Microsoft and Square Enix's Decision To Limit 'Rise Of The Tomb Raider' To Xbox Reeks Of Desperation

Microsoft has never really been that great at developing their own games. Outside of basically the Forza franchise, most of what you’re used to associating with their consoles are created by other companies. Gears Of War, Fable, and even Halo, they’re all to a certain extent third party games. If Microsoft has been good at anything when it comes to the Xbox division, it’s throwing money at developers such as these and buying exclusivity or even straight up acquiring developers.

There are arguments to be made for and against these kinds of practices. On the one hand, it’s Microsoft’s prerogative to spend their money however to choose, and the devs to take that money if that’s the best financial decision for them. And if we’re talking about a publishing deal, then those games essentially become “second-party” titles, since Microsoft (or Sony, or Nintendo, for that matter) would have an active hand in the game’s development and release.

But Microsoft does this other thing, where they throw money at a developer or publisher with the sole end goal being to limit the title’s audience. If not for a game’s full lifespan, then at least as a timed exclusive (And to be fair, we shouldn’t be singling out only Microsoft. Sony and Nintendo have done this as well over the years. Sony in particular does that annoying thing where they buy exclusive DLC for most games, which is kind of pointless. Nintendo did it last year with Bayonetta 2)

Microsoft was up to their old tricks again at Gamescom this week, when they revealed that Rise Of The Tomb Raider, the highly anticipated follow-up to 2012’s Tomb Raider from Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix, would be “exclusive on Xbox for Holiday 2015" release” or "Hoiday 2015, exclusive on Xbox", whatever either of those truly mean behind video game marketing buzzspeak.

Now, keep in mind that I and many other gamers have spent the lion’s share of the day making rash accusations and inferences as to what that particular sentence actually means, but generally speaking it means that, at least when the game comes out (and probably forever, otherwise Sony would have said something by now), and likely for the entirety of its existence, you won’t be able to play Rise of the Tomb Raider anywhere other than a console manufactured by Microsoft. One of the game's developers took to Tumblr to basically tell fans on Nintendo and Sony to play other Tomb Raider games, even.

To put it lightly, that just sucks.

This isn’t a console maker helping a lowly developer, or even jumping in to publish a game for one. This is a corporation cutting a check to another corporation and telling them that they don’t want their to show up in a different cover. They’re paying for a monopoly on this particular game, and it’s ludicrous.

I’ll admit that the only current gen console in my home at the moment is the PS4. I’ll admit that I’ve grown up mostly on Playstation, and less on Xbox, and there might be a bit of bias here, but I’ve never liked that Microsoft has done this. It never striked me as the proper way to do business, because all it really does is limit the potential install base for a given game.

The number of people who own both consoles and are interested in this one game is fractional at best, so it’s not like you’re guaranteeing that many people will choose your version over another. And while it will guarantee that the biggest of fans will indeed pick up an Xbox One, if they haven’t already, in order to be able to play the game, it can’t really guarantee an increase in profits (at least from the perspective of an outsider). This is, plain and simply, Microsoft throwing money around to show that they can fight Sony.

And it reeks of desperation.

Contrast the exclusive situation at Microsoft with that of Sony’s. Sony has 30 development studios under their wing, and while we haven’t had much to show for it just yet on the PS4, new games in franchises like Uncharted and LittleBigPlanet guarantee that Sony will once again have a better list of first party titles at their disposal for things like marketing campaigns and really bragging rights.

While Microsoft does indeed have their own studios, they don’t seem to be as concerned with first party production, content instead on purchasing titles. That’s not to say they don’t have first party games, just that when they talk about exclusives, the list can be somewhat deceptive.

And yes, Sony isn’t exactly innocent when it comes to these tactics either, but I’ve always gotten the impression what they do is more retaliatory. Call this pedantry if you will, but it’s one thing to publish a game, like SCE Japan is doing with the PS4 exclusive Bloodborne, or to help an indie dev like Hello Games with their insanely ambitious procedurally-generated game No Man’s Sky in exchange for console exclusivity, and another to pay Square Enix, an established publisher, to stop their studio from making a game for the PS4. Yes, it’s unfortunate that Xbox One players won’t be able to get their hands on Bloodborne or No Man’s Sky, but at least Sony makes an effort to justify why those games are only on PS4. Think about it; if No Man’s Sky was on Microsoft’s indie program, what would be the chances that you would see it on PC as well?

The fact that these console makers can produce and publish their own games and provide exclusive experiences is a good thing. It drives competition and creativity. Love them or hate them, the console wars have pushed Nintendo to create the weird, original games they have on their roster, or Sony to make Naughty Dog the developer it is with Uncharted and The Last Of Us.

I have difficulty saying the same for Microsoft, because they’re not about that. They have great games too, but what’s defined their last couple of years? Titanfall? The exclusive they bought from EA when EA probably thought the Xbox One would sell more? The game that wasn’t even really an exclusive, since it was out on PC as well? Halo? The Bungie creation they thrust on another developer when Bungie decided they wanted to develop for Sony too? Or Gears Of War? The franchise Epic Games shrugs and halfheartedly pushes out whenever someone from Microsoft shows up at their office with a bag of cash?

Now you can add Tomb Raider to that list, and it’s kind of distasteful. This game doesn’t need to be an exclusive, doesn’t have a recent history of being exclusive (if it does it's more with Sony), and is turning its back on a lot of fans for a payoff.

Like I said, I’ll fully admit to being somewhat biased towards one company over another, but that doesn’t mean I want to see fans miss out on what was sure to be a great game. It’s really things like this that push me more towards Sony, and it has to stop. This isn’t first party competition, or creativity, it’s bags with dollar signs on them, from a company that doesn’t care if they take a financial hit, so long as they can be a loss leader in the industry.

Now they’re taking Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix right along with them.

But that's not to say that the developer and its publisher parent company are innocent here. They took the bags of cash because the last game, despite getting great reviews and selling nearly 3.5 million copies in its first month, failed to meet Squeenix's lofty expectations. Their solution to that? Close your eyes, take the cash, despite the fact that it's cutting out a large part of your install base.

At least Microsoft admits to wanting to be number one and losing money. What's Square Enix's rationale here?

With considerable backlash from fans, it'll be interesting to see where this story goes, but in all likelihood, if you own an Xbox One, that's the only place you'll be able to play Rise of the Tomb Raider next year. The rest of us will have to settle for Uncharted 4.

Comments 2
Tylerr Rietze's picture

What I hate most is their message basically stating that "Sorry you can't buy our new one, but we're still committed to your console! See? We re-released our previous one for you!"

George Prax's picture

Personally it`s the fact that no one will give a straight answer as to whether or not it`s timed or not. Marketing double-speak is the worst.