The Stupidity of Exclusivity


(This is another edition of </RANT>, a weekly opinion piece column on GameFront. Check back every week for more. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not reflect those of GameFront.)

A few weeks ago, I was talking to one of my colleagues about Nintendo and the recent problems it’s been having with doubtful shareholders. The launch of the 3DS certainly caused some ill will among those with a stake in the company, and Nintendo’s recent Tokyo Game Show press conference didn’t exactly set the world on fire. My friend, a big supporter of Nintendo and the 3DS in particular, said the shareholders were unhappy because Nintendo didn’t announce the one thing he believes they wanted.

“Oh, they’re just mad because Satoru Iwata didn’t announce the full Pokemon iPhone game they want,” he said.

He said this with an air of dismissive contempt, like the shareholders were making an unreasonable demand. Thinking casually, one would agree. Sure, there’s a crappy little spin-off game coming to iOS, but a full-fledged Pokemon title on an Apple system? How ridiculous. Pokemon is for Nintendo handhelds, and Nintendo handhelds alone! However, the more I think about it, the less sense it makes for Nintendo to not do it. When you think about a corporation’s core ambition — to make as much money as possible — and when you consider just how much easy money there is to be made from a Pokemon iOS game, the demands of the shareholders seem anything but unreasonable. They’re completely sensible and justified!

Not just Nintendo, but Sony and Microsoft need to really start considering a future where not even they can hold exclusives anymore. There’s pressure from within the industry to move toward a uniform console model, to put an end to the “wars” that have seen competing systems clash. As development of new software gets expensive and publishers need to cast a wide audience net to make a profit, the concept of the third party exclusive has become increasingly rare. PC gaming has received a big boost in recent years, and the promise of streaming services like OnLive are looking more and more viable. Now is the time for the major platform holders to really start toying with new concepts, and to abandon the idea that a first-party title can only exist on proprietary hardware. It’s time to stop thinking of Uncharted as something that can only appear on a PlayStation system, to stop considering Fable a pure Xbox property. Ultimately, it’s time for that Pokemon iOS game to happen.

Because really, what’s stopping them? Where is the law that says Pokemon can only exist on a DS? Where’s the rule that says Uncharted has to be on the PS3 or PS Vita? There’s nothing stopping these things from happening, save for the stubborn refusal of the companies holding the rights. We don’t have a Pokemon iOS game because Nintendo doesn’t want to do it and I don’t think that, if pressed, Satoru Iwata could give a single good reason for not making it. No good reason exists. Pokemon on an iPhone or iPad is a great business move, one that would make huge amounts of money and keep the shareholders happy. But because these old companies are run by old men with very old ideas of how to do business, it’s never going to happen. That’s the root of the problem, and the reason why these big platform holders may become far less relevant in future — they’re being led by prehistoric people with ancient ideals. If their way of thinking doesn’t end, it could go very badly for them in future.

Both Microsoft and Sony have dabbled a little in new platforms. We’ve got the PlayStation Suite on Android, and Windows Phone 7 delivering Xbox Live content to the mobile platform. Even so, these expansions are still limited by their proprietary nature. So far, only Sony Ericsson phones as the PlayStation Suite, and Microsoft obviously owns the Windows Phone platform. They’re still acting with an exclusionary mindset, refusing to open up to potential new audiences because they’re doing things the way they’ve always done them. They’re acting out of comfortable tradition. The barriers keeping Halo or Uncharted from iOS, or even Steam, exist purely in the mind. There’s no real roadblock there. Just old fashioned attitudes stopping a great idea from happening.

GameLoft is a mobile developer that has made a ton of money from “borrowing” established game concepts and offering approximate experiences. Its library includes games “inspired” by Halo, Uncharted, Assassin’s Creed, World of Warcraft, Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty and many more, and it has been very successful with this rather clever scheme. This seems to prove that there’s a big audience of mobile gamers hungry for console experiences on their phones. If they would happily buy an Uncharted clone for six bucks, imagine how excited they’d be to play the real thing! The money is there, begging to be made, and only sly companies like GameLoft are willing to make it, while those who could provide the real experiences are happy to let another company copy their ideas and swim in the profit.

