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A Brief History of Time(d Exclusives)

As E3 2012 approaches, there has been a lot of talk about "timed exclusives". Much of the talk has been negative towards one console manufacturer in particular. Reading comments on N4G, one could be led to believe that it's an "evil business practice", deserving of ridicule and scorn. Looking back at gaming history however, we will see that timed exclusives have been an integral part of nearly every successful game console.

The first timed exclusives appeared on the Atari 2600. Atari, being the dominant company in gaming at the time, was able to outbid any competitor for the hottest arcade games. Plus, many of the biggest games were actually produced by the arcade division of Atari. Games like Centipede, Defender, Jungle Hunt, Pac-Man, & Joust appeared on Atari consoles well before they appeared on competitor's consoles. Atari even produced versions of their own games for competing consoles. Of course, the games appeared on Atari consoles first. Coleco did the same thing with one of the biggest games of the era - Donkey Kong. Coleco licensed Donkey Kong from Nintendo, then produced an excellent version for their new ColecoVision console. After six months, Donkey Kong appeared on other consoles (in a far inferior port).

There weren't many timed exclusives during the NES era because of Nintendo's strict (and eventually ruled illegal) licensing practices. Nintendo barred it's licensees from producing ANY games for competing consoles. The NES had a lockout chip, and a code must be programmed into each cartridge for the games to play. When developers found ways around the code and produced unlicensed games, Nintendo sued them, as well as threatened retailers who carried the unlicensed games. With Nintendo controlling 90% of the market, retailers couldn't afford to be cut off by Nintendo, so most declined to carry the unlicensed games. Eventually, due to court losses and a changing market, Nintendo eased it's restrictions, and companies such as Capcom started producing games for other consoles.

The 16 bit era also saw few timed exclusives, but it did have one of the biggest - Street Fighter II. SFII was the biggest game of the early 90's, and Nintendo struck a deal with Capcom for an exclusive SNES home version in 1992. Although the Sega Genesis was doing very well at the time, the timed SFII exclusive caused a big surge in SNES sales, and is generally considered to be a turning point for Nintendo. Capcom would eventually release a Genesis version in 1993, but the SNES benefited the most, by far, from the most popular game of the time.

The next generation is where timed exclusives really became a major component of a company's strategy. The Sony Playstation, Sega Saturn, and Nintendo 64 were the first consoles designed to produce primarily 3D polygon graphics. Sony wanted games to show off the power of the Playstation, and they found several. Ridge Racer, Wipeout, Battle Arena Toshinden, and Destruction Derby were technically impressive (for the time), pick up and play games that really proved that the next generation had arrived, so Sony locked up timed exclusivity deals for those four games. Those games played a major role in PS1's early success. In later years, Sony would buy timed exclusivity for the extremely popular Resident Evil series, further cementing PS1's place as the go to game console of the era.

The PS2/Xbox/Gamecube generation saw one of the biggest timed exclusive deals of all time. Sony purchased the rights for the Grand Theft Auto series games, starting with GTA III. GTA III and GTA: Vice City are among the best selling PS2 games of all time, and Sony's timed exclusive deals put a stranglehold on the competition. GTA: San Andreas would later be a simultaneous multi-platform release, but by that time, the console race was over.

The Dreamcast also figured in to the equation on a smaller scale. Games like Crazy Taxi & Sonic Adventure found their way onto other consoles after the discontinuation of the Dreamcast. However, it's not likely that those games were intended to be timed exclusives - the premature death of the Dreamcast left Sega with some very popular IP's, and their new business model was that of a third party, multi-platform developer.

The current generation has seen some big timed exclusives. Virtua Fighter 5 was a timed PS3 exclusive, appearing on Xbox 360 a year later. Mass Effect 2 & Bioshock were major timed Xbox 360 exclusives. MS also followed Sony's example and licensed two episodes of Grand Theft Auto to be released first on Xbox 360. Our current generation has also seen the evolution of timed exclusive downloadable content, notably map packs for some of the biggest shooters. Both Microsoft & Sony have benefited from timed exclusive deals this generation. Along with the numerous other exclusives each has to offer, there are excellent choices for buyers of either console.

Timed exclusives, along with a slew of one-console exclusives, have been a key to the success of nearly every major console in gaming history. They have been around since the beginning, and it's likely they will continue to be a key ingredient in future console successes. While all gamers ultimately benefit from timed exclusives, the companies who recognize great games, and sign timed exclusivity deals for them, are generally very successful.

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Valenka2189d ago

Well written blog, full of interesting information.

