Making a title exclusive must be a tough call for game companies to make. On the one hand, console makers will pay good money to keep a game out of the hands of the competition, and exclusivity allows developers to tailor the game to the strengths of a single console. But on the other hand, if the game becomes phenomenally successful, the publisher has to either lose out on all the money it could make selling the title for other consoles, or find a way out of the exclusivity agreement.
So, here's a crazy idea: What if Rockstar and Take-Two decide to take the exclusive route with Grand Theft Auto V, positioning the guaranteed blockbuster as a launch title for one, and only one, of the next-generation consoles?
Yes, it's unlikely. GTA games sell so well that a console maker would have to fork over some serious cash to keep one away from the competition. According to analyst Michael Pachter, Sony almost secured an exclusive on GTA IV, but Microsoft handed over $75 million to stop that from happening. In exchange for that fat wad of dough, all Microsoft got (besides killing Sony's exclusive) was a temporary exclusive on the two DLC episodes. If anyone tries to get an exclusive on GTA V, a similar bidding war could result, allowing Rockstar and Take-Two to stuff their pockets again without giving away anything too valuable.
Then again, all three console makers have something to gain from shutting the others out of the carjacking game, so maybe it's not as crazy as it sounds.
If exclusivity happens, my guess is that it will go to Nintendo. That may sound crazy, but in a lot of ways, it's the perfect fit for the company. Nintendo has made tons of money off the Wii, but both the Wii and Nintendo generally are losing steam. As far as the next generation goes, the 3DS hasn't been the smashing success that many predicted, and gamers are a little wary of the Wii U's bizarre tablet/console hybrid setup. The Wii U will launch before any of the other next-gen consoles, and it's being pushed as a powerful machine for real gamers who like high-caliber titles.
In short, Nintendo can probably afford to outbid its rivals for GTA, it could use an adrenaline shot, and GTA exclusivity would send a clear message to the gaming community that the Wii U is more than just an upgrade of the white box in your grandmother's nursing home. What's more, if GTA becomes a Wii U exclusive, Rockstar can custom-build the game to take advantage of the tablet controller, much the way it built Chinatown Wars with the DS in mind. Take-Two has already said it's "seriously" considering putting GTA V on Wii U.
Then again, I wouldn't bet my life savings on this happening. Over the last two decades, Nintendo has proven its willingness to publish adult fare—from dropping its blood ban with Mortal Kombat II on the Super Nintendo to bringing an only somewhat toned-down GTA to the DS—but at heart, it's still a family-friendly company with a chubby plumber as its mascot. The bigwigs won't have a problem with a multi-platform GTA V appearing on the Wii U, but I'm not sure they'll want to spend too much money tying the Nintendo brand to a brutal and controversial franchise—especially given that they've decided to keep the whimsical "Wii" name for the new console. In addition, Nintendo has always focused primarily on first-party development; it may want to invest its zillions making Mario, Zelda, and Metroid games, rather than handing its hard-earned profits to a third-party developer for an exclusive.
As for Microsoft and Sony, they both want a GTA V exclusive for the same reason: It will be a "killer app" that sells consoles, plain and simple. Neither of these brands would be significantly altered by being closely linked to GTA, because both companies have plenty of adult-oriented exclusives already. The biggest advantage would be that GTA fans would be more inclined to buy the winner's new console.
Still, I would give Sony a slight edge. The PlayStation 3 launched poorly and took forever to catch up—its total sales are just now rising to meet the Xbox 360's—so the company's higher-ups are going to put a lot of value on a strong launch this time around. Also, while the PlayStation 3 had its share of exclusives, the Xbox 360 had it beat in terms of shooters with Gears of War and Halo, so GTA V might fill more of a void for Sony than it would with Microsoft. Again, though, it's a close call. The PlayStation 3 did catch up eventually, and the Killzone and Resistance franchises aren't exactly chopped liver.
Of course, only time will tell how GTA V's exclusivity will pan out. In fact, it's not even clear that the game is slated for next-generation systems yet. But I'll go out on a limb with a more basic prediction: It will sell well, no matter what hardware it runs on.
By Robert VerBruggen
CCC Contributing Writer
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central. This week's is also purely a work of fiction*