It’s incredibly ignorant and stupid, if I’m totally honest. It’s stupid for Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft to stick to their guns on this. I’m not saying that Sony would have to port the entirety of Killzone 3 to iOS/Android, but at least a bite-sized presentation of the Killzone experience. Something that brings the excitement of the bigger, more robust console experiences to mobile gamers and potentially wins a wider audience for the whole franchise. id Software and Electronic Arts have experimented recently with this idea, offering RAGE and Dead Space spin-offs on iTunes, the latter of which even features connectivity with Dead Space 2′s console content. That idea of connectivity, or providing an experience that goes beyond the console and follows me to my phone or computer, that’s something I am very excited about, and I hope more companies start to embrace it.

If they do embrace it, however, I fear the “Big Three” will be left behind, unable to join in for no other reason than their own ignorant insistence that their products be served up on their exclusive systems. In an increasingly open world, it’s ridiculous for anybody, even Nintendo itself, to be so gated.

Exclusivity is a thing of the past, and it threatens to make history of some of the industry’s biggest forces.

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24 Comments on The Stupidity of Exclusivity

Dan

On October 10, 2011 at 12:49 pm

Didn’t Microsoft publish a title on the DS in the original Xbox days? Third party publishers could be in a position to force the issue. How many more copies of Mass Effect would have moved on PS3 if EA had the right to publish the first Mass Effect on PS3? EA has the deep pockets and the market clout to encourage Microsoft to make such a deal.

Irv

On October 10, 2011 at 1:27 pm

I don’t know about that- Pokemon Black/White are at ~12mil worldwide units for a game that seems to always be sold at $34 (even the older Pokemon games are never sold used for less than $30), not to mention the cut that Nintendo gets because of the assumption that at least most copies purchased get played on a DS.

Angry Birds is >6.5 mil sales. It’s unfair, but I’ll estimate that a super popular Pokemon iOS game will hit ~10mil downloads, and at a fair guess of $5 a pop, it’s still not as profitable to Nintendo as going solo and not only getting the money from more sales at a higher price, but also from moving the hardware to play it.

Unless you’re talking about “release an iOS game on the side while still doing main exclusives” in which case I don’t think a company will do it in fear of shooting itself in the foot. I can imagine customers saying “well if I can get ~90% of the experience for $5 on the iOS, I won’t bother getting the full version”. It’s risky, and I’m sure *some* people would buy both, but it’s not a risk I would personally take considering the standard exclusivity method is still netting pools of cash-money.

Maybe eventually exclusives won’t work, but as of right now, they appear to be very profitable, and as long as that holds true, I doubt we’re going to see them go away anytime soon.

JosephPS3 Dead State

On October 10, 2011 at 1:40 pm

Exclusives=differentiation. Its that simple.

Sony and Microsoft have their own machines because they want to dominate the market and make more money. The equipment specs, features, price, and exclusive games are all factors that may sway a consumer to lean one way or another. It happened with Windows and Apple, VHS and Beta, Iphone and Smartphones, Bluray and HD DVD, etc.

Exclusives, this generation, is probably even more important than the past because they really need something to stand out. I mean both have great visuals, sound, controllers, similar pricing etc. So its just the gaming experience that can offer a different experience.

Actually I think PS3 has a big plus over Xbox-Bluray. The included bluray player alone is worth at least $150. Personally that was a big deciding factor in my purchase decision.

old

On October 10, 2011 at 2:05 pm

its pokemon so content is transferable between systems

UraharaScience

On October 10, 2011 at 2:11 pm

If I was Nintendo, I wouldnt realise Pokemon Black, but a release of Pokemon Blue/Red (GBA version). This means to play the latest games you still need a 3DS, but for older games (with a few special changes to attract old fans) Nintendo still get money.

