The changing face of third-party development
So far this all seems like a good thing. The developer gets to make a great game with help from the company that designed the hardware; the publisher gets help with the marketing and the platform holder has an exclusive game to entice more gamers onto their hardware with. So why are we seeing more and more timed exclusives from third-party developers and publishers?
As far as I can see, the problem is down to the changing distribution of development costs. Pay attention at the back! This may sound boring, but it's quite vital to understanding the change in TPPEGs.
It used to be that you needed different in-game assets for each platform. The PS2 used lower resolution textures than the Xbox, for example. Different hardware had support for different audio formats. Even the consoles' 3D systems were against you re-using models without spending time converting them between formats, dropping the polygon count and manually checking that they still looked as good as they should.
However, these days, the PS3 and 360 are so similar in their capabilities and so similar in turn to the PC that it's a much simpler task to share assets between the various versions of the games.
This leaves the game engine and most of that will be written in a high level language such as C so only the really low-level parts of the code like task scheduling and interfacing with application programming interfaces (APIs) need to be re-written. Many of these low-level components are available off the shelf, so to speak, in middleware applications.
All of this means that the platform-specific parts of a game represent a much lower percentage of the development costs than they used to. Meaning that a port is a cheaper proposition, even parallel development is much more easily achieved.
When you combine this with a more even user-base distribution between the main consoles this generation, our manager's spreadsheet is starting to look like a much simpler affair. In short - without huge bundles of cash to sway the decision the game is going multi-platform. This is why platform holders are increasingly only able to negotiate time-limited exclusivity, if they even try to negotiate at all.
The other side to a TPPEG is limited audience due to staggered hardware release dates. For example, when the first Overlord
came out, the PS3 had a very small user-base compared to that of the 360. Codemasters wisely made the decision to hold off development on the PS3 and commit to work on the 360 exclusively. Situations like this result in a de-facto timed exclusive until it's worth doing the work required to port the game to another platform.