The opinions and points presented below reflect those of the author, and do not reflect those of any else, including Examiner.com, AXS, or any related entities. This opinion article serves to shed light and another side of the argument presented, and currently being discussed in the gaming community at large.
Rise of the Tomb Raider is not a unique case, and members of the gaming community at large should not be surprised that exclusivity was announced. Exclusivity, by its very nature, is not inclusive of all consoles and therefore all gamers. What Rise of the Tomb Raider, Crystal Dynamics, and Microsoft have essentially done, is lock down the sophomore release in a proven reboot that performed well. While gamers may cry foul at the thought that a once PlayStation exclusive is has now seemingly “switched sides”, exclusivity is alive and well within the gaming business, and makes sense in more ways than one. What does not make sense, is using the term in a way that forces not only clarification, but backpedaling, apologies, and concessions to be made in order to get the “true” message across.
Exclusives are nothing new, and truly won’t be going anywhere any time soon. While that fact is lamentable, it’s arguably hard to refute, as each conference and reveal seems to showcase some sort of exclusive content. The mere mention of “console exclusive” not only stirs near universal scorn, but serves only as a buzzword that in all honesty, marketing departments should have figured out some time ago, needs to die.
It has become accepted that certain games will only come to certain consoles. Quantum Break will be an Xbox exclusive, Halo always has been, The Last of Us, Uncharted, and God of War proudly wave the Sony banner. Why then, are gamers crying foul over Tomb Raider? A series that went, judging by sales figures, largely unnoticed up until the reboot. A series that also failed to meet Square Enix’s (albeit ridiculously high) expectations. In short those that “stand to lose the most” are the PlayStation and PC platform holders, when in reality, they have no skin in the game. Square has made a calculated and targeted business decision to release Rise of the Tomb Raider on Xbox platforms, and gamers being the fickle and instinctive crowd we are, tend to jump to conclusions that the only reason is money.
THE BUSINESS OF EXCLUSIVITY
Polygon Opinion Editor Ben Kuchera posted a thoughtful, well researched article delving into the gritty details of what exclusivity actually means for companies like Square and Crystal Dynamics. Kuchera outlines some fantastic points that illustrate why exactly these deals happen, and what they mean for a company like Crystal Dynamics. Gamers easily get caught up in the “what is best for me” mentality, some call it entitlement, and forget that companies exist to make money. More often than not, the source and streams of profit for companies are not as clear cut as the typical consumer, forum poster, or content creator realizes. It’s entirely naïve to think that Square Enix entered this deal on behalf of Crystal Dynamics with the sole intent to only have their next Tomb Raider on Xbox just because; exclusivity. Game publishers, developers, and companies have bills to pay just like the rest of us, and when a behemoth like Microsoft comes along with a bag of cash, loyalty to one particular console or platform goes right out the window.
The sordid details of this deal will surely not ever become truly outlined or bullet pointed in any PowerPoint deck, but over the coming months and leading to release the effect of Microsoft’s influence should become apparent. “This is where it gets tricky,” Kuchera points out, “and the "payment" may not be as simple as check.”
Game development is not as simple as making the game, getting it on a shelf or on Steam and saying good day. Microsoft may very well be offering a 6-month or longer spot on the featured page of the Xbox store for Tomb Raider, providing valuable retail space, or offering to even pay some of the bills and cost of development for Rise of the Tomb Raider. Kuchera points out,
Microsoft may also offer a reduced royalty rate, which costs the company nothing out of pocket, but which will increase the profits Square Enix sees from every sale.
Important to recall here is the fact that the Tomb Raider reboot of 2013 initially failed to reach sales targets, which is a veiled way to say that it didn’t make enough money for Square Enix. More units is more money, sure, but if Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics are footing the bill for absolutely every aspect of Tomb Raider’s development, the return on unit sold is miniscule. Compare that to Microsoft removing or decreasing royalty per unit, footing the bill for 1/3rd of the marketing budget, or even offering a discount out of their pocket on the game post launch via Games with Gold discounts, and development costs shrink, profits rise.
THE VOCAL MINORITY, AND THE COST OF EXCLUSIVITY
Exclusivity to one particular console, neglecting the PC market altogether, and then having to clarify that Rise of the Tomb Raider will indeed come to other platforms/consoles definitely hurts, definitely? Take a look at your favorite gaming site right now, what do you see? At least one of the headlines is regarding Rise of the Tomb Raider and likely one of the most commented on articles or features will be regarding this announcement. Did Square Enix know that might happen? Surely. Did they plan it in their almost certainly underwater lair? Not likely. The amount of buzz and furor surrounding this title is reaching a fever pitch due to passionate responses from the most vocal of fans.