Maybe add in voice commands. Magicarp…do nothing because you are simply rubbish, etc.

Plus you could add links in to the main game series (Passwords etc linked to your account). You want Mew, well you best have beaten the Elite Four in the latest game, but if you capture it, you get a chance at capturing Mew in the 3DS game.

David

On October 10, 2011 at 4:30 pm

Then the shareholders would get pissed because a lack of first-party or “system sellers” brought down console sales.

But I do agree that not doing at least spinoffs is leaving a large pot of money still on the table.

Crisby51

On October 11, 2011 at 2:05 am

money is the main problem out there ; the only way to have such a thing on the iphone is either to wait for the “gameloft way”, or making them understand that they definitively could win more money and make fan happy…

other than that, for people who really want to have their pokemon everywhere, they’ll have to buy an emulator; also known as the ultimate rape of a license by many fan (i know, i met some of them)

Jak

On October 11, 2011 at 8:59 pm

You aren’t seeing the whole picture. They are making more money by making these games console exclusive. The only way you can play zelda or mario or pokemon is by buying a DS or a Wii. Only way you can play halo or gears of war is by buying an xbox. These are separate companies that are competing to gather more consumers. If nothing was exclusive, then most likely only one system will be top dog, and there will be no competition. Why the hell would I buy a Wii if I can play mario on a PS3? People would just buy the hardware that would seem to be the best, and get all their games on that, and that would change the competition between the consoles greatly. It would be silly is Nintendo would sell pokemon for the iOS.
And personally, I can play pokemon on my phone anyways if you just get an emulator and put the files on the phone. Depends on the kind of phone, but its completely doable. I’ve seen it proven on my friend’s blackberry.

Peter

On October 12, 2011 at 11:45 pm

I’ve read your article by curiosity while looking for something else on GF, and I must admit it pointed in a different direction than I expected. No doubt you’ve a minimum of professionalism at writing articles but, no offense, when it comes to ponder on such a subject, I think you fall quickly into too easy territory and so-called modern but fatalism-generated conceptions.

I know I usually have a very different conception of what the ideal gaming market should be. But as you said early trough your reflection: a corporation’s core goal is money. Sure, and that’s precisely why, in my opinion, the gaming industry is getting more and more soul-less each year since the last decade. Still, could you think beyond the gates of the corporation concept, you that reproach Nintendo to be so “gated” in such an “increasingly open world”? That’s the kind of thinking that could end-up giving reason to Ebert when he says that video games will never be art. No, on the opposite, screw the limits of corporations! If video games loose their souls, we’ll once more end up with another avenue of life scatered with empty shells… -cough- Jersey Shore -cough- What about dignity? Maybe that’s why the “big 3″ don’t steal the market to Gameloft and friends.

Let’s think game before thinking corporation, will you? I do, but I’ll do you a favor, for a moment let’s say we don’t want to; let’s be capitalist. So now, remember that a corporation gotta look and think ahead. In such a context, they’re doing the right thing by keeping their rights away from other platforms, that’s all they own beyond their machines, which are the key to their survival. Releasing any game on every platform is a move that could place their very existence in jeopardy, the main reason being the placing of their whole fate solely on their proprietary system. Furthermore, you said there‚Äôs “pressure from within the industry to move toward a uniform console model”, maybe, but there already is auniform system, you named it: The PC. Even Macs are genuine PCs these days, so here is the needed universal platform. Globalisation isn’t the anwswer, it is the prelude to the end. I’d understand if we were in early 90s with dozens of platforms still alive, but we’re not, we’re heading toward New-World-Order anyway, so please let’s be free in the virtual world at least, alright?

Oh, and about the iPhone and the other “new” mobile platforms: In my opinion, this is the worst thing that happened to the video game world since a long, very long time. You talked about the arrival of some “mobile gamers hungry for console experiences on their phones”, sounds like delution or deception to me… Let’s cut this straight: WHATEVER. Yes, real gamers don’t play much (if at all) on mobile systems, amateurs do. iPhone (and the likes) are teen-centered, sadly the most lucrative market on the planet. But indeed, WHATEVER, if there is money to make, and that this money is to be used to develop great games on mature platforms, then (but ONLY then) you have my vote.

