#1: Well-balanced development environment
I've made this the #1 point because this is likely going to be playing a larger role in the current generation of products. Every time a new console comes out, you always hear about how it's "too powerful" for all but the most talented developers, or how an exceptionally beautiful game is only using 10% of the total system hardware. All of these comments are simply marketing phrases and have little real-world bearing. For example, I could say that my one player game is only using 25% of a console because I'd need to make it 4 players to use the full capabilities of the machine…
But why is ease of development so important now? The market has changed. First of all, gamers have gotten more sophisticated and we're demanding more in our games. We're asking for high-definition graphics, sophisticated storylines, reference quality soundtracks, and online/multiplayer features. A storyline like Perfect Dark Zero would have been fine in the N64 era. Now we want presentations like Call-of-Duty 2 or Metal Gear Solid 3. When it comes to racing games, we don’t simply want to drive real cars on real tracks, but we value the time developers such as Polyphony Digital and Bizarre Creations spend at the dyno shop. A game that takes 8 hours to beat is considered short, but I remember beating games like Area 88 or Street Fighter II in a fraction of that time. When Sega brought out Shenmue, it was amazing that they had gone on-location to cities that were featured in the game. Nowadays, we expect our developers to have on-location experience for even genres like racing games. Developers now must spend more and more money than they ever have before on the art, sound, and creative assets needed to make a world-class game.
There's a second facet to this argument. More people are playing video games today. You just need to compare the PlayStation 2 launch (can you imagine a more hyped launch?) and the Xbox 360 launch (which even today has less "consumer interest" than the PS3). It wasn't too difficult to find PS2's on day one provided that you rushed out to a few different Target, Wal-Mart or Best Buy stores. You couldn't do that with the Xbox 360. Even Gamers.com was able to give away 100 PS2s away. FiringSquad is only able to give away one Xbox 360 this year because it's so hard to find.
As a result of the need to produce bigger and better games, and a bigger market that makes it economically possible for these companies, we have more developers trying doing multiplatform development.
Historically, multiplatform development was something gamers hated. Often, games ended up being developed for the least common denominator meaning that the graphics power of the more advanced consoles remained unused. That was then, this is now. As I said before, gamers are more sophisticated today. Games for the Xbox 360 that offer little improvement over their Xbox or PS2 counterparts are not going to sell well. We're smarter than that
. Even in multi-platform games, developers are focusing a substantial amount of time to bring unique features to each of the platforms they are developing for, and an easy development environment is going to help developers achieve this goal.
It's hard to really get a sense of how good the Xbox 360 development environment is in comparison to the competition. While PS3 and Revolution developer materials and hardware exist, there's still time for Sony and Nintendo to evolve and improve their documentation and tools. At the same time, while Xbox 360 has an existing development environment, you can be sure that it too will evolve over time to meet new requirements. That said, in a chat with several multi-platform developers, it's unanimous that the documentation and tools of the Xbox 360 are exemplary. They've told us that it substantially better than the PS3 and is even better than Nintendo's development tools in some ways. This is an important comment because Nintendo has long been considered the benchmark and because the Xbox 360 is inherently a more complex machine.
Ease of development means that developers need to spend less time figuring how to make a feature work, and more time figuring out if the feature is *fun* and right now, the Xbox 360 has the best development environment.