This post started out as a “top-5-games-of-the-console-generation” type thing, list and all. I solicited a discussion from my friends on Facebook to help me process the topic. I mean, after 8 years, there are a lot of games that could fill the top 5 of this sort of list. My goal was to compare my own thoughts with those of my friends and scores on Metacritic, compile a list of 5 worthy titles, and then write about them. Well, something happened in the midst of that discussion. I realized something was coloring the discussion, something that I never really thought to fully explore: the effect of console bias.
That confession of personal bias struck me. Up to this point in the thread, only two titles had been definitively mentioned that were exclusive to a given console: Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii) and The Last of Us (PS3). Why would he make such a weak argument against a game that had already been thoroughly praised for its narrative and gameplay? His submission to the list was highlighted by Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, claiming that it revolutionized the first-person shooter and multiplayer gaming. Now, I’m not going to argue the merits of either game here, but it did strike me that such a statement would be made as to dismissively reject a critically acclaimed exclusive title in favor of a critically acclaimed multi-platform success. It got me thinking: Do exclusives matter anymore?
The sticking point at the center of this was the merit of The Last of Us. At least two individuals and myself had named and praised this game as the masterpiece we know it is. There was one, however, who argued that the game wasn’t quite worthy of the mention. His case rested on the argument that The Last of Us has been over-hyped and that its recent release made it an easier target for recognition. In so many words, the game was too “new”, too “recent.” He then admitted to not having played the game and mentioned that he saw the discussion swayed across platform lines: PS3 players vs. 360 players.
My CoD friend admitted he did not have a PS3 with which to play TLoU. He dismissed it as just another zombie-apocalypse game. Ultimately, his argument boiled down to ignorance. Yet, that isn’t any less a valid personal opinion as giving TLoU a 10/10 rating. My point is that for some time, the gaming community has been segmented into camps based on console choice. Call it brand loyalty or outright fanboyism, it isn’t uncommon for discussions like the one I started on Facebook to devolve into console popularity contests. The fact that CoD, a game franchise that appeared on every available console this generation, is most strongly associated with the 360 and PC is telling of the irony at play here. The franchise isn’t a 360 exclusive title – it never was – and yet, it sometimes seems as though people believe it is. Activision and Microsoft haven’t helped with their timed exclusivity deals for DLC. However, a game that actually is exclusive to one console has catapulted itself to instant Game of the Year candidate status. Presumably, fewer people are going to play TLoU versus CoD, but TLoU has the highest Metacritic score.
Popularity is not a good indicator of quality, as Metacritic scores tend to show quite often (and does here), and neither does exclusivity. The fact is developers and publishers need money to sustain the process of making and releasing huge, AAA titles. It makes perfect sense to release games on as many marketable platforms as possible. With gaming consoles no longer built so drastically different from each other and the rise of standards-based technologies, tool sets, and engines, it is now easier and cheaper for developers to code games across different hardware configurations, from home consoles to mobile devices to traditional PCs. The age of exclusive third-party franchises is basically over. It simply isn’t financially feasible or mutually beneficial anymore. However, first-party studios can still provide the exclusive lure to hook consumers and drive sales, the main reason a console maker wants exclusive content.
What needs to happen now, is for gamers to catch up to the realities of the industry. While the Big 3 would love to have your exclusive business, none of them are so dumb as to believe you couldn’t or wouldn’t also consume from their competitors. What they all want is to be your first choice. For a third-party publisher, simply buying their game on just one of the available consoles is enough, any more is extra. Is there really a place then for the fanboy in a world of similarity? Of course, but I think the loyalty is no longer with the console maker as it was in times past, but rather the developers and publisher – the game-makers. We as gamers should play the games we think are worth our time on the system(s) of our choice. Not every game will be available on every system, and we know that from the beginning; This is part of the economic contract we agree to in this market. This is what gives our dollar power as consumers.
So, if you want the best possible multiplayer experience around, you should probably play your CoD on Xbox Live. If you want amazing, innovative gameplay, you should buy that new Mario game on Wii U. If you crave solid indie experiences and consistent, mature first-party awesome-sauce, you better have your DualShock ready. If you want complain about the hype for a game you aren’t playing because you can’t (or won’t), STFU.