A Plaintive Cry for Quietude.

Sunday, May 25, 2008
Every news outlet needs something to talk about. For game sites it's always about the big new games. In recent weeks we've had GTA IV, which I've already covered at length in a previous article. Even more recently, it was Haze, the newest FPS from Goldeneye creators Free Radical. Touted by many as the ext great shooter saga, recent reviews have found it wanting. As a PS3 exclusive, the news comes as a great blow to the fighting men and women of the console war.

The console war for those unfamiliar with it's WWI era policies is the ongoing trench war between PS3, Xbox and, to a lesser extent, Wii fanatics. It is a petty and pointless fracas perpetuated to sell more machines. Mud is slung across forums and blogs day in and day out for no other reason than to assert dominance and justify the significant expenditure that comes with console ownership.

While the folks fighting this war from their basements harm their industry's credibility very little, the perpetuation of exclusive releases and content in major titles do it the most damage. "Unilateral" is a word mostly reserved for the political soap box and Sunday morning punditry but I believe it's time we add it to our industry's vocabulary. It is my firm belief that most gamers just want to play games, plain and simple. That is not to say that we don't care about our console of choice, but rather that we don't really care about the wars being fought on it's behalf.

The release of Haze is a prime example. There was no mention or claim by the makers of the game that it was the PS3 flag carrier, or that it would put the competition to rest. All the hype and coverage surrounding it's release and more importantly it's publishers decision to make it exclusive created an expectation that few games would ever have been able to live up to. Haze is not a bad game, it's an average game, especially as far as shooters go. But here, because of it's exclusive nature, average just isn't good enough.

Of course, exclusive titles aren't the only problem here. We have to look at exclusive content in the same light. GTA IV was released for the Xbox and PS3 simultaneously but Rockstar announced that Microsoft had payed an estimated $50 million for exclusive episodic content. Of course, every interview or speculatory blog was "which will sell more copies?," "Xbox to run over PS3 in GTA sales?" etc, etc.

The root of these problems lie in the gaming media and with the industry itself. A game publisher has a responsibility to sell games. More simply, businesses are in to make money. So why would a publisher limit it's audience by making it's game exclusive? Because Sony and Microsoft are willing to pay enormous sums of money to make it an exclusive in the vain hope of selling more systems. Once said deal is made, it's the job of the major gaming news outlets to report on it. So begins the hype that kills games and cheapens our already threatened industry.

We can't allow ourselves to be drawn into this power struggle. If this industry hopes to thrive as it once did, we must be prepared to abandon the ramparts and shake hands in the no-mans land. We can have multiple consoles and still have a unilateral approach to gaming. Game mechanics can differ from platform to platform as long as the game itself remains one cohesive whole. Games released unilaterally have by default a much larger audience and both Sony and Microsoft benefit from the sales. Mind you, the profit margins in the short term aren't as large as they might be for an exclusive title, but given some time profits will even out.

Honestly, I don't expect this war to end anytime soon. Both sides are well entrenched and the system has been in place for years. All anyone can do is place themselves squarely out of the way of it and shout from the sidelines. Consider this my loudest shout yet. But if even one person from the industry hears it, then I'll be happy.