In response to Ryan's article, it looks like Microsoft is trying to buy up a large majority of top rated developers. Ryan's argument that Microsoft will buy up the competition and ensure that only the best games will be on the Xbox is shared by many people. However, while some may protest the console empire Microsoft is trying to build with the Xbox, they are following the lead that other game companies have set in recent years.
Lets flash back several years to the eight bit era. Nintendo signs exclusive contracts with third parties to ensure the biggest titles titles stay on the NES and not on any of the competing systems--mainly the Turbo Grafx 16 and Sega Master System. Continuing their dominating ways, Nintendo kept their third parties exclusive to them for the majority of the sixteen bit era. This ensured that the developers were not equally shared on both the Genesis and Turbo Grafx/Turbo Duo platforms.
Okay, so Nintendo wasn't exactly buying up all of the good developers and making them part of their first party, however, they set a precedent to try and keep all of the really great games and developers exclusive to their platform.
This practice got worse when the PlayStation was released. Sony and Sega were neck to neck in sales of the Saturn and PSX. Sony started to take over the video game industry by stealing Square from Nintendo and making them exclusive to Sony. Sony won them over by offering to publish and market their titles. This led to successful partnership that brought RPG's into the best seller lists for the first time in a market outside of Japan. After this move, Sony slowly knocked the life out of the Sega Saturn and easily stopped the Nintendo 64. How did Sony come out from nowhere to steal the video game industry? Easy, besides gaining the partnership with Square, they bought up a large majority of developers and made sure they had a multitude of exclusive titles for their console. Some of the First Party developers Sony has obtained includes: Rainbow, Level 5, Team Soho, Killer Game, Cambridge Studios, Insomniac, Sucker Punch, Incognito Studios, and 989 Studios.
Sony also has obtained the exclusive rights to many third party titles. These include titles from companies such as Bandai, Agetec/From Software, Capcom, Konami, Game Arts, Rockstar, Sega, Square (who Sony owns a large percentage of now), Eidos, Electronic Arts, Infogrames, Namco, THQ, Activision, Koei, Interplay, Climax, Tecmo, Atlus, Banpresto, Sierra, BAM! Entertainment, and more. As you can see, Sony has either bought developers or made exclusive agreements with them to ensure their PlayStation platform receives the large majority of AAA titles only on their console.
Not only are first part studios buying up good developers but the third parties are doing it too. Electronic Arts, Activision, and Infogrames are all third parties who have also bought up smaller, but successful, developers. And Sony has done well with making many exclusive deals with each of these publishers.
Microsoft has tried to get exclusive content for the Xbox. However, thus far in the life of the console, very few titles have been exclusive except from the first party developers. Big third party titles like Dead to Rights, which appear to be exclusive to the Xbox, will appear on the PS2 after a short time. How is Microsoft supposed to gain a foothold in the console market and be competitive? The answer is simple--follow Sony's strategy. How did Sony learn this strategy? They copied Nintendo who dominated the market with the NES and SNES.
Will the game industry be hurt if Microsoft buys up companies like Rare, Capcom, and Sega? No. What will happen is that the game industry will become even more competitive. With fewer multiplatform titles, it will make the content on each console much more unique. Who really wants to see the same game appear on the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube? Instead of worrying about Microsoft buying up good developers, we need to be concerned with someone having a chance to compete with Sony in the Japanese market. Sony completely dominates Japan. Unless Microsoft can get exclusive development from Japanese companies like Sega and Capcom, Microsoft will never be able to make a dent in the region.
It may seem unfair at first glance that Microsoft is trying to buy up a lot of good developers. However, they are just trying to compete with a very aggressive Sony company that has been unstoppable in the console wars. If Microsoft can get their hands on some big name developers, we may just find ourselves with a great console war where each of the "big three" work overtime to ensure they have the best titles only available on their respective platforms.