There’s something Reggie Fils-Amis, Jack Tretton and Aaron Greenburg don’t want you to know about platform-exclusive intellectual properties: there aren’t any. Not really. The notion that a given parcel of design calls is wed to one system till death do them part, that its migration to other systems is not just impossible but literally unthinkable, even blasphemous, is… well, exactly what it sounds like: a phantasm invoked by smack-talking executives and the fanboy massive, and a thorn in the flank of those who prefer the exchange of ideas to head-butting quantity logic.
Timed exclusives exist, true, but time passes. In a capitalist economy, nothing is set in stone. Publishing arrangements certainly aren’t, as Activision is busily demonstrating in its handling of the Call of Duty franchise, and the particularities of hardware are just as temporal, as Sony has recently proven by stapling a soap bubble to the tip of Wii Motion Plus.
Contracts terminate, are contested, or are mined for loopholes. Publishers and programmers alike adapt, shift, working their way around sub-clauses, over and under technical obstacles. Profit motives override all. IPs are modified – constantly – to expand audiences and meet new market conditions. Halo abandons the Mac, becomes an FPS, gets turned into several books, changes development houses, reverts to an RTS. Sonic shares a box with Mario. Final Fantasy “dumps” Nintendo, then Sony, cuddles up to the iPod. Crysis goes console-based. Ubisoft buys Tom Clancy.
Where an IP plays hard-to-get, it will simply be imitated. Lips riffs on Singstar, Project Natal on the EyeToy camera (yes, I’m aware that the latter pair have different capabilities, but they still share a concept). It’s a testament, again, to the sanctity some assign the unreal notion of exclusivity that many such instances of “creative theft” are treated with disproportionate revulsion. Never mind that Saints Row 2 is often funnier and more inventive than Grand Theft Auto IV, or that Dante’s Inferno, for all its flaws, has a combat system as rewarding as that of God of War – these games have committed the original sin of building a little too conspicuously on the achievements of their peers, and deserve nothing less, in the eyes of the faithful, than to be burned in the streets.
Of course, you could explain away a lot of the above with two simple words: “only human”. “Exclusive” thinking, it might be argued, runs deeper than choosing between formats and their line-ups, taps into something natural and fundamental: a wellspring of shared antagonism that fuels everything from playground punch-ups to football riots. Perhaps there’s nothing more mind-blowing at stake here than social identification, positive and negative: we are “us” because they are “them”, they are “them” because we are “us” – whether the individuals in question be Battlefield fans or Asian immigrants. People like to take sides, even when they don’t have to. It’s just part of our binary code.
I find this line of thought depressing and frustrating in equal measure. It reduces the issue to an inevitability, a tragic flaw, and inevitabilities don’t allow much room for discussion. It’s not as if you need look far for alternative mentalities, anyway. Just glance at a few of our interviews.