In the game industry, third-party developers and publishers often have a bad rap. Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo, and the studios they own tend to turn out a regular catalog of high-quality games, but the output of third-party studios isn't as consistent. One only has to remember the plague of shovelware on the Wii to understand that third parties can be more interested in making a quick and cheap buck than in serving the interests of gamers.
Would the game industry be better off if the Big Three console creators owned all the software developers? What would happen if third-party companies didn't exist? At first, it seems like a nice proposition. Console companies have a vested interest in producing and publishing high-quality games, because a strong game library means better hardware sales over the long term. There would be a lot less shovelware out there, and perhaps even licensed games would experience a push for quality—it'd sure be nice to not have to assume that a game based on a movie will probably be awful. We also wouldn't have to worry about third-party companies adding extra annoyances to our game-playing experience, like requiring extra logins and charging extra for online play.
On the other hand, losing third-party developers means that developers lose a lot of creative freedom. The Big Three might produce a lot of high-quality games, but each company is conservative in its own way. Without independent game developers, we'd lose a lot of the creative ideas that bring out gaming's greatest moments. Niche games would be dead and gone, as console creators went after the largest possible audiences for their games. Any major trend adopted by a console company would become the direction that its game studios needed to go, making gaming a much more monotonous experience.
Third-party companies also provide important checks and balances on the power of console creators. They push console makers to improve their hardware for the next generation rather than rest on their laurels. They have the power to bail on one console company and support another, creating competition amongst the console companies to create a developer-friendly atmosphere. They can release multi-platform titles, making more games available to more people.
Think of what might happen if there were no third parties to provide innovation and balance to the Big Three. Nintendo would go completely gimmick-crazy, and we'd be buying a new plastic peripheral for every Nintendo game we wanted. There wouldn't be anything to play on the Xbox 360 but Kinect games and Halo. Sony would—well, who knows what Sony would do with ultimate power over all software on its system? We can be fairly sure it wouldn't be good—this is the company that refuses to kill PlayStation Home, after all.
And what about PC gaming? Who would the first-party publisher be for the PC, anyway? Intel? Dell? Microsoft or Apple? The entire PC gaming platform is made up of independent developers, and we stubborn PC gamers like it that way.
In the end, I think our hobby would be far less interesting and colorful if the Big Three directly owned all developers. It would also be more expensive and less friendly to both developers and gamers. Sure, some of the worst habits of third-party developers would disappear, but we'd also lose the best that they have to offer. Think of gaming without BioWare and Rockstar, without Modern Warfare and Assassin's Creed, without Castle Crashers and Katamari. We may think that Activision CEO Bobby Kotick is a jerk or that Ubisoft puts out way, way too much shovelware, but let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Third parties are vital to this industry, and we'd be very sad if they suddenly went away.
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.*