Exclusivity doesn’t exist, but it’s still ruining gaming

Thinking inside the hardware box is neither fun, realistic nor productive, so why do we do it?

By Edwin Evans-Thirlwell, March 16, 2010


There’s something Reggie Fils-Amis, Jack Tretton and Aaron Greenburg don’t want you to know about platform-exclusive intellectual properties: there aren’t any. Not really. The notion that a given parcel of design calls is wed to one system till death do them part, that its migration to other systems is not just impossible but literally unthinkable, even blasphemous, is… well, exactly what it sounds like: a phantasm invoked by smack-talking executives and the fanboy massive, and a thorn in the flank of those who prefer the exchange of ideas to head-butting quantity logic.

Timed exclusives exist, true, but time passes. In a capitalist economy, nothing is set in stone. Publishing arrangements certainly aren’t, as Activision is busily demonstrating in its handling of the Call of Duty franchise, and the particularities of hardware are just as temporal, as Sony has recently proven by stapling a soap bubble to the tip of Wii Motion Plus.

Contracts terminate, are contested, or are mined for loopholes. Publishers and programmers alike adapt, shift, working their way around sub-clauses, over and under technical obstacles. Profit motives override all. IPs are modified – constantly – to expand audiences and meet new market conditions. Halo abandons the Mac, becomes an FPS, gets turned into several books, changes development houses, reverts to an RTS. Sonic shares a box with Mario. Final Fantasy “dumps” Nintendo, then Sony, cuddles up to the iPod. Crysis goes console-based. Ubisoft buys Tom Clancy.

Where an IP plays hard-to-get, it will simply be imitated. Lips riffs on Singstar, Project Natal on the EyeToy camera (yes, I’m aware that the latter pair have different capabilities, but they still share a concept). It’s a testament, again, to the sanctity some assign the unreal notion of exclusivity that many such instances of “creative theft” are treated with disproportionate revulsion. Never mind that Saints Row 2 is often funnier and more inventive than Grand Theft Auto IV, or that Dante’s Inferno, for all its flaws, has a combat system as rewarding as that of God of War – these games have committed the original sin of building a little too conspicuously on the achievements of their peers, and deserve nothing less, in the eyes of the faithful, than to be burned in the streets.

Deja vu.

Deja vu.

Of course, you could explain away a lot of the above with two simple words: “only human”. “Exclusive” thinking, it might be argued, runs deeper than choosing between formats and their line-ups, taps into something natural and fundamental: a wellspring of shared antagonism that fuels everything from playground punch-ups to football riots. Perhaps there’s nothing more mind-blowing at stake here than social identification, positive and negative: we are “us” because they are “them”, they are “them” because we are “us” – whether the individuals in question be Battlefield fans or Asian immigrants. People like to take sides, even when they don’t have to. It’s just part of our binary code.

I find this line of thought depressing and frustrating in equal measure. It reduces the issue to an inevitability, a tragic flaw, and inevitabilities don’t allow much room for discussion. It’s not as if you need look far for alternative mentalities, anyway. Just glance at a few of our interviews.

10 Responses to “Exclusivity doesn’t exist, but it’s still ruining gaming”

  1. Brush says:

    Thing is, at some point the publishers will take over from console holders in terms of delivery of content….or someone like Sky…Onlive

    And we’ll have this no console future where the internet, possibly built into a TV, delivers us the media…the platform holders don’t exist because the internet is the platform.

    I can’t see it however changing ‘human nature’ as you mention, people will still argue over what’s better out of metal gear solid and splinter cell no matter what (and maxine beland himself actually has made a fair few disparaging comments re cinematics, but that’s by the by). There will still be fanboys of call of duty, or halo, or killzone, of EA, Ubi, Activision. Sure it won’t be over hardware, and that will be nice, but it’ll still be petty (you could say everything is), that’s part of the human condition….It’s surely a big positive too, videogames and PC tech exceed Moore’s law, in part due to the human element, the fact we’re emotional, passionate.

    Playstation and Xbox games would not be as good without them going at it like cats and dogs, a great gen before that…Megadrive Vs Snes….these tete a tete’s accelerate progress, Metal gear being number one makes Maxine’s team work their ass off to try and be the best, and it’s not mutual admiration that drives it, it’s ‘we want to be number 1..better than them’ ..Sony’s best teams at the moment such as Naughty dog, speak like absolute fantards, and so they should, that’s the competetive spirit coming out, and surely this is quite significant, especially in a medium where driving technology as well as creativity is so important. (again, hundreds of core systems, and tech side might vanish somewhat, or move to the software side)

    You know, I’d love to play The Last Guardian on my Xbox, I’m sure people would like to play Alan Wake on their PS3, but, do either exist in a hardware free market?… possibly…possibly not.

    Shenmue 3…probably never happen. Why would Sega spend 40mil for 2 – 4 million games sales when Mario and Sonic can be developed for less and sell 6m units?. There is no business reason Sega as a 3rd party should/would ever develop that game in an open market. The only way this can happen, is with closed, competing markets. It represents a coup for Sony or Microsoft to have this content exclusively made for their consoles. Perhaps this is a bad example as it will likely never happen, but the way ‘exclusivity’ and ‘closed walls’ affect the market is not always negative. Fumito Ueda has not sold enough units to be ‘important’ in the overall scheme of things, but factor in that he can provide a platform holder with something unique that the others don’t have, and he is important…you could argue this setup fosters creativity and looking for fresh ideas/expanding the market.

