One of the biggest weapons in a fans arsenal when it comes to the “console wars” is a system’s exclusive line-up. Each and every side, will declare that they have the best exclusives for this reason or that. We decided to do a bit of research and see if any one console actually had a clear edge in having “better” exclusives than the other two.
First, there needed to be some uniformity in how games were considered “good,” and for this we used Metacritic’s aggregate scores for games. We recorded the thirty top-reviewed exclusives of this generation. For the purposes of this article, we are only counting games that have remained exclusive to a console as of this writing (so while LIMBO is rumored for the PS3, it remains exclusive to the Xbox 360). We also disqualified any collections like God of War and Metroid Prime Trilogy, as well as ports from other systems. So although Resident Evil 4 is only available on the Wii between the three consoles, it was ported from the GameCube and Playstation 2. We also excluded PC ports, as we are concerned mainly with console gaming.
What we found was that it is difficult to declare one single console “the best” for exclusives. For example, among the top 30 exclusives we looked at, there was an even split amongst the three consoles with Nintendo Wii, Sony PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360 each having 10 titles in the top 30.
Nintendo had the widest spread with their highest being 97 and their lowest being 87. Microsoft had the tightest spread with their highest game being an 94 and their lowest being an 88. Sony’s highest was a 96 and lowest an 89.
The average scores for all three were fairly close with Sony in the lead with 92. Microsoft in 2nd with an average of 91.3 and Nintendo pulling up the rear with a 90 average. The difference is negligible: no single console was the clear winner.
The highest rated game of the group belongs to Nintendo’s Wii, with a tie at 97 for Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Galaxy 2. The lowest rated game also belongs to the Wii with Sin and Punishment 2, Zack and Wiki, Donkey Kong Country Returns and Little King’s Story all sitting at 87.
But raw numbers don’t speak much to the actual games being delivered. How did the exclusives on each console break down with genre and variety?
The 10 Sony exclusives represent 7 different franchises, two of which hold more than one place: LittleBigPlanet and LittleBigPlanet 2 have places, as do three titles from the MLB: The Show franchise (’09, ’10, and ’11). Only two games on Sony’s list aren’t developed and published by Sony: Demon’s Souls (published by Sony in Japan, but nowhere else) and Metal Gear Solid 4. The most recent game on the list is MLB: The Show ’11 (90), which was released last March.
On the Xbox 360, the 10 exclusives represent 7 different franchises as well with a three way tie between Halo, Gears of War and Forza Motorsport, each of which have two entries on the list. Every game on the list was published by Microsoft, though it’s hard to count a “publisher” when it comes to downloadable titles. Still, those games are available only to those with subscriptions to Microsoft’s Xbox Live service. There are two titles like this on the 360: LIMBO and Shadow Complex. The most recent game on the list is Halo: Reach (91) which was released last September.
Finally, the Nintendo Wii’s 10 titles break down into 8 different franchises being represented (or 7.5 depending on how you want to count the Smash Brothers franchise). Mario makes the most appearances with 3 titles bearing the titular plumber in a key role. Of the 10 titles, 7 of them are published by Nintendo. Zack and Wiki was published by Capcom and Little King’s Story by XSEED games. Art of Balance is the sole WiiWare title present, and also has no publisher. The most recent title on the list is Donkey Kong Country Returns (87), which was released last November.
What does this all tell us? Not very much actually. It shows that as far as cream of the crop exclusives goes, all 3 systems are fairly even across the board. They all have a fair mix of new and old games, and cover a variety of genres. No single franchise or type of game dominates any of the three consoles’ “cream of the crop.”
But looking at their Metacritic scores is only one half of the story. I know most gamers don’t feel that sales is a reflection of quality, and it isn’t. But you do want quality to sell, so we shall cross examine the best-rated exclusives on each console with their sales and potential for that console.
Once again, Nintendo offers up the biggest gap in sales with New Super Mario Bros. Wii being the best selling exclusive for the console at 21.88 million and Little King’s Story at the bottom of the list with 240,000 units sold. The PlayStation 3 offers the smallest gap between its best selling game, Metal Gear Solid 4 at 5.14 million, and its lowest selling game, MLB: The Show ’11, at 320,000 units sold.
The best individual selling exclusive is New Super Mario Bros. Wii at 21.88 million and the lowest is also covered by the Wii with Little King’s Story selling 240,000. Sales data was unavailable for Shadow Complex, LIMBO and Art of Balance.
The 10 PS3 exclusives tallied for a total of 14.57 million units. On average, each title sold roughly 1.46 million units. The 8 Xbox 360 exclusives tallied for a total of 46.91 million units. On average, each title sold 5.86 million units. Finally the 9 Nintendo Wii titles tallied for a total of 55.49 million units. On average, each title sold approximately 6.17 million units.
New Super Mario Bros. Wii serves as huge outlier (selling nearly double its nearest competitor) so for a similar number here is the Wii data sans the game. The total amount of software sold drops to 33.61 million and the average unit sold per game falls to 4.20 million.
What do these numbers tell us?
In a nutshell, that quality matters the least on the PS3. As you can see, even being a highly-rated game doesn’t guarantee phenomenal numbers on the console. Even removing New Super Mario Bros. Wii from the equation, you are more likely to sell nearly 2.5 times more units on the Wii than the PS3 and nearly 3.5 times as much on the Xbox 360.
It also shows that quality is a mixed bag on the Wii. While it plays home to the highest selling game on the list, it also plays home to the lowest selling game on the list, and both averaged about the same Metacritic score. The Wii also seems to be home to the widest quality/sales disparity. The highest 3 rated games on the Wii also serves as 3 of their best sellers, while the lower 3 serves as their lower than expected sales.
An interesting note that can’t be seen from this set of data is that the Xbox 360 is also the only console to have its highest selling game represented in its top 10 exclusives list with Halo 3.
After reading this article, what should you come away with? The most important thing is probably the realization that all 3 major platforms are home to near-equal quality exclusives (again as far as the cream of the crop goes). Each platform also houses a variety of genres and franchises in its top 10. While sales isn’t a reflection of quality, you are more likely to get quality to sell on either the Xbox 360 or the Wii. In the end, however, it is difficult for us to declare one console “better” than another based solely on the “cream of the crop” exclusives they all offer.
Would any of this change if the list were expanded to the top 50 most critically-acclaimed exclusives? Or the top 100? It’s possible. It’s true that quality (based on critical reception) drops more quickly on the Wii than it does the PS3 or 360. As an example, in the top 100 best-reviewed games represented on Metacritic among the three consoles, the lowest-reviewed game has an 85 on both the PS3 and 360, while on the Wii it drops to a 79. Expanding this to the top 200, we see the worst-reviewed game come in with an 81 on both the PS3 and 360, but a 73 on the Wii. Although this speaks more to the fact that more games are released cross-platform between the PS3 and 360, while more console-exclusive content is brought to the Wii, it also begs the question of how many of the Wii’s exclusives would end up in a list of the top 50 or top 100 best-reviewed exclusives.
Below is a list of games that appear for each console.
Metal Gear Solid 4
God of War 3
MLB 09: The Show
MLB 10: The Show
MLB 11: The Show
Gears of War
Gears of War 2
Super Mario Galaxy
Super Mario Galaxy 2
Super Smash Bros. Brawl
Metroid Prime 3: Corruption
Art of Balance
New Super Mario Bros. Wii
Donkey Kong Country Returns
Zack and Wiki
Little King’s Story
Sin and Punishment: Star Successor
Special thanks to Nathan Donarum for helping with the research. He can be found on Twitter here or via e-mail email@example.com