Exclusive games are usually the reason why people choose one console over another, if they have to choose or decide not to own more than one particular console. Whether your favorite game is Mario Kart, Halo or Gran Turismo, there is an abundance of first party games released exclusively for each console every year. Some franchises are more popular than others but most gamers have their favorite franchises and they stick with them. Many third party developers this generation have decided to make their once exclusive franchises multiplatform. Part of the reason for this is development costs and profitability, the other side is penetration and sales. If developers can sell their games to more people, that creates more fans of a franchise and also generates more revenue.
When the Grand Theft Auto franchise, which had been exclusive to the PlayStation 2 since GTA III, was released on the original Xbox and GTA IV was announced as a multiplatform title, many gamers cried foul. Microsoft had persuaded many developers, who once made exclusive titles for Sony’s PlayStation consoles, to also release their games on the 360. Other franchises, including Devil May Cry, Tekken, Final Fantasy (Resident Evil started on PSOne, but some RE games popped up on Nintendo consoles) and many more, decided to all go multiplatform instead of remaining exclusive to Sony consoles like they did in the previous generation. I believe this is a good thing in most cases because more gamers can play their games, but there are times when it can cause problems or delay games unexpectedly.
When Final Fantasy XIII was announced as a multiplatform game for the 360 and PS3 fans of the franchise complained that it would cause the game to look and play worse than it would if it would have remained exclusive to the PS3. Early builds of the game showed a beautifully detailed world and characters that exceeded the expectations of many fans of the Final Fantasy franchise. Since then several new screenshots and pictures have been shown and many have complained that they do not match the detail and execution of the previous builds of the game. There have also been arguments, before and after Final Fantasy went multiplatform, that the 360 has hindered development on the PS3 and vice versa. Many people believe that the PS3 has superior and more powerful hardware than the 360 while some believe otherwise. Last generation when the GTA franchise was released on the Xbox, the games were visually superior to their PS2 counterparts due to the fact that the Xbox had superior hardware, in part because it was released after the PlayStation 2. This generation, both consoles share similar hardware specifications but the true difference between the two is Blu-ray.
Some gamers believe that most PS3 exclusive titles have had superior graphics when compared to 360 exclusives. This became evident with the release of Metal Gear Solid 4 and the majority of the exclusives published by Sony afterwards. Metal Gear Solid 4 is arguably the best looking console game to date and this was in part because Konami and Kojima Productions took advantage of the 50 gigabytes worth of space available to them on Blu-ray disks. Final Fantasy XIII developers have stated that developing the game for the 360 would not harm the quality of the game on the PS3. They also stated that the game would possibly be released on 4 DVD’s for the 360 and only 1 Blu-ray disk for the PS3. While these statements may be true, there is one thing that is a fact, any game developed for more than one console will be affected by multiplatform development and generally games that are developed for one console will be superior to those that are developed as multiplatform games.
When developers begin to develop a game, they either develop an engine to create the games or they license an engine that is on the market and they tweak the engine so that they can optimize it for whatever console they are developing a game for. When this is done for one console, they can take advantage of the strengths of that console and push the limits of the hardware. When a game is developed multiplatform the same steps are taken accept the engine is optimized to run on all the consoles the game is being developed for. The advantages of each console are not fully utilized to decrease development time and ensure that the games are visually identical or as close as possible. This has been true this entire generation, with a few exceptions early on due to the PS3 and the problems developers had when dealing with the Cell Processor. Games that could have taken advantage of certain aspects of the PS3 or 360 hardware were essentially dumbed down so they would run the same on both consoles. A prime example of this is id Software and its title Rage. John Carmack, technical director of id Software, stated that the PC and 360 version of Rage were running at 50-60 fps while the PS3 version was running at around 20-30 fps. He also stated that the goal was to have all versions of the game running at 60 fps locked but there were some issues getting things to work properly on the PS3. He also ensured gamers that this was something that would be worked through before the game released. If Rage was being developed for the 360 or PC and 360 exclusively, the developers at id Software could use the extra time being spent on PS3 development to polish the game on the primary console. This is just an example of what it takes to make multiplatform games look and run the same, especially on home consoles.
Developers put a great deal of time and effort into making games, especially AAA titles and popular franchises that are in high demand. Developers’ jobs are not always easy and I would imagine that there are developers who prefer to work with one console or the other and not both. Third party developers must devote people to multiple teams instead of one large team focusing on one piece of hardware. Developers have to decide how to handle the workload by either hiring more programmers or using the resources they already have. These teams must then work together to optimize the games on both sides of the fence. This takes away resources that could be put to better use if the game was being developed for one console. Regardless of which console a game is being developed for the exclusive titles generally outshine their multiplatform counterparts. Three titles I can think of as of now that were very good multiplatform games were Red Faction: Guerilla, Midnight Club: Los Angeles and Batman: Arkham Asylum. I know that there are others, but those are three games that performed and looked the same on both consoles that I have played and enjoyed in recent memory. Ghostbusters was a game that had subpar visuals on the PS3 version but ran fine on the 360. Even Kojima Productions decided to develop a new engine to use for Metal Gear Solid: Rising instead of using an updated version of the engine used for MGS4. The new engine will be built from scratch according to Kojima, who is the lead developer for all things Metal Gear, which promises better graphics than MGS4. This makes me wonder if it has more to do with multiplatform development on the 360 or if this engine will truly enable Kojima Productions to surpass the graphical quality of MGS4 on both consoles. Many franchises do not operate the same way as Final Fantasy or Metal Gear Solid, or Gran Turismo where they take their time and spend years developing a game before they release it.
In the end, multiplatform development has typically been the same for many generations; any game that is designed to run on multiple consoles will look the same or close to the same on each console. Rarely are the hardware advantages in a particular console taken advantage of when a game is multiplatform and not exclusive. Does that mean multiplatform games look worse because one console is more powerful than the other? No it does not, but it does mean that unless developers take the time to learn the most they can about both consoles and utilize the strengths and work through the weaknesses of each console that you are going to get an average game or a game that does not meet its full potential. I personally think some games need more development time instead of being rushed to the market. I am personally happy to see so many games pushed back until 2010. Splinter Cell: Conviction, Heavy Rain, Red Steel 2, BioShock 2, Alan Wake, Singularity and many others have been delayed or pushed back until 2010 to give developers more time to polish the games, and also get away from the beast that is Modern Warfare 2. After seeing what a few months did for Arkham Asylum, I am happy to wait for these games to be released rather than get games that are rushed and not worth my time. It is not a matter of which console is better at this point because both consoles have proven what they can do. It has more to do with how much time developers want to spend on a game and what kind of quality they want to deliver. Instead of blaming consoles and starting fan boy arguments I think we should demand more of the developers and stop accepting games that are rushed just to make a quick dollar. Leave your comments and let me know what you think.