Alright, let's talk Xbox. Specifically, let's talk the state of Xbox exclusives, and the first party lineup (whatever there is) on Xbox. Recent developments- Tomb Raider being announced as an Xbox exclusive, then as a timed exclusive, and the resultant outcry over all of that- make this an especially relevant tome to do so.
Before I proceed, I do want to give due credit to @darkspineslayer- it was in a conversation with him that this occurred to me, mostly because he pointed it out flat out.
Specifically, I am talking about the lack of Microsoft's first party lineup, and its larger implications. Microsoft has now been in the console industry for fourteen years. That is a long ass time, and amazingly, they have managed to not only not build a slate of first party franchises in this period, but also destroy most of what looked like very promising first party games that would have helped the Xbox brand in the long run, and secured its identity.
See, here's the thing- so far I've been defending Microsoft's first party. 'It takes time,' I've been saying. But my problem (as well as the problem of many Xbox fans, fanboys, defenders, and apologists, I assume) is that I have been in the mindset of Microsoft being a late entrant, a newcomer to the market- they're not, not anymore. It's 2014, they entered in 2000, they don't have any excuses.
Let's see where Nintendo stood fourteen years after their initial entry into the market in terms of first party franchises. By 1999, here is the list of first (and second) party Nintendo franchises:
- Mario, and all its various spin offs
- The Legend of Zelda
- Star Fox
- Super Smash Bros.
- Donkey Kong
- Wave Race
- Banjo Kazooie
- Killer Instinct
Just a heads up, this list is already severely truncated- not only have I consolidated all the Mario brands that technically count as separate (such as Mario Kart), but I am also not considering any one shot games (such as Sin and Punishment), any inactive franchises at this point in time (such as Kid Icarus), and any franchises not localized to the west (such as Fire Emblem). It's still a kickass list, and it still thoroughly shames Microsoft's present lineup.
Okay, I hear you say. Fine. But Nintendo is a special case, it lives and dies on the strength of its first party. It's not fair to compare the two here. I hear you. Fair enough. Let's compare Microsoft with Sony and PlayStation, they're the immediate competition anyway, right?
After 14 years, in 2008, this was the list of PlayStation exclusive first (and second) party franchises:
- Gran Turismo
- Jak and Daxter
- Ratchet and Clank
- Sly Cooper
- God of War
- Twisted Metal
- Syphon Filter
- Wild Arms
- Dark Cloud
Once again, a hell of a list. That's super impressive, and again, I haven't counted any one-shot games (so stuff like Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, Rogue Galaxy, all of that? It's out), or any inactive franchises. These are all franchises that were alive and well in 2008.
Right, let's look at Xbox's list now, in 2014, fourteen years later, shall we?
- Gears of War
- Killer Instinct
- Zoo Tycoon
- Viva Pinata
- Kinect Sports
And... that's it (and that's being generous and counting Zoo Tycoon and Viva Pinata). Fourteen years later, this is what Microsoft has to show for its first party.
It doesn't even have to be this bad- not only are they sitting on a trove of unused franchises (Perfect Dark, Kameo, Banjo Kazooie, Midtown Madness, Project Gotham Racing, Blinx, Conker), but they are the richest company in the world. They have far more money than either Sony or Nintendo- they could easily invest in new franchises and studios, set up new IP with enormous backing behind them, and generally, have a much better lineup of games than they do now.
Instead, they seem to be content to just buy their way into the industry. Now, don't get me wrong, for a newcomer breaking into the market, sure, buying up established studios and franchises? Good idea. Even Sony did it back in the day with Pygnosis and Wipeout, for example. So sure, for the first five or so years, buying Bungie, buying Lionhead, securing third party exclusivity was a great idea. But at the same time, it was equally important for Microsoft to shore up its own first party studios. In this period, not only did Microsoft fail to expand their portfolio, but amazingly enough, they contracted it, killing and dropping so many studios and franchises that would have been so good for them.
Instead, they began to pay third parties to make games exclusive for their system. Not only is this an unsustainable strategy, it is also worse in the long term- the game has no guarantee of staying exclusive. The sequels certainly won't be. You gain a short term immediate advantage, but in the long run, you have no guaranteed hits. Instead of paying for Mass Effect, Ninja Gaiden, Ryse, Dead Rising, or Tomb Raider, Microsoft should have been investing in studios, or putting existing ones to work. Instead of expending $500 million on that NFL advertising deal, and another million on advertising the Kinect, they should have used that money to make games. Seruously, that's $1 billion.You could get 20 games on the scale of Grand Theft Auto V made with that money, and they'd all belong to you, forever, and customers would know you are serious.
And that's the other thing- Microsoft never committed to the gaming industry. No, they put the systems out there, and their strategy is to throw money at it until it works. That's not how it works, and if you want proof, I point out to you that Xbox is the only one of the three current console lines that has never turned a profit. If Microsoft were to invest in their own games, if they were to show customers that they are serious, if I knew I could always expect quality content on an Xbox console that I knew for sure wouldn't be available anywhere else (instead of being available on everything else a few months- a few years later), then sure, I'd buy the Xbox on faith! Just like I buy PlayStation or Nintendo on faith!
Finally, I want to make one thing clear- there is nothing wrong per se with paying for third party exclusivity. Everyone does it. Sony did it (most notoriously with GTA back in the day), Nintendo does it (presumably with Monster Hunter), and yes, Microsoft can do it too. the difference is, Sony and Nintendo use third party exclusives to supplement their own games, not to replace them.
Sorry, it's a long read, but I wanted to make sure the argument was unassailable. What do you think, System Wars?