NEW YORK (CNNfn) - Things are very odd at Oddworld Inhabitants these days.|
Just five months ago, the video game developer's newest title was being touted as one of the games to watch for the PlayStation 2. It was quirky, funny and downright beautiful. "Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee," though shown only behind closed doors, created a buzz on the show floor of the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), the video gaming industry's annual trade show.
Monday, though, on the eve of the PS2's launch, Oddworld changed sides, announcing it was abandoning Sony's console and teaming with Microsoft, making "Munch's Oddysee" an X-Box exclusive title. It was a decision that shocked the video gaming community and gave Microsoft's rival console a credibility boost.
"Some Sony diehard (fans) are saying 'You sold out!" That's not true," says Lorne Lanning, president and creative director of Oddworld Inhabitants. "We finally have a commitment for a product that's true to our vision and we won't have to compromise."
Analysts credit Microsoft for aligning itself with another quality developer, but say the impact of Oddworld's decision on the PlayStation2 will be minimal.
"Oddworld is an interesting property," said John Taylor of Arcadia Investment Corp. "It truly was a title that stood out when it was introduced, but I don't think you'd call it an established base driver, that is to say - people aren't going to go out and buy a PS for it."
In retrospect, Oddworld's decision shouldn't have come as much of a surprise. At E3, Lanning and CEO Sherry McKenna made no efforts to hide their frustration with the development kit Sony had shipped to game makers. While other developers haven't voiced similar complaints - and, in fact, have rushed to embrace the system - Lanning says his company ultimately decided the troubles they were having with it were too much to bear.
"The PlayStation2 was a system that we had to look at and decide 'is this the system that we want to invest all our money in for the next five to six years?'" he said. "We said 'is this the system we want to live with?' and the answer was, unanimously, no. Our artists didn't want to. Our programmers didn't want to. Our developers didn't want to."
Oddworld games are renowned for their detailed graphics and unique story lines. Since its introduction, the series has sold more than 4 million games and captured more than 100 industry awards. The company popped into the headlines two years ago when it submitted footage from one of its games for an "animated short" Academy Award. It won a lot of praise, but failed to be nominated.
Lanning concedes that Oddworld spends more money on each title than a lot of its competitors, making things a little rocky financially from time to time. And Microsoft will now subsidize the company until the game is released. However, Lanning is quick to note that Microsoft has not bought Oddworld.
That's something of an aberration in Microsoft's recent strategy. The company has been buying and incubating game developers for several years now, as it cooked up its X-Box strategy. Biggest among the acquisitions was the purchase of Chicago-based Bungie Software in June. Bungie's "Halo" boasts a revolutionary graphics engine that gives the game the fluidity of a computer-generated film - as opposed to today's games. The title will launch with the X-Box next fall.
Along with Oddworld, that makes two highly anticipated games that Microsoft has wrangled into its X-Box corral. While no guarantee of success, it does make Microsoft a competitor Sony has to take seriously.
"[The defection of Oddworld] isn't necessarily a loss for PlayStation2," says Taylor. "On the other hand, it is a plus for Microsoft. They know they have to have everything together for this launch and one of the things they're doing is organizing their titles."