Without doubt, the biggest news to come out of Gamescom this year was Microsoft’s announcement that Lara Croft’s latest adventure would, seemingly, reside exclusively on the Xbox One.
Indeed, the development even permeated major mainstream news sites such as BBC News and TIME. However, all was not as it seemed. Less than 48 hours later, amidst a growing online backlash and countless analyses of Microsoft’s ambiguously-worded initial announcement of an “exclusive holiday 2015 release” for Rise of the Tomb Raider, Xbox chief Phil Spencer was forced to admit that “the deal has a duration, I didn’t buy it… I don’t own the franchise.” He also confirmed a simultaneous Xbox One, PC and 360 release for the game.
Although Spencer refused to disclose the expiration date of the exclusivity agreement with publishers Square Enix, it’s surely safe to assume that Rise of the Tomb Raider won’t see a release on a Sony console until at least part-way through 2016.
Several members of the Power Up Gaming team were quick to respond with their opinions of the initial announcement and its fallout:
Harry Bowers: It’s little wonder that Microsoft felt motivated enough to drop exorbitant amounts of money in to Square Enix’s laps. As it turns out, Rise of the Tomb Raider will only be a timed exclusive for the Xbox One and 360. In a matter of months, Sony fans will be playing exactly the same game. Yet this fact has proved largely ineffectual. Microsoft’s ambiguously worded announcement – and the subsequent fan backlash it’s provoked – has already achieved its desired effect: publicity. Looking at the BBC news technology page now, there is no clarification that Rise of the Tomb Raider will not be an Xbox One exclusive. The same is true for almost every other major news site. In the eyes of the large majority of gamers, who do not religiously scavenge game sites for new morsels of information, Rise of the Tomb Raider will be an Xbox One exclusive. As one of the most notable AAA releases of the coming years, Rise of the Tomb Raider will undoubtedly be the push for many gamers to initiate themselves in to the next gen market. Thanks to Microsoft’s announcement this week, the large majority of these gamers will buy Xbox Ones.
Truth be told, console giants Sony and Microsoft are growing increasingly desperate to find ways to differentiate their systems. User interface and decorative minutiae aside, games are what really matter. Neither company is above utilizing these little psychological tricks to get a jump on the competition. Microsoft was in fact the first to mechanize the timed exclusive model as a platform for massive profit. Microsoft snapped up a timed monopoly upon the Call of Duty DLC releases last generation. Not at all surprisingly, Call of Duty sales on the Xbox 360 far exceeded those on any other platform. Most notable, however, is Sony’s dominance over the upcoming Destiny franchise. Timed DLC, exclusive content and Playstation-centric trailers all assure that Destiny is almost exclusively attached to Sony’s brand. This was no-doubt a massive blow to the Xbox One, likely pushing Microsoft to sign the Tomb Raider deal. Competition is growing ever fiercer.
Like it or not, timed-exclusivity is another way for developers and publishers to make money; that means it’s here to stay. Games such as Watch Dogs, Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes, Assassins Creed and many, many more indicate this trend will only grow in scale. In the not so far-distant future it could well be a novelty to have a game which releases all its content on all consoles simultaneously. The thousands online who expressed feelings of genuine hurt for Microsoft’s announcement are going to have to learn to adjust very quickly. Gamers are the only real losers in these situations. With that I can’t help but view Microsoft’s biggest announcement as a demoralizing portent for the future of the games industry.
Chris Needham: When I first heard the news about Rise of the Tomb Raider during Gamescom, my heart sank and I’ll admit I had a moment of panic. I loved the Tomb Raider reboot from 2013 and have been a Lara fan since I got the original on PlayStation for my birthday back in 1996.
It simply didn’t add up to me and I quickly began to believe that it would be a timed exclusive. No matter how long the duration of the exclusivity, it’s still a big win and a great deal for both Microsoft and Xbox owners. Will it help to shift more consoles? Possibly. Though not as many now that the head of Xbox has publicly said “the deal has a duration” just two days after the original announcement.
I’ve seen people on forums and comment sections saying things like, “both consoles have exclusives so what’s the problem?” Obviously this is true, but I think the issue gamers have is that there’s a difference between owning a studio to make games for you and buying a game from an already well-established studio. There was a sense that something was off when the game was announced at E3 during the Microsoft conference and no word of it during Sony’s.
What was even more strange was that Tomb Raider started on PlayStation and the previous game had done very well on both platforms so why would they decide to suddenly cut out half, if not more, of the market? Even so, it was a relief to have it confirmed that there is a time limit; whether we initially thought so or not. We’re not sure how long it is yet, it could be a week or a year, but it’s nice to know, especially as a Playstation gamer myself, that we will see Miss Croft again eventually.
It was clever wording from Microsoft when they announced it to the world. If I was to guess though, I think, or hope, that we’ll see Rise of the Tomb Raider on PlayStation 4 by the end of February when I can get it for my birthday again some 18 years later.
Chris Mawson: To echo what both Chris and Harry have already brought up, this acquisition was certainly a canny move by both parties, and is rightly being viewed as a major coup for Microsoft and a boost for the flagging sales of their Xbox One system.
Like Chris, I’ve played Tomb Raider since the franchise’s inception on the Saturn and PS1 – the latter of which it became intrinsically linked with in the late 1990s and helped drive countless console sales – and share his disappointment in the fact that the latest entry in the rebooted series will be released exclusively, at least at first, on the Xbox One and 360.
It can be no coincidence that Rise of the Tomb Raider’s release date has been slated for holiday 2015; around the same time we expect the fourth entry in Naughty Dog’s critically-acclaimed Uncharted series to land on the Playstation 4. Going head-to-head with a game the rebooted Tomb Raider has borrowed heavily from – even if it was the other way around at first – on the PS4 would be high-risk for Square Enix. By putting off the release until after Nathan Drake has well re-established himself on the PS4, they’re likely to attract far more Sony fans to invest in Tomb Raider come Spring 2016 when I expect to see it released for the Playstation 4.
It’s a win-win as far as [Square] are concerned really, as the financial reward provided by Microsoft will no doubt more than make up for any initial “lost” sales they may have had on Sony’s consoles, which they’ll soon make up for once the exclusivity deal ends. It’s not all doom and gloom for Sony fanboys, either, as I’m sure we’ll be kept busy with UC4 in the meantime!