For many online outlets, Respawn Entertainment’s Titanfall was the biggest and best game of the show at this year’s E3. Amidst the (now resolved) whirlwind of concerns regarding Microsoft’s and Sony’s DRM plans for their future consoles, Titanfall still managed to impress a lot of gamers. The acrobatics, the sleek graphics, and the intense combat brought on the drool, and Titanfall’s exclusivity was touted as a definite advantage in the next-gen console race.
Looking back, however, I find that hanging the Xbox One’s hopes on Titanfall was a terrible mistake on Microsoft’s behalf. Let’s first examine the issue of exclusivity. Titanfall is not – strictly speaking – exclusive. It will have simultaneous releases on the 360 and the PC, with a future Playstation 4 release “not out of the question” according to Respawn’s own Joel Emslie. Why bet the Xbox One’s future on a game that is not even exclusive, on a game that may also go to your competitor in the future? The PC release is a non-issue. The PC version of a multiplatform game rarely cuts into the sales of the console version, even if the PC version is technically superior as was the case with games like Far Cry 3 and Battlefield 3. The 360 version is a different story.
Titanfall is a multiplayer-only game. Respawn has confirmed that no single-player mode will be included with Titanfall with the explanation of “how many people finish the single-player game? It’s a small percentage”. That being the case, where do you think gamers will go? Will they go where the larger, more established online community is on the 360, a system they already own? Or, will they spend $499 on a system that their friends may or may not also purchase? This same argument applies to the next installments of the Call of Duty and Battlefield franchises which will also be available on the 360. Why upgrade? Granted, the 360 version is being handled by a separate team than Respawn, but when the advertisements go up and gamers see it is available on 360 as well, the urge to upgrade will take a huge hit.
Another issue: Titanfall’s appeal is being overstated by a large degree. Yes, Respawn Entertainment was made by the former Infinity Ward guys. Yes, they have a proven track record. Yet, does the public know that? Consider a game like Destiny (which is being heavily advertised right now). At the end of every Destiny commercial, the Bungie logo flashes and the commercial closes with the statement “From the Creators of Halo and the Company that Brought You Call of Duty”. Boom! Everyone recognizes “Bungie”, “Halo” and “Call of Duty”. What is Titanfall’s claim-to-fame? It’s not like they can use the titles “Call of Duty”, “Modern Warfare”, or “Infinity Ward” or “From the Team that Sued Activision for Unpaid Royalties” in their own advertisement, so the fact that this is being made by a few of the ex-Infinity Ward guys is going to be lost on the general public. Few will know. Even fewer will care.
Lastly, new IPs do not fare well during a system’s first year of launch, historically speaking. Sure, some do become huge hits, but typically the games released within a console’s first year are meant to tide gamers over until the bigger franchises start showing up. Titanfall certainly has the potential to be a huge hit. It also has the potential to be a Perfect Dark Zero or a Kameo, you know, a new game made by a proven developer that ends up selling okay and ultimately goes nowhere? Yeah. For the sake of Respawn Entertainment, I sincerely hope Titanfall does well, but it does not need the Xbox One to do well. It can do just fine on the 360 and the PC.
As a game, Titanfall seems like a vibrant departure from the corridor shooters we’ve come to expect over the last several years. As a headliner for the Xbox One, I fear that Titanfall will do very little to convince gamers to “Jump In” to a brand-new $500 console, but only time will tell.