Curmudgeon Gamer
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
29 November 2006
Third party exclusives: We're not dead yet!
The conventional wisdom about this generation of consoles contains two ideas that seem at odds:
  1. The Wii will unquestionably succeed, possibly taking second place to Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, primarily on the strength of its unique controller.
  2. Because all three platforms will have significant marketshare third parties will be less likely to make games exclusive to one system.
You can hear both of these ideas, albeit at different times, in this week's Next-Gen.biz podcast. It seems to me that for the Wii to succeed it must have games which are tailored for its unique controller, and not just from Nintendo. Otherwise, it's simply a GameCube Turbo. Since neither of the other two systems has an input device comparable to the Wii's controller -- Sony's SIXAXIS really isn't the same thing -- that means Nintendo will have to encourage exclusives.

In fact, Nintendo has already been doing this. Just look at the Wii launch: Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam (Activision) and Red Steel (UbiSoft) and Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz (Sega) are all third party exclusives. While Madden NFL 07 (EA) isn't an exclusive, it is reworked heavily enough to use the Wii controller that it might as well be considered one. To maintain relevance, that kind of stream of exclusives will have to continue.

It is possible that Nintendo obtaining exclusives will push Microsoft and Sony to obtain similar agreements from publishers. These will likely be of the Grand Theft Auto and Splinter Cell variety: time limited exclusivity. Remember that such time-dependent exclusives mitigate the original development cost because the port is cheap to make, and publishers may not want to spend time crafting a game that extensively utilizes the Wii's controller. So Sony and Microsoft will benefit from such exclusives, but Nintendo will end up with games designed for a PlayStation or Xbox controller (i.e. more buttons) and some trivial Wii controller gimmicks -- if it gets a port at all.

I'm not saying that third party exclusives must continue or the Wii will fail, but it is difficult for me to see how their fates aren't inextricably tied. The end result is, as Campbell said in that same podcast, that the publishers "have a lot more power" and "do what they want to do". I'm arguably a Sony fan, but even I can appreciate that their fall from power is likely to improve the marketplace for developers and consumers. It isn't clear, however, that that independence is obviously good for the Wii.

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--Matt Matthews at 21:28
Comment [ 8 ]

Comments on this post:

Sony failing would be a terrible loss for gamers. The xbox 360 is a horrible console for actual players. Why the hell am I paying for ads in my console?

By Blogger Zachary, at 30 November, 2006 03:10  

Sony failing would be a wonderful thing (for more than my extreme bias against them). Every time the unquestioned "leader" in the industry has fallen, there's been a shakeup of sorts that has only been good for the industry. The directions that Sony (and admittedly Microsoft as well) have taken are going to rot the industry from the inside out, and their fall can help stave that off. It's hard to deny that Sony is stale and out of touch this generation.

As for "paying for ads" in your game console, keep in mind that Sony has deals with the same advertising firms that Microsoft does and is on record saying that advertisements will be a big part of the PS3. Conversely, Nintendo has said no such thing and is on record saying they don't really believe in the business model.

By Anonymous Panadero, at 30 November, 2006 12:45  

I agree with Panadero.

Sony failing would most likely trigger a new entrant into the console wars. Hopefully one better equipped.

How about Sandisk? It would certainly be interesting to see what they could cook up as a console. Imagine an alliance of pacific rim fabricators with korean and chinese developers who've been trained by western developers as outsource houses, who've teethed on splinter cell, mmos, and online flash distribution.

Sony's well-deserved death would be a small price to pay for cheap massively distrubuted manufactured consoles that would get into every house on the planet.

By Blogger Jeremy, at 30 November, 2006 14:16  

Conversely, Nintendo has said no such thing and is on record saying they don't really believe in the business model.

You don't see many ads on the Disney Channel either, except for, well, the ENTIRE SHOW. Nintendo builds brands better than anyone else. 3rd party adverts would detract from that goal.

Sony's well-deserved death would be a small price to pay for cheap massively distrubuted manufactured consoles that would get into every house on the planet.

Ah, and now we see the power of the first-party, not just for games, but also in the ability to pimp the new platform. There have been some attempts to get an inexpensive, x86 piece of standardized hardware out there before. I'm not saying they parallel perfectly with Sandisk, but am saying that nobody's whispering, "If you build a [perfect] platform, good games will come."

