Saturday, 1 October 2011

Alliances.

The console wars, to me, have always been about the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3. The Nintendo Wii cornered off it's own market on day one and never really felt the need to compete with the other two giants. In my opinion the consoles themselves are just another piece on the board. I strongly believe that it's exclusives that sell consoles, and without talented developers you have no exclusives, studios like Naughty Dog or Turn 10. Sony seem to be all about hanging on to these studios, as can be seen by their acquisition of Sucker Punch in August, less than two months after the very successful launch of the PS3 exclusive inFamous 2. A quick Wikipedia search will show the Sony has numerous successful studios in it's pocket, and is still hiring. Microsoft on the other hand seem to prefer to keep their developers at arm's length, choosing rather to pay developers for console exclusivity rather than buying out studios themselves. I honestly don't know which method is better, I'm sure both have their pros and cons. But exclusive studios are not really what I'm here to talk about today, rather publishers.



Over the last while I've noticed certain publishers giving better treatment to one console over the other. Of course when I say "giving better treatment" I mean "selling better treatment". It's been clear for years that Microsoft is prepared to pay top dollar to stay in bed with Activision. At E3 2010 they made the rather terrifying announcement that they had entered into a three year agreement with Activision which meant they'd get timed exclusivity of any downloadable content for Call of Duty until the end of 2012 (note: "timed exclusivity" means that it releases on one console before it releases on another). That might not sound so special to you but a few weeks is a long long time in the world of video games and that time does not come cheap. It's also worth taking note that when Bungie (developer of giant Xbox series Halo) flew the nest from Microsoft they landed snugly in the warm embrace of Activision, a company not known for it's hospitality. And lest we forget Bobby Kotick (CEO of Activision and the Darth Sidious of the video game universe) threatening to stop supporting Sony consoles back in 2009. Of course it didn't happen, nobody thought it would, but it was still a noisy move and raised quite a few eyebrows. That exclusivity deal on Call of Duty ends in December of next year, I'll be very interested to see what happens next. 
EA and Sony seem to be going down a slightly different road with each other, a road full of extra games included in the package. Like, full games. Medal of Honor (Yank spelling of "Honour") had a voucher for the PS2 classic Medal of Honour: Frontline included as standard when it released in Europe last year. Not a big deal in the nickels and cents of things but it certainly pleased some of my gamer friends. This move was outdone by another big EA release less than three months later when Dead Space 2 had a port of the previously Wii exclusive Dead Space: Extraction on the disk! This got my attention because Extraction was the only attractive game in the Wii library to me. This union was further solidified at E3 2011 when Sony and EA announced a spate of new PS3 exclusive deals, the largest of which the inclusion of Battlefield 1943 in Battlefield 3. To put that in perspective, Battlefield 3 is arguably the biggest game of this year, whether you want to measure that in preorders, forecast sales or even budget, it's huge. And 1943? That only holds the distinction of being the fastest selling downloadable game of all time. 

So what does all this mean? It's kinda hard to tell. One might predict that this will escalate until full alliances are formed. I myself don't see this happening, it just doesn't seem cost effective to me in the long run, for anyone. I definitely see this as being the beginning of something, something that might turn into a really big deal when the next generation of consoles roll out. This also might be a fatal mistake on the part of one of the publishers, as the console war between Playstation and Xbox might come to a head in the next three or four years and I know neither Activision or EA want to be on a sinking ship. Maybe this is the natural progression of things. Or maybe, just maybe, this is what will bring an end to this console war. 

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