Posted on October 10, 2011, Jim Sterling 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.