The shot heard round the world was fired by Microsoft. The bullet was a small developer called Oddworld Inhabitants and although, in the grand scheme of things, it meant little, nobody could ignore the symbolism. The mighty empire of Bill had already bought up Bungie whole, and with it the infinitely promising Halo. Following that clever tactical move with a straight-out coup of one of the PS2’s most heavily hyped titles, Munch’s Oddysee, was a declaration of war. In the last few months things have escalated, with Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft sending out press release after press release declaring some new company or another’s allegiance. The truth is, though, that most of the little companies that sign on to develop next-gen titles don’t mean much to the average gamer. If Natsume announces it’s making Harvest Moon for the PS2, about 5,000 people are going to be excited and everyone else will look blank and go about their business. There are some companies, however, that can make or break a console. Here are the top 10 companies that could decide the next console war.
The undisputed giant of the games industry, EA made the PS2 launch. The likes of SSX and Madden 2001 not only brought hardcore consumers to the store, they wowed the general public. Now EA has officially signed onto make Xbox games. We’re also hearing rumor of SSX already in development for the Gamecube, and we expect that even if those aren’t true, EA is nevertheless going to be appearing on Nintendo’s new machine. The only one left out in the cold, then, is Sega. Is it just pride still keeping EA from releasing games on Sega’s now obviously successful system?
While many of Konami’s revolutionary titles are coming to the PS2 first, including Ring of Red, Shadow of Destiny, Silent Hill 2, Zone of Enders and Metal Gear Solid 2, there’s no guarantee they’re going to stay there. Konami has yet to announce any major Dreamcast works in progress, but it’s a solid bet now that MGS2 at least is headed for Xbox after its PS2 release. Whether this will mean that other PS2 games move over in time is still unknown, and Konami has been quiet about Gamecube, but we expect to see them on multiple platforms next year. Universal, through Konami, will also be bringing its various licenses to a variety of consoles.
The Final Fantasy series is one that has shaped the PSOne and, before that, the SNES. Square has firmly established itself as a must-have developer and the war for exclusive titles from it will be a bloody one. Already we have it on good authority that Square is going to Xbox, and we expect Nintendo to reestablish ties with the RPG giant as well. Whether the same games will be ported to multiple systems or if there will be independent projects is yet to be seen, but we do know there are no plans to make Dreamcast games.
Kings of survival horror, 2D fighting and just about anything else the company puts its collective mind to, Capcom has always supported multiple platforms — but not always equally. Lately the Dreamcast support has been in the form of ported classic games instead of the revolutionary titles that came with launch, and this may mean the company has moved on to other things. Expect Capcom to test all the waters and then concentrate where the market share, company cooperation and fan base is strongest.
If we were to pick the perfect approach for a company to have to multiple platforms, it would be Namco’s. While the more family-oriented classic games like Pac-Man show up everywhere, and one version of Ridge Racer did eventually make it to N64, Namco has shown its preference to be support of all consoles coupled with exclusive titles on each. There will probably never be a Tekken on Gamecube or a Soul Calibur on Xbox, but we expect Namco will come up with something brilliant for each.
Infogrames, Eidos, Activision, & LucasArts
We’ve included all four of these heavy hitters in the same place, simply because they combine to make a huge number of games but will have the least effect on the coming war. All four companies hold fast to the belief that the best money is to be made from porting early and often. Expect to see the next Soul Reaver, Star Wars, Driver and Tony Hawk on all systems that are still successfully selling games at the time.
Once the bastion of mostly licensed crap, THQ has reinvented itself in the last few years and is making the move towards being a major player in the hardcore scene. Games like the upcoming Red Faction will be the bread and butter of next-generation systems, and it’s still unclear whether THQ is interested in porting its major games. There will, of course, be a WWF game on every platform, but it’s too early to find out if THQ will go the Namco/Capcom route of separate big titles or just get port-happy.
There aren’t many companies that can claim a spotless record for the last five years, but the maker of Diablo I & II, Warcraft I, II & III and Starcraft can do just that. As of yet there have been no announcements of Blizzard bringing games to any console, but all of its titles are mainstream-friendly, and the Xbox will run on the PC architecture Blizzard is used to working with. If Microsoft gets Warcraft III on its launch list, it could be a major coup.
There may not be a big following for Enix’s work in the US, but that’s largely because the company has seemed happy to keep its games on Japanese shores during this last generation of consoles. That’s been changing lately, though, and the Dragon Warrior series, which consistently runs neck and neck with the Final Fantasy games, could have a big impact for whatever console it ends up on. Let’s be clear — Nintendo lost Square and Enix in Japan and suffered terribly; Microsoft needs at least one of those RPG stalwarts.
With all this talk of developers and publishers favoring one company or another, one thing is fairly consistent. Although some publishers are bringing games to Dreamcast, none of the companies listed favor Sega’s little underdog. That leaves Sega itself to hold the Dreamcast up — and it’s doing so in fine style. With the absolute best first-party games in the industry right now, Sega isn’t going down without a fight. Rumors of Sega bringing franchises like Crazy Taxi to other platforms may actually prove true, but if so expect it to only happen in Japan, where the Dreamcast is weak.