"Console Exclusive"...this phrase generates excitement (for those who own that game console or perhaps all available game consoles) and disdain (for those who don't own that particular game console). This phrase is both joyous and polarizing, causing the flames of fanboyism to errupt in an attempt to scorch fans of the "other" console that won't be able to play that particular game. But why does it need to be this way? Is there a good reason behind the manufacturers choosing to develop separate consoles or would a unified game console work in favor of both the consumer AND the manufacturers/developers?
In the early days of gaming, the most recognizable name in the industry was Atari and their product, the Atari 2600, is what you had if you played games. Of course there was ColecoVision and Intellivision...even Texas Instruments got into the game, but Atari appeared to be in the driver seat in the late 70's leading into the early 80's. The Atari 2600 was manufactured by Atari but it had a twin called the Sears Video Arcade that did exactly the same thing. The hardware at it's core was all the same under the hood which meant E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial could infuriate you on both the Atari 2600 as well as the Sears Video Arcade (Sears rebadged the console and sold it through their company). The point here is this: the video game industry at one time appeared to be more willing to allow for a more unified console architecture or at least allow a single console to be sold under a different name and could have eventually eliminated the necessity of having 2 or 3 different machines, so what changed so drastically to steer the industry away from what seems like common sense?
Before you start arguing against this idea, consider the following statements:
PC is a unified architecture - FALSE! If that were so, there would be no need to develop a game that would need to be scaleable for so many different sets of specifications. This is an environment that has been created by both the software developer and the hardware manufacturers.
Console manufacturers make more money with their own hardware supported by exclusive software - FALSE! Console manufacturers have repeatedly admitted that they rarely make a profit from the hardware and their profit margin is actually increased by the sales of software. This in itself points to the fact that if you cut out an entire demographic that you could POSSIBLY sell to (only one console making it a console exclusive), then you are missing out on a lot of revenue (the consumers who own the "other" console). Case in point: A game developed for PS3 has a potential consumer base of approximately 85 million and the same can be said for the Xbox 360. If developed for both, the potential consumer base becomes 170 million.
Consoles made by different manufacturers generates competition among software developers - FALSE or at least, not entirely true! The software developers may have a preference in development environments, but if given the same specs across the board, this would eliminate the necessity of having what equates to 2 different development teams (at least in the coding for the game) which means they would be able to devote more resources to the development of a particular game or work on multiple games. The reason developers make a game exclusively for one console or the other has nothing to do with the specs of that particular console or the number of consumers who have purchased that console, but rather it has everything to do with the lucrative contracts they acquire from a specific console manufacturer. At some point they have to consider that they are essentially cutting out half of their potential consumer base in doing this and it is up to the console manufacturer to entice them with something whether that is a guaranteed minimum of published games or the console manufacturer devoting it's own resources to assist in the development of a particular title . This is why there are less console exclusives than cross-platform titles since a competent developer and publisher can make a game for all available platforms which allows them the maximum potential consumer base.
Regardless of all of this, consumers will blindly defend their favorite console manufacturer as if they had a personal stake in the sales figures released monthly, but what if it wasn't like this at all? VHS and BETA started off like this until the industry and the consumers decided BETA was simply too expensive for the average consumer. This is a large reason why VHS became the standard for home video. This fight was renewed in the form of BR vs HD-DVD which eventually resulted in BR becoming the industry standard. Let's put a slightly different spin on this to bring it more into focus. What if DVD or BR players had their own exclusives? Say for instance that you like Tom Cruise movies. He had a 14 year contract with Paramount from 1993 to 2006 and say for the sake of argument that you owned a "Paramount" DVD player. It only plays Paramount discs and cannot play discs made by Warner Bros, who just released "Edge of Tomorrow" on BR and DVD. You really would like to watch this movie, but now you need to purchase a Warner Bros. machine to do so. Starting to sound ridiculous? You betcha...that is why you shouldn't like Tom Cruise movies! Ok, all joking aside, I think you get the point.
It seems the real fear in all of this might be what happened in 1983 when the videogame industry crashed. It was bad, no doubt about it, but does that mean things haven't changed? A lot of the reason behind the crash was Atari's own failures to ensure the games met certain benchmarks for quality and allowed so many bad games to go unchecked. I don't think in today's world that a company would ever be that complacent again about the bulk of what shows up on their machines as is evidenced by the requirements Xbox Live has in place for their indie-developed games meeting rigid quality control standards before approval of being released. Sure there would be some bad titles out there, but that is the case now with multiple consoles available. Those game companies eventually (through lackluster sales of those software titles) re-structure and change up their business practices so they can get out of the "red" and back into the "black". The pros of moving to a single console certainly seem to outweigh the cons at this point. Here is a short list of the positive things that could come from a unified console:
Shared development and manufacturing costs - Imagine only having to devote the resources for the development of one console and then taking it a bit further with requiring fewer facilities to manufacture that specific console instead of the overhead generated by each console manufacturer.
Increased potential sales base for all games released - This is certainly a no-brainer. What is better...potential sales of 85 million or potential sales of 170 million?
Hardware sales could lead to earlier profitability if installed base is doubled - The shared development costs would lead to earlier profits with a consumer base that is potentially twice the size of the way it is done now. Many consumers either can't afford more than one console or have become devoted fans of one over the remaining offers, so there is definitely the potential to double the sales base for a unified console.
This is also a win for the consumer in the fact they wouldn't have to pay for more than one console and could entertain the idea of playing every available game released on the console they own. I can't imagine a household needing to buy indivdual machines for movies from Sony Pictures, Warner Bros, Disney, Universal, Paramount, etc and this should be no different.
I'm hoping someone eventually sees this, but for now I can always keep a watchful, hopeful eye toward the future...and maybe I should consider re-writing this blog entry to ensure the other group of console owners can read it. J/K...again, you get the point!