    I’m probably taking the argument too far, but 2010 is mid console spat…and how good is it turning out…the new way hinted at by Onlive might not produce this. Where it’s really negative is people being rude to each other, and drawing lines in the sand dictated by hardware not software. Admittedly though i am saying all this as a non PS3 owner, i can see their games like MGS4 and Uncharted are incredible, i just feel i have enough choice as is, and admittedly am human :o )…if microwaves were this exciting people would have arguments ove them..

    • “these tete a tete’s accelerate progress, Metal gear being number one makes Maxine’s team work their ass off to try and be the best, and it’s not mutual admiration that drives it, it’s ‘we want to be number 1..better than them’”

      True, this is the major flaw in my argument for me. But then I think there are such things as “sportsmanlike” and “unsportsmanlike” competition – it’s possible to explicitly pit yourself against another developer without treating them like the scum of the Earth. What I object to isn’t competition per se but the way people transform it into something “deeper”, drawing lines in the sand as you put it. In this I may simply be reacting against the internet’s misleadingly vocal population of blinkered idiots, of course… :p

  2. Brush says:

    Edwin, you also need a text limit! :O)

  3. Brush says:

    Also, you’re not entirely capitalist Edwin, you are people with a hobby, a passion…human, that’s why this site is about videogames not hardcore porn (which gets more clicks, and so it should).

    erm, that’s a disagreement & compliment btw (a hug and a slap), this site is becoming a regular source of interesting articles imo, 2nd to xvideos.com

    • Heh, I’m going to try this line on my landlord next time the rent’s due ;)

      Glad you’re enjoying this stuff – you’re one of our few regular posters at the mo, and I’d like to keep you on-board! That Anne Robinson porn page you requested will be live momentarily.

  4. Brush Nr 2 says:

    As an aside..

    I think the crusty old hardware walls protect consumers too..you get publishers running the show, and gaming will change from ‘ownership of’ to ‘access to’ in a flash, micropayments, subs, you name it. The hardware manufacturers limit this a bit, perhaps unwittingly, but publishers like the Onlive type concept because it basically hands the power over to them. Leo’s company, great as they are (they don’t come better than capcom) certainly don’t worry if you play Monster hunter on a microwave, but i’m sure they’d like you to pay for it via whatever system brings in the most money (subs in Japan on this one obviously), and i’m sure they wouldn’t have a problem with you not owning it at any stage. Hardware, the way it is…limits this a bit.

    Things will change, but I think we’ll find Publishers will no better at holding the keys to the city than hardware makers.

    If it ain’t broke, it doesn’t need fixing. The current system might be pretty shitty in some respects, but the arguments et al are part of being human I think. We live in a society where we ‘democratically’ elect people to ‘govern’ us, and that sort of works, despite being completely mad. Gaming’s exclusivity sort of works too.

    If that doesn’t make a lot of sense…erm…well…my argument ties together….or not….rambling…fin

    • Yeah, very good point – rather the devil you know than the devil you don’t know. Imagine if Ubisoft were free to enforce its latest DRM across the entire market?

  5. TEXT WALL ;)

    I’ve just signed back into the site after around 5-6 hours of public transport (travelling back to the family ranch for dad’s birthday). Cheers for these very lengthy thoughts, will do my best to read and reply properly soon!

  6. name says:

    that makes absolutely no sense what so ever!
    how is exclusivity ruining games?
    if we did not have exclusive games than we would never see the high quality titles like uncharted 2 or GOW3.
    the fact of the matter is developing games is a expensive job,it would cost far too much for a company to create a multiplatform game catered to each of the consoles.
    maybe theres a reason why only the industries largest companies are doing that?
    crytek, ID, there not exactly 2 dollar studios so they can afford it but most cant, nor do they want to put the effort in.

    ever wonder why games that are PC, ps3 and 360 are not that impressive, and the PC port is normally crappy?
    also PC and 360 only games the PC version is always impressive example metro 2033 or splinter cell conviction.
    its because developing for the PC than modifying the game to work on consoles would be a waste of time and a waste of money.

    If it was not for exclustivity than we would be stuck with the avatars and rouge warriors of the gaming world, instead of the GOWs.
    not saying multiplatform games cant be good or visually impressive because assassins creed 2 or many others prove otherwise, but there definitely at a disadvantage.

    i for one im extremely glad we do have exclusives, if we did not we would not be getting the good games we are, wed be getting crappy games.
    i dont know about you but i will take god of war 3 over rouge warrior any day!

  7. Brush says:

    They’re not at a disadvantage…Mod Warfare 2 brought in over a billion dollars, and it took it about a month, none of the exclusives you cite will bring that money in, and therefore next round, not have as much as Acti to reinvest making the next title better (more likely it will go on a new Yacht for Bobby, but still, you can generate more money to make better games in a more open mkt).

    But, i’d agree that the current system is working, and in some ways makes the platform holders look for unique selling points rather than purely chasing sales numbers, and that is good, Mr Ueda of ICO team, wouldn’t get the same budget if he was not making console selling games.

    I guess it’s the difference between ‘big sellers’ and ‘console sellers’, the current market works for both, which is nice.


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