Date Posted: October 18, 2011
Print Edition: October 12, 2011
For years the gaming industry has thrived on “fanboyism.” That is, hardware companies like Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft have sought to develop a particular brand image that players would associate with and support in an almost religious way. It happens in other industries as well, with companies like Apple, Marvel or even the Vancouver Canucks receiving incredible support in any venture they undertake. It’s tough to blame a business for adopting this model, considering it guarantees loyal supporters no matter what they do. Investors love a loyal fan base. Yet, overall, this approach hurts gamers. It causes companies to pay exorbitant amounts of money to keep games off of other systems, while reducing the amount of fair competition that would actually improve the way games are made and played.
None of the “big three” are innocent here. Take Microsoft, for example. They have been routinely criticized for the way they deal with independent developers, and they have certain business practices to do with Xbox Live that make it hard for games to offer additional content the way the developers intend. Nintendo, on the other hand, has nearly abandoned the gamers who supported them over the years, offering technically inferior products with incomplete, confusing online modes and almost zero support for third parties. Sony is just as guilty as anyone, paying huge money to keep key games on only the PS3.
Sometimes console companies can only afford to keep games off other systems for a certain amount of time, paying for a “timed exclusive” – this tends to be the case with the Grand Theft Auto series. Traditionally a PlayStation exclusive series, it was big news when Microsoft not only paid $75 million to Rockstar Games to release Grand Theft Auto 4 at the same time on the Xbox 360, but also to offer time-exclusive DLC for the system. It was a move that Microsoft fans were encouraged to gloat over, while leaving Sony fans furious over the deal.
But impartial parties often see the downside to the entire industry when such situations unfold. These businesses take advantage of gamers who are already emotionally invested in the systems they buy, due to the large amounts of money they have to spend to own a console. Few people can afford to own a PS3, 360 and a Wii, so they tend to pick one and hope it gets the most games they’re interested in. Add to that the fact that cross-platform multiplayer is rarely allowed by these companies, so friends can only play games online together if they own the same system. Sony was recently an exception to the rule by allowing PC gamers to play online with PS3 owners of Valve’s hit game Portal 2. But don’t expect to see PS3-to-360 online multiplayer anytime soon.
Though there isn’t much a gamer can do about these types of business practices, they can make a difference by refusing to get sucked into the fanboy mentality that pits gamers against each other for the financial benefit of a multi-billion-dollar corporation. Everyone just wants their huge monetary investment to pay off with quality gaming. One step is to support quality third party games that have come out on multiple systems, rather than allowing console companies to convince you that another game is better just because it isn’t available anywhere else. Only once console companies know that they have to act fairly and smartly to keep their customers will they offer better support to developers and do what it takes to make sure experiences for their gamers are as ideal as possible.