Friday, February 15, 2019

Verdant to Brown

Once upon a time consoles had radically different hardware.  This meant games found on one platform were rarely seen on another.  Porting was a labor intensive process that didn't happen much because it might entail rebuilding a game from the ground-up; re-recording sound and music, re-drawing sprites, etc.  Few as they were, ports tended to be pretty similar.  Mortal Kombat and Earthworm Jim for the Genesis/SNES were almost completely identical.  On the other hand, Alien 3 tie-in games for those two 16-bit platforms are radically different despite having the same titles and cover artwork.

It was also common in those days to see games made with the express purpose of challenging a rival system-seller (i.e. a popular game exclusive to one platform).  Franchises like Phantasy Star and Sonic were created by Sega in order to complete against Final Fantasy and Mario Brothers respectively.  Killzone was often thought of as a game made to directly oppose Halo.  To a degree this sort of think became blown out of proportion by overzealous fanboys, but the fact remains that exclusives helped sell consoles; Golden Eye on the N64, Gears of War on Xbox 360, this day Sony maintains a number of studios that develop games only for PlayStation hardware.  Naughty Dog is probably the most famous, but there are others such as Team Ico, Gorilla Games, and of course the newly formed Kojima Productions.  Exclusives are what has allowed Nintendo Switch and PS4 to overshadow the Xbone in terms of Market Share.  When you get down to it though, there aren't many differences between current-gen consoles.  All of them are basically using similar off-the-shelf-parts found in gaming PCs.  As such it seemed like exclusivity was going to become a thing of the past, and the only difference between ports would be some minor variations in graphics fidelity or operating system feature sets...that is until Epic decided to take a bite out of Steam's market share.

Just for the record I use Steam, but I'm not a fan of Steam or their borderline monopoly on digital game distribution.  I also appreciate attempts by smaller competitors to weaken their dominance thorough cheaper prices and less restrictive terms-of-service agreements.  Unfortunately, a recent tactic is the timed exclusive.  I first encountered one of these with the indie game Bad North and felt that it was a terrible business practice because it basically comes down to strong-arming customers into using a particular service provider.  True, it doesn't cost anything to download and install Epic's client Software, or GoG's, or Origin's...or Uplay's.  Having said that, none of them are particularly useful either; beyond having an alternative digital storefront from which to buy games.  There's no reason why, from a consumer's perspective, a game should only be available through one service.  Of course from the publisher/distributor viewpoint there can be many reasons; almost all of which have to do with stuffing more money in already fat pockets.  Basically, it's a case of pachyderms butting heads...and we all know what happens to the grass when elephants fight, right?

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