Looking at the home consoles we have now, there is little variety to them. Wii U doesn’t really have anything big to demand a purchase and most games on PS4 and Xbone are crossplatform titles. An argument that often stems from this is that this serves the consumer the best as he now has complete freedom to choose whatever platforms and get all the games he wants. While a valid argument, the selection nowadays seems to be more limited, more homogeneous than what it was in previous generations.
The competition between SEGA’s Mega Drive and Nintendo’s Super Nintendo illustrates well the difference two consoles can have in their library. When you add PC-Engine/ Turbografix-16 to the mix, you have consoles that have a distinctly different library to them. Games that crossed platforms at the time were relatively scarce. Some franchises did cross platforms from back and forth, like Castlevania. Mega Drive exclusive Vampire Killer/Bloodlines/New Generation does follow the usual classic Castlevania fare, yet a unique entry in the series. Similarly Rondo of Blood on PC-Engine had its own and Super Nintendo had the comparative Super Castlevania IV. This is a good example how three games in a same series offer similar experience, but are able to stand on their own. Not only all three are good games, but expanded the series as well.
Another way to bring similar yet totally unique games on a system was to create similar games. The Story of Thor/Beyond the Oasis on the Mega Drive is often compared to the 2D The Legend of Zelda games, thou the influences can be tracked to Hydlide and Ultima. Never underestimate the impact Ultima had on the game culture and industry alongside Wizardry. Anyway, nobody in their right mind would call The Story of Thor a simple Zelda clone. Sure, it offers top-down Action RPG gameplay, but that’s nothing too uncommon, especially for its era.
Nowadays you will not see companies making different games for different platforms like this. This is simply because the development for current generation of machines is expensive and time consuming. According to Masari Ijuin, it takes eight to ten times more work to develop for the current generation. Higher power also means higher needs for time, money and other resources. This is directly mirrored in game prices, which are on the rise.
To use Castlevania as a continuing example, developing both Lords of Shadow 1 and 2 took a lot of time and money. Mirror of Fate is a piece with smaller development budget simply because it was originally developed for a console that does not demand that insane development cycles modern Triple A games seem to automatically get. Mirror of Fate got ported to other platforms later down the line. The argument I’ve seen most thrown around is that pushing the same game on different platforms maximises the profit the company can gain from a game. While I do get called a corporate bitch from time to time, this isn’t something I would support, because that means we’ve lost variety. We don’t have three different Castlevanias on different platforms, we’re having the one and the same Castlevania.
To use Mega Drive and Super Nintendo as an example again, there was a reason to choose between the two, thou if you wanted to get Shooting games, you got the PC-Engine/Turbografix-16. Both consoles had their own variety of games to offer. When a company did one sort of game on one platform, you could be sure you would see a strike back on the other. The reason why Super Nintendo was named as the kiddy console was because it lacked the serious sports titles. The NES was filled with sports titles, and so was the Mega Drive. It gathered a different audience, and the games reflected it. There are so many legendary games on developed during the time when multiplatform titles were a universal standard. Even thou we are having more games developed than ever before, there is a distinct lack of that spark that made the best ones unique jewels.
I question if having an access to almost every game on one platform trumps over having variety in the library of games we are offered in the same manner I question the need for the higher power hardware for home gaming, especially during a harsh economic depression. It would be great if companies saw a game that becomes a huge hit on a system, and then proceed to aim to beat that game’s success on another. It’s true that the competition between developers is harsh, especially considering there are companies giving their games out for free and allowing Valve to devalue their products in Steam. Game industry has gotten too big for its own good, and games have become a common commodity with too little variety.