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.