we be getting the best quality games for the system they were designed for, but we would be working to build a better game industry by ensuring that each company has to make the best product they can to compete. Like the good old fashioned one-up-manship of the Sega and Nintendo rivalry of the 16 bit era proved, competition is the way forward.

About Chris Stollings

Chris is a 28 year old gamer who joined Operation Rainfall in the fall of 2012. When he’s not writing articles or working on video content for Rainfall, he spends his time creating Let’s Plays for his personal Youtube channel, and filling in the last few missing titles of his vast (in his mind) game collection, prefering RPG’s but wont turn down a title of another genre if it looks interesting.

  • Exclusives drive sales of a particular hardware. If made with the strengths of the hardware in mind, exclusives are what realize the potential of each piece of hardware. Nintendo’s exclusives are why I always get their system.

  • and are needed just to sell consoles, without exclusives there is no point on having 3 consoles on the market.

  • Still, I hope the Wii U gets in on future multiplatform titles.

    • Bob

      Blops 2, MA 3, AS 3…Batman!
      Yeah. The future looks good.

    • There’s a bigger issue though: We’ll be seeing a new Xbox and Playstation in the next year to year and a half. Essentially, the Wii U is going for the same strategy as the Wii did by using relatively underpowered hardware… and that’s scary.

    • Lightthrower

      In other words, no multiplatform titles for the Wii U in a couple years.

    • True, but we don’t know how powerful those consoles will be yet.

    • Bob

      It worked for the Wii didn’t it? It got some pretty awesome console exclusives so…

  • While exclusives drive sales, they also stir animosity between gamers. As an observer of the gaming industry, I can see why they happen from a business standpoint. but as a reader and commenter on gaming fansites, console wars are one of the most irritating things when browsing forums and article comments. 

    Exclusives are largely first party these days, because the high development cost means that the price (to the console maker) to guarantee an exclusive, is incredibly high.  For a third-party, it can be expensive in terms of lost potential sales, to limit yourself to a portion of the market. This is why most companies won’t go exclusive one way or the other, without significant backing from one of the console makers at the beginning of the development cycle – which they aren’t willing to give without gaining control of the intellectual property. This leaves third party developers with a tough choice to make.

    Japanese games, however, have been a different story (in North America). The Xbox 360 is largely unknown in Japan, and as such, almost all HD gaming occurs on the PS3. As many japanese games are somewhat niche titles here in North America, they inevitably appear on PS3.  This may all change with the Wii U, though the system is still new.

    Unlike before, when the gaming audience would be split by console choices – the average age of a gamer is higher than it was ten years ago – most of us who found ourselves choosing between the N64 and Playstation have gone through college, and have jobs – we don’t choose our consoles so much as choose when to buy our consoles, based on exclusives, its online services, and when price-drops occur. We usually end up with two, or all three systems  during the course of a generation.