Ask a Dork: Tomb Raider Exclusivity, etc.
“Your thoughts on the Tomb Raider Xbox One Exclusivity? When is it okay for a platform-holder to open up their wallets? Why?”
I’d have to say that it’s an unfortunate situation for PC and PlayStation fans of the Tomb Raider franchise. No matter which way you slice the business case for platform exclusivity, the collateral damage to those left out of the deal is pretty severe. People who have been buying each entry in the Tomb Raider license since the original may not be able to do it on their system of choice anymore. And let’s not forget the fact that brand recognition was built on the backs of two things: (1) polygonal breasts and (2) dedicated and vocal PC and PlayStation gamers. To that point, legions of gamers are now understandably pissed off.
I’m sure all of us are aware by now that this happened as a result of Microsoft’s influence. It’s been all but confirmed by those involved that the computer giant pushed a kart of money in front of Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics for the right to an undisclosed period of exclusivity. I’m not sure what the end game is though for any party involved.
The reboot of Tomb Raider, a critical darling that has since been rereleased for next gen consoles, released on nearly every major platform it could at the time and Square Enix still claimed that it underperformed. That’s right, Tomb Raider, a game that had the biggest launch sales and first year in the series’ lengthy history, was still considered to be a commercial failure after “only” selling 3.4 million copies. Take that in for a second.
In a world where 3.4 million units sold across multiple platforms cannot constitute success, why would making a game solely exclusive to one system that has only shipped (not sold) 5 million unites be a sensible business proposition? Oh, but wait – I hear you proclaim: “Microsoft probably gave them enough money up front to make it a decent business move and video game exclusivity only lasts one year in this economy.” To that I scoff.
The amount of money Microsoft bequeathed Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics is irrelevant in light of the brand damage this series will be and has been taking from the gamers that aren’t able to play the next entry at launch. Many have already proclaimed the death of the franchise; stating that they have no interest in further supporting Tomb Raider if the parties involved in its development aren’t interested in supporting its fan base. At this point, though it is still early, I can’t see the PC or PlayStation crowds of 2016 being terrible pleased for the late release. Outside of the fact that they will likely feel as though they were an afterthought, the game will have aged by then and may not seem like another AAA killer app. Even if another sequel is released for all platforms, the bridges may have already been burned between them and former hardcore fans. But that’s what happens when there is a perceived brand betrayal. Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics have made their beds. Now they will have to lay in them.
And then there is Xbox. There’s no doubt that this will help adoption of Xbox One from previous Xbox 360 owners, but Phil Specer seems to be under the misguided belief that this will make people trade in their PS3s or even PS4s for a taste of the Xbox One experience. I don’t think that’s necessarily the case, for a few reasons.
Firstly, the Xbox One and PS4 are near identical in terms of what they offer. The differences between the two are small, but Sony has been on their game since announcement day whereas Xbox has had to issue numerous retractions, policy changes, and even peripheral removals (RIP Kinect 2.0). Any gamer that just wants a powerful console that’s had stable, consistent, and even predictable message is going to buy a PlayStation. Secondly, many owners of the PS4 know that the game will eventually come to their system. If this whole fiasco hasn’t completely turned them off purchasing the game, they know they can buy it later. Finally, is Tomb Raider’s sequel really such a must buy game that people are willing to buy a whole new system for it? I think not. Microsoft’s strategy seems like a misfire, and has had the interesting side effect of painting them like a villain in this situation – which really isn’t going to improve the company’s already poor professional reputation.
Honestly, I would prefer that no platform pay for exclusivity – permanent or otherwise. There are instances where it is somewhat understandable that a game series is exclusive. Final Fantasy XIV not being on Xbox One due to the console’s online play policies is an example of this. However, when the playing field is even as far as technical horsepower is concerned, why not release a game on every platform that you can? If it can be argued that the fanbase is there, go to the fanbase. If it isn’t or the system can’t run your game, don’t release on it. Simple as that.