Chaostar2188d ago

I agree that timed exclusivity is not the evil practice some make it out to be but your assumption that every time a 3rd party game releases early (or exclusively) on one platform is the result of being 'bought' is just plain untrue.

Obviously it happens but when it does we are very rarely clued in on the details of these back room dealings, no developer wants to appear like they can be bought off like cheap whores. I'm finding it very hard to find any evidence that suggests most of the games you mentioned were the result of this corporate 'bribery'. Perhaps you'd like to update your blog with some links for our benefit?

I found one related set of quotes from SCEA boss, Jack Tretton...

"We don't buy exclusivity. We don't fund development. We don't, for lack of a better term, bribe somebody to only do a game on our platform."

"We earn it by saying, 'You can build a better game on our platform. If you focus your development on our platform, you will ultimately be more successful. We can try to partner up with you from a technology standpoint. We can try to partner up with you from a marketing standpoint. But just economically and technologically, this is the system that makes the most sense for you.'"

There's no arguing how effective timed exclusivity is at fooling the masses but maybe there's more to them than just simply being 'bought' by companies. Sometimes exclusivity comes just from a developer choosing that platform, either for technical reasons or business i.e. bigger install base on one system.

Ducky2188d ago (Edited 2188d ago )

1. Help development through monetary aid
2. Help development through technology resources
3. Help market the game (also requires monetary aid)

I don't see how only one of those can be labeled as a 'bribe' with the others just being business. They're buying exclusivity either ways you look at it, and all Tretton appears to be doing is trying to sugarcoat it.

Chaostar2188d ago (Edited 2188d ago )

The difference can be best compared to dating and hookers... bear with me here...

You could pay a hooker for sex just like a direct 'bribe' or you could attract a mate with your 'assets', whether that be money, looks, charm, whatever it's not important. For example if there was a girl (non hooker) out looking for a sexual partner (developer looking for a publisher) and it was between two guys she meets. Is it bribery if one guy tries to look more attractive than the other one?

Ok, crazy analogies aside, I wasn't trying to defend Sony or any corporation, I was simply trying to make the point that there's a respectable way to do things and although the dirty way is much easier and effective we should never forget the difference.

I guess there's no honor in business though.

Ducky2188d ago (Edited 2188d ago )

^ That analogy isn't actually that bad.

However, it does have one fault. It is assumed that the girl is looking for 'a' partner. Meaning she will exclusively pick one partner, whereas in gaming, a game would generally be released for multiple platforms.

Timed exclusivity is essentially trying to convince the girl that she's better off just with you rather than being with the both of you (and even that is for a limited time).
Assuming the other guy isn't a jerk, it would pretty much require 'bribery' to make her exclusively pick you.

At the end of the day, timed exclusivty is just business, and Tretton's words are just PR.

Chaostar2188d ago

Yeah there's a good few holes in that analogy lol. To be honest didn't think it through very long and now I can no longer remember if or why I cared to comment in the first place ¬_¬

You're definitely right about Tretton pouring the sugar on, he's a smooth one alright, must be why he's good at poker.

However, I refuse to walk away from this conversation with the thought that girls only sleep with me because I bribe them :P


2188d ago Replies(1)
QuodEratDemonstrandm2188d ago (Edited 2188d ago )

"Timed exclusivity is not the evil practice some people make it out to be."

I agree, but it is kind of dumb. Why make Joe Fanboy wait for the new map pack just because he doesn't feel like springing for a 360?
It just seems kind of silly, if I had to choose between paying for a 360 or waiting a few weeks for the PS3 version, I'll just wait.

Edit (just because I'm out of bubbles): I like the Hawking reference in the title.

PirateThom2188d ago

I think this is the part that annoys me. If a game or DLC pack is definitely coming to another platform, why make other players wait? What do you gain from it apart from annoying fans on one side and, potentially, risking sales because they don't want to buy an old game?

QuodEratDemonstrandm2188d ago

Your bit about SFII is just plain wrong. I know this, because I was there. I saw it happen.
The original SFII was a SNES exclusive. It was never released on Genesis.
After the arcade release of SFII: Champion Edition, a version for the Sega Genesis was announced, several months later SFII Turbo was released and a port was announced for the SNES. This made the genesis people very upset. So SFII Turbo rules were added to the Sega version, as well as ten different speed settings. Sega was also told that their version would release first.
The SNES version had four speed settings, and six more if you knew the cheat code. And much to Sega's dismay, it released first, by a period of roughly two months.

It's pretty wild that I actually remember that, isn't it?

2188d ago Replies(1)