It should be expected that with most announcements, particularly those regarding successful IPs, will garner a reaction of some sort, just look at the announcement and positive buzz around No Man’s Sky. Hello Games new IP is coming to PlayStation 4 and PC, with no mention of an Xbox branded release. So what is the difference? Tomb Raider is not a new IP, the game has an established, if newly rejuvenated, fan base. Microsoft in no way denotes that they are actually involved in the development of Rise of the Tomb Raider, as they are in games like Halo. This is where the argument takes a turn for the logical. Fans have cause to be upset, seeing as the 2013 Tomb Raider was a success to most gamers and reviewers, many are looking forward to a new game. The announcement of Rise of the Tomb Raider at E3 was met with applause and excitement. Why didn’t anyone drum up the forums about Ryse: Son of Rome being from Crytek not coming to PlayStation 4? It would seem it’s a bit easier to stomach an exclusive when it immediately gets slammed for quick time events and being “just a tech demo”.
"Yes, the deal has a duration. I didn't buy it. I don't own the franchise." – Phil Spencer to Eurogamer
But will the game sell? Yes. Of course. Will it sell as much as it could sell on the three big platforms (PC/PS4/Xbox One)? Not a chance. Then what is the true cost of exclusivity? Microsoft buying what amounts to shares in Rise of the Tomb Raider results in cutting the potential install base of the title at most by 2/3, right? Not necessarily. It’s impossible to measure the true impact of what the decision to only launch on one console could be, not to mention the amount of dual console or PC/Xbox One console households. Microsoft will ensure that the game sells well, and the Xbox crowd is indeed excited about the exclusivity. It can be assumed that the title may sell a few consoles, but unless Microsoft offers up a tempting bundle similar to Sunset Overdrive, Rise of the Tomb Raider likely won’t be a sku motivator.
SO WAIT, IT’S NOT EXCLUSIVE?
Here we get into the dance of PR and the use of the word “exclusive”. Recently we’ve seen titles making “their console debut” on PlayStation or Xbox, or having “timed exclusive content”. The fact that these exclusives seem to not ruffle many feathers illustrates the point that the gaming community is complacent with the current way the business runs. Retailers and platforms have had exclusives for a while now, and getting that special Sparrow speeder bike in Destiny from Gamestop sure will give you a boost in speed…until everyone else gets it in January.
Yes, Rise of the Tomb Raider will come to PS4 and PC. With Microsoft ideally taking care of some of the development cost or marketing budget, this makes development to bring the game to Xbox that much cheaper, meaning Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix are free to make the game, DLC, and other content that much better. Make no mistake, Rise of the Tomb Raider will have two big releases, likely different skus, one the standards bare bones on Xbox One, and the other the Game of the Year with everything the folks on Xbox have already experienced. So what are PS4 and PC owners really missing out on? While they won’t get to play day one, they get the same experience, and likely a better overall value down the road.
DO YOU REALLY WANT TO HURT ME?
Yes, exclusives hurt. Passionate gamers that enjoy their favorite games may not get to play them, but the backlash and blowback we see and hear now is reactionary nature to seemingly bad news. Fans of the IP and studio should be cautiously optimistic that this deal ensures longevity for the studio. Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix stand to (possibly) make more money from exclusivity as a business entity, therefore ensuring that we get an inevitable third entry to the Tomb Raider franchise. Exclusives do hurt, but it’s a sting, a bee sting that gamers will get over quickly. Likely September 9 will serve as a cathartic gaming release, when focus switches to Destiny, and those that picked up Madden will be plenty busy. The world keeps turning, and Lara Croft continues her journey.
As a personal note, I’m excited to see Rise of the Tomb Raider, having recently purchased a personal Xbox One. Would I have been upset at the news of not being able to enjoy the new game this holiday? I honestly can’t say I would mind waiting for it to release on PS4 as a GOTY bundle, or on PC for a phenomenal Steam Sale. With 2013’s Tomb Raider sitting at a non-sale price of $19.99 as of this writing, it’s a great game to pick up, and with the smattering of titles coming out this holiday season as is, unfortunately Rise of the Tomb Raider may just have to sit on the Gamefly queue, or the “when I get to it” list.