A few weeks ago, when part of Capcom's contract with Sony for Resident Evil Village circulated on social networks thanks to the ongoing investigation of Capcom's data leak, many people were very upset. For many who do not live off legal documents, a part of these papers seemed to suggest that Sony paid Capcom to make the game worse on other consoles, retaining resources to make the PS5 version look good. Another tweet suggested that Sony paid to postpone the PC version of Monster Hunter World.
It didn't take long for lawyers and other experts in the gaming industry to take action and assure everyone that this was totally absurd.
These charges revolved around something called "parity clauses", a standard inclusion in many games industry contracts between owners of platforms like Sony, Xbox, Nintendo and some of the PC game stores. The parity clauses are so boring that of the three lawyers and two editors who asked for a comment on this article, several were perplexed by what I was asking, with one of them telling me that asking them about parity clauses was the equivalent of asking them if I had copper PVC pipes under the sink or asking about the weather.
But while they are a standard part of everyday life for many in the gaming industry, understanding parity clauses provides interesting insight into one of the ways in which publishers and platform owners try to protect their own businesses and ensure that all players have fun, regardless of the platform.
What are parity clauses?
Generally speaking, parity clauses exist to ensure that the things you buy are practically the same, no matter where you buy them. There are parity clauses in many sectors other than gaming, with Gamma Law managing partner David Hoppe offering the hotel industry as an example: a "rate parity" clause may require a hotel to match the lowest room rate low provided to other online travel agencies.
In the gaming space, Whitethorn Digital's CEO, Dr. Matthew White, offers a retro example:
"In the 90s, games could look dramatically different on two different systems and be sold at the same price with same SKU, "he said. "… I mean, you had dramatic graphic and audio differences between the systems. Sometimes, they lacked entire features and things like that. And I think that's what console makers today can easily look back on. No parity means that , if a developer encounters some kind of frame rate obstacle on the PlayStation for any reason, instead of seeking help from the platform to resolve it, or work with technical support, they just launch it that way. "
Parity clauses can cover many different aspects of a game. As Stein IP, LLC technology and gaming attorney Marc Whipple said, "First, it will be about player experience parity. Significant resources, unless they are not available on a specific platform for technical reasons, should be comparable across all platforms. Content must match (without leaving out missions or important stories or characters or whatever.) DLC, support / backend if the developer is providing these, etc. come after that. And of course , if versions are made to launch at the same time, this will also be provided. But, most importantly, it is a consistent experience. "
The gaming industry attorney, Angelo Alcid, also mentioned price parity clauses , suggesting that platform owners can request that games be sold at the same price in each store. But he added that the price parity clauses are currently receiving scrutiny from the EU and now from the US governments and "are considered by some to be anti-competitive", which means they may be going out of style.
Who signs the parity clauses?  Parity clauses are traditionally signed between platform owners and publishers. Thus, the three console manufacturers, in addition to owners of PC stores like Valve and Epic Games, all have parity clauses included in contracts with publishers who want to put games in their stores. They are basically in all contracts in some way, although the specifications are different.
An anonymous publisher I spoke to who was familiar with the parity clauses told me that the publishers of various games often sign a general agreement with a platform owner that covers all of their games for a certain period of time and applies to all of them. Meanwhile, Whipple mentioned that very small independent developers may be less likely to sign them, especially when the developer is fulfilling the same role as the publisher, or where only one game is in question, rather than a portfolio of multiple titles.
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And Whipple had another group of people to add to players interested in parity clauses: license holders.
"If I license a property like Star Wars or Marvel Heroes or whatever, that licensor will have [sic] approval for all licensed games," he said. "And they will have explicit parity clauses or they will insist on approval that if the version of platform A is awesome, but the version of platform B sucks, or the version of platform B doesn't start, * no * version will start until both are approved or can simply withdraw the license altogether. "
It is also worth noting that parity clauses often interact with exclusivity agreements in relevant ways. Alcid suggested that parity clauses may occasionally inadvertently create exclusivity "indirectly".
