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Are publisher allegiances shifting?

The platform holder press conferences at E3 this year have all been interesting to watch, as always - not just for the announcements, but for the posturing and side-swipes.

This year, on the latter point we had Nintendo undercutting Sony with comments about 3D being too expensive and cumbersome, while Sony had a go at both rivals - at Microsoft for the ponchos handed out for Sunday's initial Kinect reveal, and then a slightly more subtle dig at Nintendo when referencing motion-based characters that actually had arms and necks...

But on the whole it was a relatively civilised affair, and there was actually relatively little willy-waving compared to previous years - mostly, the companies focused on promoting their own products, rather than aiming anything too specifically at the others.

One of the things that really caught my eye, however, is the emerging allegiances between key third party publishers and the two HD platform holders.

Rewind to Monday, and Microsoft's briefing opened with a lengthy look at Activision's next Call of Duty game. Nothing too overt in that.

Until we fast-forward to Tuesday and watch ex-Microsoft bigwig John Schappert gushing his support for Sony on behalf of EA - announcing exclusive deals for both Medal of Honor and Dead Space 2.

Now - we all know that the economics of modern-day retail publishing make genuine platform exclusives much harder to justify (unless there's a big bag of cash on offer from the platform holder), and both EA and Activision need to appeal to much to the largest audience possible on both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 to suddenly dig up the entire business and plant it firmly in either camp.

But maybe there are some subtle lines being drawn up - and looking into the future, when third parties deal more with digital partners, cloud partners and both consoles have a very compelling installed base in their own right, there may be more room for picking one side over the other.

That said, it would be wholly irresponsible of either platform holder to let that happen - and I'd struggle to see a strong enough argument on the part of third parties that would convince their investors it was a good idea to put all eggs into a single basket... but you never know.

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Phil Elliott

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