-BTW sorry for any mistakes, english is my 2nd language.

moonlightwolf

On October 13, 2011 at 5:17 am

Not to throw too massive a spanner into the workings of this article but the pokemon company (gamefreak) is not actually owned by Nintendo. They are in fact a third party company with a lot of ties to Nintendo. This is in fact the reason Nintendo gave when asked why there was going to be a pokemon iphone app despite Nintendo’s stance on non-Nintendo platforms.
I’m afraid your friend does not know his facts. A Pokemon iphone game would only push Nintendo’s stock lower.

The purpose of exclusivity is to attract people to particular platforms. publishers, such as EA or Square Enix who don’t own their own platform are interested in selling on as many mediums as possible. Both approaches have pros and cons both for gamers and publishers.

Awesome Person

On October 13, 2011 at 6:53 pm

This entire article is anti-capalistic… does the author not realize that if we had a uniform console, companies wouldnt have a big competition, and the urge to make really good games would diminish, cause even if they made ty games,people would still buy them because they are the only available games. Sure, we would all like games to be on 1 console, but buying 2 consoles isnt that hard. $500 dollars can get you a ps3 and xbox360, thats not a whole lot of money. Also Nintendo is losing money because they are using an outdated system(wii), the graphics are the same as a ps2, and the Move on ps3 is much more precise, and is actually useful for some major games like killzone.

Artist and Hero

On October 16, 2011 at 7:07 pm

Pokemon is Nintendo’s cash cow. They make it, along with the Metroid games, Legend of Zelda, and Mario (some others too) in their own studios to take full advantage of THEIR systems and THEIR hardware. Each Nintendo title ends up being among the best most memorable games for their system, working directly to the strongsuits of the system of the time. Nintendo designs their systems to maximize their ability to expand the gaming market in different direction. The Wii gave them the power they needed to reach a population that hadn’t considered gaming as even worth their while, and suddenly you more overall game sales between the big three than ever before. But your cry for loss of exclusivity means we get boxed deals every year for the rest of our lives as gamers, and developers are kept with the same trends for the rest of forever. Console developers are responsible for opening new doors for game developers to walk through. If we decided to make everything run on everything, developers would either have to work X times as hard to realease each title (X being hte number of platforms) or all platforms would have to be the exact same thing. Stop thinking about your leaky pockets as a gamer and start thinking about the Developers who would like to be able to have a life as well. This particular era is a statement in and of itself that you are ignoring. Nintendo has openened gobs of new doors on the left while Sony chased Microsoft and vice versa on the right. Now they’re figure-eighting right around to eachother. Wii started on Day one with reliable new technology that they are planning on keeping on through the next title, and simply adding more hardware resources to the mix. Quite a bit into their run, PS3 had to keep the same hardware and try to implement the same concept Nintendo was getting their success from on their own awkward console. Microsoft decided to try to unburry rotten fish by adding gobs of new technology to the old Eye Candy, and now have themselves the most limited control-system addon of the three. Microsoft provides semi-reliable high power and a fantastic but comparatively costly network system. Sony offers more reliable power and versatility without the online support Microsoft excels at, and Nintendo offered a whole new way to play and mainly focused on opening a door and wedging it open to stay. Without the competition, we’d have a crappy monopoly, bland concept recycling for flashier and louder games, and an overall depressing dead-end for gamers and developers alike. Competition is what makes gaming fun. It keeps us coming back time and time again to see what we can conquer next. The whole world works that way. You just have to stop deciding that that is an ugly reality.

Tim

On October 19, 2011 at 2:33 pm

There’s so much potential in gaming on mobile devices!
Pervasive larp at the ready! :)

Scrambles

On October 22, 2011 at 3:46 pm

Thank you everyone who has posted a comment disagreeing with this article, poking holes in his “logic”, and explaining his mistatements, due most likely to his own incompetance at researching an article on a topic he barely understands.