"If a developer / publisher really wants to release on a specific platform, but may not have the resources to develop multiple versions in parallel, they may end up developing only for the platform they are pushing for release parity," he said. "On the other hand, such a developer / publisher may find this parity clause discouraging enough to decide to become exclusive on another platform, or he may have already launched the game somehow elsewhere and think that it is not worth trying to open one dialogue around a parity clause that would otherwise disqualify. In the latter case, the parity clause inadvertently causes exclusivity for someone else. "
But, while exclusivity deals are a separate thing, platform owners who want the business of certain publishers may be willing to bend their parity rules to get their hands on a really interesting game for their storefronts.
Who enforces this?
One thing that everyone with whom I spoke made it clear is that, although the parity clauses are important, they are not exactly well applied. Alcid recalls that Microsoft was criticized in the early days of its ID @ Xbox program for imposing parity on release dates for its independent partners, but notes that it has since softened its stance.
Part of the lack of application is intentional, and the majority is for the better. One obvious reason why parity may not be applied is that this is impossible. As an example, White suggested that a Nintendo Switch will never be able to match the performance capabilities of an Xbox Series X, and neither will a cell phone. In addition, a game released on all three systems will inevitably have slightly different control schemes in each, as well as possible UI changes or other minor adjustments to account for the inherent differences between platforms. This is normal, and those with whom I spoke said that the industry is doing very well with these differences.
In other ways, the lack of supervision is less motivated by the need and more attributed to an attitude of "everyone is doing this". . Alcid told me that resource parity is very important for everyone involved – cross-saving, language options and so on – but "content" can be a little bit more obscure.
"Content & # 39; piece in particular can come into play with DLC and other add-ons too, preventing a game from releasing platform-specific content to someone else," he said he. "Like Spider-Man just being on the PS4 version of Avengers – if Microsoft was still particularly concerned about its parity clause, they could have questioned that." For the record, Alcid was not referring to any specific knowledge of Microsoft's contract with Square Enix for Avengers; this was just a hypothetical example.
The anonymous editor I spoke with noted that this is why we sometimes see timed exclusives or different exclusive content on different systems.
"They can do something in the special DLC package that comes as an incentive to the player is exclusive, but only for the first six months," they said. "And then they eventually bring it to the Xbox. And in doing so, they kept their commitment to parity. Or, sometimes, they claim to have given parity by giving something special to the Xbox that the PlayStation 5 doesn't have. But in order to maintain parity with the Xbox, they offer Xbox consumers a special bonus of some kind as well. "
Those I talked to also mentioned that loose application is generally the reason why games that are a little worse on one console or another at launch. In such cases, although the differences may be noticeable in comparison footage or in media outlets and players looking for them, as long as the disparity is not so great that a set of players is clearly going through horrible times, it is not worth the company starting a legal action. Usually, some post-release patches end up cleaning things up anyway. And if you're already running into the comment section to remind me of any game you just thought was significantly worse on a platform, know that there will always be outliers. This is how most games work.
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Despite all this loose application aside, the two editors I spoke with suggested that they themselves and the editors they know will generally do the self-application, and for good reason. It would be terrible PR, White told me, if a game were released on PS4 and Xbox One and it was a horrible and confusing experience on Xbox and a good one on PS4. Not only would Microsoft be crazy and less interested in working with the publisher in the future, but players would also be upset and risk losing a piece of their audience.
"Sometimes it means that you have to intentionally delay a game on one console to match parity on the other console, but that's not because you're trying to ignore players on one system or something," said White. He told me that, from experience, publishers plan spending on marketing and public relations around a simultaneous release. In a scenario where a game is struggling to, say, hit a frame rate bar on the PlayStation 4, Sony is unlikely to be taking a deep breath to delay this as much as an Xbox One version of the game. publisher makes the call to delay both to ensure that the game stays within budget.