Check back through Matt's posts of people talking about programming for the PS2 being a bear. There's lots to take into account when it comes to console success. Who has the resources to fill a Sony/MS void?

By Blogger rufbo, at 30 November, 2006 14:33  

Who has the resources to fill a Sony/MS void?

Frankly, Nintendo does. They're monstrously rich on the game industry alone. It's another question if they'll use those resources to their fullest (i.e. technology increases the likes of Sony and MS), but it's definitely within their means. Of course, outside of them, there aren't many companies who could match what the big three are doing.

You don't see many ads on the Disney Channel either, except for, well, the ENTIRE SHOW. Nintendo builds brands better than anyone else. 3rd party adverts would detract from that goal.

Nintendo is in that interesting position of being both a hardware and software manufacturer so they do have to worry about both sides of the coin, but they still need to deal with third parties as well. While it's obvious they'd never stick ads in any of their first party games, they still have/had the option to give third parties the decision on that for their own games but they've thus far decided against that too. It's not just about brand power but about the prevailing negative opinion of ads in games.

By Anonymous panadero, at 30 November, 2006 15:10  

Unfortunately, x86 hardware is price resistant (as the Xbox should have taught everyone, if not the other noted failed attempts).

The manufacturers of the components for such a device have a business model dependant on rolling out progressively more powerful main CPUs and GPU/VPUs to keep their retail prices stable. As part of that process, they retire old product lines, whose price simply will not fall beyond a certain point (with corresponding quantity availability), because once they do, they aren't manufactured anymore.

There's a reason that no one is using the x86 platform in this cycle, nor has anyone ever successfully used the x86 in console hardware (I think the Xbox was a success as a marketing tool and as a device, had lots of good games, etc, but it was an abject failure as a sustainably priced console, because production costs simply didn't fall to where they needed to).

Essentially what you would need is to either create a reference standard along the lines of DVD, or along the lines of CHRP. You either standardize what the capabilities of the system are via a software layer or by standardizing the hardware. The history of consumer electronics tells us that the best way to get cheap hardware is to standardize that software layer, and have it work across many devices which are otherwise not similar in terms of hardware, allowing for hardware innovation without significantly altering the user experience.

That's also kind of failed before (Nuon, although I'm not sure it counts).

I think that what Microsoft has shown with 360 is that the power of the first party is the power to market and to centralize design of the system. A NEXT-GEN CONSOLE FORUM or similar would be able to deal with that, but probably not quite as well.

Microsoft certainly doesn't produce units. They designed them, they sell them, they market them, and support developers. The only difference is that because they have centralized the IP so that they can reap royalties, you won't see systems with other companies' names on them.

Good, bad, I just play the games, but it would be interesting to see how an agile, well trained group of "asian tiger" firms would do. So far, the Koreans have proven that they can build a handheld, but they've utterly failed to produce mass adoption or production in anything like competitive quantities (GP32, GP2X).

To draw the comparison, Rough Draft was originally an outsource house, but they weren't content to continue doing that. You can only make so much money when you're the low bidder on someone else's project. I'm just postulating that eventually, companies like Flextronics may reach the same conclusion (although that's not a great example, since they are really about process management and outsourced manufacturing vs system design).

By Blogger Jeremy, at 30 November, 2006 15:18  

Sony failing would be a disaster for the industry and the consumer. The only company that disrespects the consumer worse than Microsoft is Nintendo. Both have abused monopoly positions in the past, and would again if they could.

Sony has built solid hardware and facilitated 3rd party development without forcing anybody to clone PC games or crank out kiddy crap. If Nintendo is ever on top again, the industry is dead. If MS ever gets to the top, consoles as we know them will cease to exist. PCs will be the only gaming there is.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 30 November, 2006 18:26  

Oh Anony, Sony doesn't abuse their monopoly position at all? Like forbidding 2D games to appear on current-gen consoles?

Microsoft is a known monopoly abuser, but Nintendo has become much humbled since the days of the NES. Could they become a ruthless monopolist again? Well of course, lots of things are possible. Of the big three, however, they are the ones least tainted by the stink of evil.

For the moment, anyway.

By Blogger JohnH, at 01 December, 2006 03:34  

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