TMan

On October 22, 2011 at 9:14 pm

You’re missing one important fact. There isn’t one unified platform. When any company has hardware sales on the line, which are based primarily on software, it doesn’t make any sense, business or otherwise, to put your exclusives on someone else’s hardware and give them a reason to not buy your hardware which, in Nintendo’s case, will lose them money. Sega started making their software for other platforms when they no longer had their own console. But if they started making games for other platforms when the Dreamcast was in production, that would have only aided in their decline. Sorry, but your argument, in the current state of things, doesn’t work.

Dirschau

On October 23, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Leaving the author’s ignorance of the buisness side of gaming aside, there’s another major logical failure in this article.
It’s based on the assumption that “if people like this game on one console, they will love it on another! why should they have to play clones!?”.
First – an iPhone (or other smartphones) does not exactly have the processing power of an xbox or ps3. You can’t just port a game from the latter to the former. You basically have to make a NEW game. GameLoft took care of that already, and apparently well enough.
Second – people who like pokemon bought DSes. 70 million of them, in fact. So all of those people who have already bought nintendo consoles to play nintendo games would suddenly demand it on an iPhone? Because what, it’s portable, unlike a PORTABLE CONSOLE? Or has a touchscreen, unlike the DS? That’s A LITTLE naive.

The author should spend less time writing ty articles and learn the very basics of economics. Not even the fancy stuff, just the things that are usually common sense, which this article shows the author does NOT grasp.
It may help them not ruin themselves and other people financially with “brilliant” marketing schemes like the one proposed here in the future.

Miguel

On October 23, 2011 at 7:00 pm

Exclusives make total sense. Why would anybody choose your console if you don’t have anything that the competition doesn’t have?

TheTurnipKing

On October 29, 2011 at 1:56 am

The thing is, Nintendo can charge WAY more for software if it’s on their own system AND Apple doesn’t get a cut. I call that win-win.

The only time exclusives don’t make sense is when you’re a big publisher trying to establish a franchise. You need that baby on as many platforms as possible to build brand recognition.

lostatsea

On November 1, 2011 at 12:26 pm

@Miguel … exactly, people would buy the cheaper system and the other companies would go out of biz.

Also, exclusive games are what show the true power and potential of the system they are designed for.

SlimShady

On November 4, 2011 at 3:08 pm

The true power is exclusives? True true, tell it to Microsoft as they’re left with outdated Fable and some Gears of War game which is similar to nearly every shooter falling down this winter.

I mean, the exclusives of Microsoft’s console and Sony’s are like 2:10?
They gotta dig up something, doesn’t matter if a console is cheap, when it’s the exclusives selling.

I had to get all three systems. (Xbox 360 – Playstation 3 – DS)

So.. this topic was as bit.. hard to get, well written anywho.

Dalemac30

On November 8, 2011 at 4:32 am

I have read the article and I understand what exclusivity is all about. The companies making these products want you to buy their console serviced with their desirable software. If a company makes these desirable games available to all platforms it weakens their core sales.

If I have an iphone and I want to play pokemon I have to buy a DS to do it… good business sense to me, it drives core product sales!!

Slim Lady’s comments prove my point!! I would suggest that Jim Stirling, although being an advocate of the customer, obviously, really doesn’t understand capitalism and how it drives consumerism. After all we live in a capitalist society that is never going to change soon and those with the power will always do it their way so that they can maximise the money!!

Daedalus

On November 13, 2011 at 11:59 am

Great article. It would be great if there was only one console and the PC, then the devs could focus on those two things alone and stop wasting time on everything else.

Ida Sottile

On December 2, 2011 at 11:47 pm

Yep, top player and a hero to many but Legend is a little strong, Agreed!

Wet Taco

On January 16, 2012 at 11:56 pm

i complete the pokedex the day the day this game came out and i have not stop playing it.