So we've had a week to process the news that Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics' Rise of the Tomb Raider is going to be a timed Xbox One and Xbox 360 exclusive. We're still not sure about the duration of the timed exclusive, but it will be coming to other platforms in some form eventually.
For Crystal Dynamics, they get an additional marketing push from Microsoft, which will probably include television and theater ads, front page time on Xbox Live, and a bit of development help on the Xbox One version. The business incentive for Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix is rather clear: even in the worst case scenario, they wait out the exclusivity period and release Rise of the Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition on PS4 and PC. They say those versions are the game they always wanted to make and everyone walks away happy.
For non-Xbox Tomb Raider fans, it has official become a waiting game with news of the timed exclusive. Rise of the Tomb Raider isn't big enough to pull a ton of consumers to the Xbox One. Xbox One owners will buy it and Microsoft may pick up some additional system sales this holiday, but the game isn't what I'd call a major system-seller. So why grab the exclusive in the first place?
In an interview with our sister site, Eurogamer, Xbox boss Phil Spencer called the deal with Square Enix a "win-win". He compared Rise of the Tomb Raider's exclusivity to other titles like Dead Rising and Ryse (Seriously, what's with Microsoft and the word "rise"?)
"When people look at something like Dead Rising and where it is right now, I would say for the franchise it's been a good partnership," said Spencer. "Now, maybe somebody on PlayStation would say, well no it hasn't, because I haven't played the game. But if I'm Capcom and I think about what that franchise means now... or even like a Titanfall, and our ability to invest with EA to make that launch great. Tomb Raider is no different."
"[Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics] have seen what we've done with certain games out there that aren't ours," he added. "Ryse is another IP. I don't own the Ryse IP, but I was able to invest with Crytek to turn it into a franchise, which isn't easy to do for a studio on their own. I don't own it. They just announced it for PC, and certain people throw stones at me and say, 'you shouldn't let it go out on PC.' I'm like, look, I want Crytek to make money. I want Crytek to be successful. Why would I ever block them from doing something with a game they own?"
In Spencer's defense, Dead Rising 1 and 3 and Ryse are probably better off for having been near-launch exclusives on Xbox platforms. There's an enhanced focus on exclusives early in a console's lifecycle, which can lead to bigger sales numbers, at least on that specific platform; a publisher can probably count on another sales bump when a game transitions out of exclusive status. But Rise of the Tomb Raider isn't coming early in the Xbox One's lifecycle. It's coming in late 2015. A timed exclusive over a year out from the Xbox One's launch seems like a waste.
In fact, it doesn't make much sense at all, until Spencer answers a question about one of Sony's major PlayStation 4 exclusives, Uncharted 4.
"I'm a big fan of Uncharted and I wish we had an action adventure game of that ilk," he replied when asked about the comparison between Tomb Raider and Uncharted. "We've started some, and we've looked at them. But we don't have one today of that quality. This is an opportunity."
Uncharted 4: A Thief's End is scheduled to release some time in 2015. Taken as the Xbox One's defensive bulwark against the latest adventure game from Naughty Dog, Rise of the Tomb Raider as a limited exclusive makes sense. It's about Microsoft being able to say, "we've got that, too" during the holiday 2015 shopping season. Rise of the Tomb Raider doesn't have to beat Uncharted 4, it just has to stand next to it in a favorable comparison. Judging by the relative quality of Tomb Raider and Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition, this isn't out of the question. As a spoiler for Uncharted 4, Rise of the Tomb Raider as a six-month Xbox One exclusive makes a lot of sense.
Of course, the deal making sense doesn't help PC or PlayStation 4-based fans of the Tomb Raider series, who have to wait out the next entry in the series. The decision follows Square Enix's odd decision to not release a PC version of the Definitive Edition, which included concrete visual improvements above the original 2013 release. Right now, it just feel like Square Enix wants Tomb Raider fans running in every direction, picking up the series across a number of different platforms. I'd prefer if there were at least some sense of continiuty in these releases. Not having that erodes the trust some fans have in Crystal Dynamics, a studio that does rather exemplary work. While it may be a win-win for Microsoft, Square Enix, and Crystal Dynamics, Rise of the Tomb Raider's exclusivity just feels like a bum deal for the fans.