Microsoft Games: Better than Rivals?

Microsoft Games: Better than Rivals?

A company that engineers a game console isn’t judged exclusively by the system they assemble: They’re also scrutinized according to the games they make for said console. After all, who ought to know how to harness the strengths of a platform more than the company that put it together?

Xbox’s Chief Financial Officer, Dennis Durkin, trotted out a bold claim regarding first party games during a mid-July interview with IndustryGamers. The Xbox 360’s first party software, Durkin said, is “superior” to first party games from Nintendo and Sony.

“You can’t dispute titles like Forza, which has consistently come out on a repeated cadence and sold multi-million units,” Durkin said. “You can’t dispute things like Fable, which again, on a very consistent pace, has come out and sold 2 and 3 million units a pop. And now new titles, like Kinect Sports, which has come out and sold over 3 million units.

“So we are, not only building existing IP and incubating around titles like Halo and others, but really building new IP in new areas. And that’s going to be core to us… to build those experiences and monetize those.”

According to Durkin, the proof of Microsoft’s first party superiority is in the pudding–or sales and review data, in this case. “I would ask you to go and look at some of your data, just to compare first party performance over the course of this lifecycle,” Durkin told IndustryGamers, “because I think our first party performance in terms of quality bars and units per title this shift has been superior to our competition’s.”

Durkin’s definition of superiority is a bit foggy. Does he mean that Microsoft’s first party games are put together better than Nintendo’s and Sony’s? Or does he mean that first party Xbox 360 games typically outsell its competitors’ games?

In either instance, IndustryGamers’ James Brightman complied and pulled up some Metacritic data on Microsoft’s first party games. “From a quality perspective, that’s somewhat subjective, but Metacritic shows an average of 75 for Microsoft Game Studios, 77 for Nintendo and 73 for SCEA (74 for SCEE and SCEI),” he wrote.

Metacritic is obviously far from the last word in game ranking, but as Brightman pointed out in his write-up of Durkin’s comments, neither Microsoft nor NPD Group will freely distribute the raw sales data we’d supposedly need to prove that first party Xbox 360 games consistently rate and sell better than Sony’s or Nintendo’s.

But by simply casting a look at the general games industry, Microsoft isn’t typically synonymous with legendary game development. That’s not to say the Xbox 360 lacks notable first party titles that sell like mad, but it’s Nintendo that easily carries away the prize for most notable first party games.

That’s not even necessarily a title Microsoft should be coveting, because Nintendo’s stellar game development is its blessing and curse. Nintendo’s fare is by far the Wii’s best-selling software: With few exceptions, third party games can hardly scratch together respectable sales. This has understandably made some third party developers gun shy about making games for Nintendo’s platforms, a problem that hasn’t been helped along by the Nintendo 3DS’s sluggish start.

And, lo and behold, Nintendo 3DS sales received a major shot in the arm in Japan this month, partially because of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D and Star Fox 64 3D. Both are first party games from Nintendo.

While there’s no question that Halo games move Xbox 360 units, Nintendo has hocked systems over and over again through the likes of Mario, Link, and Pikachu. Microsoft’s properties are admirable, but lack the familiarity and universal appeal of Nintendo’s work. Microsoft is still arguably in the more enviable position, though: It has decent first party games and very strong third party support, whereas Nintendo is forced to put its eggs in one basket, at least as far as the Wii is concerned.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

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