Game Buzz is a weekly opinion column designed to take an irreverent look at one of the biggest news stories to break in the past week. Every Friday we’ll be bringing you another slice of reaction to topical gaming news, and inviting you to agree, disagree, shout assent, vent rage, scream and complain to you heart’s delight. This week, we discuss the news of the Mass Effect franchise jumping ship, and what ramifications it could pose for the Xbox 360's continued success.
So yet another once-exclusive has slipped into bed with the enemy, except this time, it's not Microsoft patting the silk sheets seductively; it's Sony. Yes, Mass Effect 2, my personal favourite 360 game, has been signed by Sony for re-release on the PS3, with so-called "additional content". It's the usual PR fanfare, Sony championing the coup, Bioware lavishing praise on themselves, and, with less enthusiasm, Microsoft kindly reminding us the original Mass Effect is still an Xbox exclusive, meaning the definitive Mass Effect experience can only be found on their console.
The reaction to this news was extraordinary. Sony fans rejoiced, pleased to be on the opposite end of IP-stealing for once, whereas Microsoft fans, their feathers suitably ruffled, hatched a variety of retorts and come-backs to hide their embarrassment. It was typical console-war affair, something I observed with quite some amusement. You see, I'm one of those smug PS360 owners. I own both. Finances permitting, I'm not restricted to one console. And I've played ME2, sampled its galactic delights. For me, it's not a big deal.
But it does beg the question; should games like Mass Effect, or Metal Gear Solid and Devil May Cry before it, be contained to one console? Surely it would benefit publishers, their product spanning two markets, not one? Obviously, to attain an exclusive, or steal one, Microsoft and Sony must slide a sizable cheque across a publisher's desk. But should we, the consumer, be the victim of corporate politics and financial greed?
The Mass Effect
The actual effect of Mass Effect's jumping ship remains to be seen. Bioware claim it'll include "additional content", although whether that's the DLC 360 fans have already enjoyed, or brand new content remains to be seen. A so-called "introductory scene" is to be included, to fill Sony fans in on the original Mass Effect, which Microsoft has managed to cling on to. Traditionally, PS3 ports of 360 games fare badly in the visuals department, but Bioware's experience with Sony's stubborn console may help them overcome such technical hurdles.
We've seen similar events occur, although on the opposite side. Microsoft's assault on Sony's exclusives resulted in the likes of Devil May Cry, Tekken and Final Fantasy, not to mention a dozen other games once intended solely for the PS3, to share a release with their green enemy. If anything, we see more third-party exclusives on the 360, like Gears and, before now, Mass Effect, whereas Sony has relied heavily on their talented internal teams to provide enough ammunition to weather the storm.
Is Mass Effect 2 a popular enough franchise to help the PS3 hurdle the 360's slimming lead? I doubt it. For one, ME2 is only a half a game without the original. You've no attachment to any of the characters in Mass Effect 2 without your actions in the first. Who did you choose, Ashley or Kaiden? Did you persuade Wrex to surrender, or put a bullet in his crest? Oh, and on the subject of everyone's favourite Krogan, he's not in the PS3 version of ME2. 7 Score confirmed.
All For One, One For All!
A single platform is a wonderful idea, but an impossible one. Can you imagine Sony or Microsoft sharing a bed? Exclusives will always exist, as long as Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo preserve their internal teams. But can you imagine if all third-party games had to, by law, be multiplatform? It would provide a fair service for customers, and force MS and Sony and Nintendo to up their game, with first-party games determining a console's success.
Again, it's a great idea, but one fraught with flaws and financial impossibilities. MS and Sony simply won't allow it. Microsoft, for example, put down 50 million dollars simply to secure exclusive rights for Grand Theft Auto DLC. D L C! It's not even exclusive anymore. Sony, I'm presuming, parted with quite a sum to persuade Bioware to share the Mass Effect rights, although perhaps their new owners, EA, might possibly be involved.
Oh, EA. The once-maligned publisher is now actually liked, believe it or not. Dead Space, Bulletstorm, even Mass Effect is now an EA franchise. Their 'EA Partners' initiative, where EA signs exclusive publishing rights for independent developers, has blossomed, and sees developers escape the iron-hand of actually being owned by EA, but share in all the financial security and resources at their disposal. It can only be good for gamers, and if it's good for EA, too, then so be it.
Mass Effect isn't the first franchise to jump ship, and it won't be the last. We'll continue to see once exclusive games gracing both consoles. Other than an aesthetic difference, the 360 and PS3 are almost identical. One might be more powerful, one might have marginally better online services, but their goals are the same. A single platform would be ideal, but in the meantime, I'd love to see more games throw off their loyalties and support gamers, not companies!