"In this scenario, we have [a few] the main motivations that come to mind and the parity clauses are not one of them. One is, we want each person who sees the [our] ad to go to any console they own and have a similar, high-quality experience. We want to avoid what I call the fast food hamburger effect, where the hamburger in the ad looks like a meticulous, beautiful and well-crafted thing. And then you take the hamburger and it's something that someone threw it in a bag, and it's just lettuce and piles of rubbish. That's what we want to avoid. "
How do parity clauses affect us?
The people I spoke to had mixed responses about how the parity clauses really affect consumers. Both White and the anonymous publisher felt that they were largely consumer friendly and that the current dynamics of publishers doing their best and platform owners avoiding rigid application were, for the most part, working well enough to ensure that games discrepancies were not released with horrible parity (although they acknowledged that there were always occasional exceptions.)
"Consumers have had many cases of dealing with a poor transfer of a game to a platform," said the anonymous editor. "And what these [clauses] really are there to prevent is for diluted and scaled down versions of these games – and it’s not perfect, it won’t always prevent all versions of this from happening. But the fact that publishers sign these agreements and take them them semi-seriously and have to commit to providing a comparable experience across all platforms, it means that you will not have a game so often that runs very well on one platform, but then everything is missing and has been cut down to nothing in any another platform.
"It is very likely that, if these clauses did not exist, even more people would try to follow that path, instead of doing all the hard work to actually get a difficult feature to work on Switch or Xbox, they could just cut it and then those consumers would never have that feature. "
The legal minds with whom I spoke had a different opinion.
" As the exclusivity agreements, I think release parity clauses are something that stabilizes companies want, but consumers generally no (except for people who root for "their" platform at the expense of others), "he said." When strictly applied, they end up limiting the availability of games and keeping them out of the reach of people who may not be able to afford one. of each new console and a viable game PC, and I'm sure there is no lack of stories from (particularly minor) developers who end up launching on just a few platforms as a direct result of the existence of these clauses. "
Hoppe pointed out that parity clauses create some friction for smaller developers, suggesting that such clauses" force them to prioritize one platform over another "and limit their potential revenue sources.
He added that they can also create some friction for players, although he said that a lot of it was due to perception, not real problems. "Parity clauses can block the player base of games for a certain period of time or forever. Most players are now used to games that are indefinitely exclusive to the console, particularly in the case of games developed by the first or second – third party developers (third party developers are owned by third parties).
"However, games that are time-exclusive or have exclusive console content are often seen as" unfair ", despite the fact that there is generally a good reason for the first part and the developer reach that agreement, as the first part provides financial or promotional support. And despite this negative perception, delayed releases may work in favor of the affected player base, as developers have time to remove bugs or add new features to improve the gaming experience during the delay period. "
And then Resident Evil: Village?
To return to Resident Evil: Village and the parity clause highlighted a few weeks ago, all of this is to say that lawyers and businessmen saying there was no cause for alarm were absolutely right. With the caveat that no one I spoke to was willing to comment on any specific parity clause for various legal reasons, all the Sony and Capcom agreement really says is that if Capcom releases the game anywhere else in the coming years seven years, the PlayStation version has to be just as good. Therefore, Capcom cannot make a new version exclusively for the Xbox that has a lot of features that the PlayStation version does not have, and cannot make any exclusive DLC for any other platform. Capcom magically creates a version of the same game a few years later that performs better and wants to put it on the Xbox, but also on the PlayStation. That is all that is happening here.
The parity clauses may sound alarming when considered at face value, but as with any other legal agreement, it is essential to understand the real context and the effects before making a rash judgment about what it means. In reality, parity clauses are a normal aspect of the gaming industry, but the systems around them are critical to ensuring that we all play the same games, regardless of the console we own. So, the next time you buy a game on PS5 and have basically the same experience that your friends are having on the Xbox series systems, thanks to a parity clause.
Rebekah Valentine is a reporter for IGN. You can find her on Twitter @duckvalentine .