Yesterday, my esteemed colleague and good friend Mr Mike Williams argued that console exclusives are dead.
Despite the headline to this piece, I actually sort of agree with him. System-selling, high-profile console exclusives -- particularly from third parties -- are very much on the decline, as big publishers like EA and Ubisoft are eager to spread their new titles across as many platforms as possible for maximum profit. Towards the latter part of this generation in particular, it's seemingly become little more than a matter of preference when it comes to choosing a console -- do you prefer the DualShock 3 or the Xbox controller? The Xbox Dashboard or the XMB? And do you care about exclusive DLC?
However, with all that said, if you look below the "triple-A" tier, you'll see that the exclusives market is still very much intact, and very much helps to distinguish the 360 and the PS3 in particular from one another -- restrict your view to "big games" alone, however, and it's easy to see them as much of a muchness. Nintendo, too, has been quietly doing a nice line in "games you can't get anywhere else" throughout the entire Wii era, though it remains to be seen if it can keep that up with the Wii U -- that platform, as we well know, is on very unsteady ground at present.
So far as 360 and PS3 go, though, I don't see myself getting rid of either any time soon, simply because both have just enough exclusive titles on hand to justify me keeping them around. Since my love for Japanese games in particular has grown exponentially in the last few years, the PlayStation 3 and its handheld siblings have really come into their own as specialist publishers like Xseed, NIS America and Atlus consistently provide me with the sort of games I want to play on a regular basis. Meanwhile, my Xbox 360 is getting considerably less use than it once did, but the healthy crop of bullet hell shooters I've acquired over the system's lifetime justifies keeping it around -- along with "evergreen" titles like Geometry Wars and Project Gotham Racing.
Whether or not this situation will continue with the next generation remains to be seen, of course, but I actually feel reasonably confident that it will. Microsoft's presentation at Gamescom this morning made it abundantly clear that it is prioritizing the Call of Duty and sports game crowds and that's absolutely fine; Sony, meanwhile, has plenty of its own spectacular triple-A offerings, many of which we'll doubtless see later today at its Gamescom press conference, but I'm more interested to see what comes from the tiers below triple-A: primarily, from my perspective, niche Japanese games and super-creative indie titles, and historically Sony platforms proven themselves to be a good home for "art games" like Flower and Journey, too.
I have no particular objection to console exclusives. In fact, I'd go so far as to say I'm a fan of them. Without them, there's honestly very little to distinguish between similar platforms such as the PS3 and 360; with them, there's a reason to keep both systems around, and the ability to have distinctive -- even unique -- experiences on each. If you find yourself interested in experiences on both platforms, that's not especially friendly to the pursestrings, of course, but I honestly appreciate the fact that, today, I can think of my PS3 as "the JRPG machine" and the 360 as "the shooter machine" -- and plenty more things besides for each platform.
I sincerely hope that the next generation of consoles continue to provide us with unique experiences on each platform, and early indications seem to suggest that will be the case. What's also worth noting is that whenever big shows like E3 or Gamescom come around, the things that get shown off in the high-profile press conferences aren't the only things that are coming to these platforms. More often than not, the most interesting games -- the ones that will, in some cases, quietly sell systems to niche audiences without anyone shouting about them -- are the ones tucked away in a corner of the show floor.
Will we see anything like that come out of Gamescom? Difficult to say at this early stage, but one thing's for sure, regardless of your platform(s) of choice: it's definitely an exciting time for the industry.