Platform-exclusive games are far from a new concept, but when upcoming sequel Rise of the Tomb Raider was apparently announced for release exclusively on Xbox platforms following the previous game’s multiplatform launch, there was understandably an outcry of anger from PlayStation gamers who felt they were being deprived of the game as part an effort to coerce them into buying a Microsoft console.
It was also a decision that didn’t seem to make much sense for Square Enix, which has expressed disappointment in the sales of Tomb Raider (despite the game selling over 6.5 million copies to date). Refusing to release the sequel on PC or on the PS4 – which has a far greater user base than the Xbox One with 10 million units sold – sounded like the kind of move that would crush Rise of the Tomb Raider‘s chances of outdoing its predecessor.
On a surface level, the deal sounds like a good strategic move on the part of Microsoft: securing a highly-anticipated game as an exclusive for Xbox consoles in an effort to boost sales – one that bears a striking resemblance to the PlayStation exclusive Uncharted franchise no less. What was unclear based on Crystal Dynamics’ phrasing in their announcement, however, was whether Microsoft had secured the game as a permanent exclusive, or just exclusive for the Holiday 2015 release period. Speaking to Eurogamer, Microsoft’s Xbox head Phil Spencer admitted that it’s the latter.
“When people want me to say, can you tell us when or if it’s coming to other platforms, it’s not my job. My job is not to talk about games I don’t own. I have a certain relationship on this version of Tomb Raider, which we announced, and I feel really good about our long term relationship with Crystal and Square.
“I didn’t buy the IP. I didn’t buy the studio. It’s not mine… I don’t own every iteration of Tomb Raider… I don’t own them building Tomb Raider on other platforms. I can’t talk about the franchise that way. I can talk about the deal I have… Yes, the deal has a duration. I didn’t buy it. I don’t own the franchise.
“I have Tomb Raider shipping next holiday exclusively on Xbox. It is Xbox 360 and Xbox One. I’m not trying to fake anybody out in terms of where this thing is. What they do with the franchise in the long run is not mine. I don’t control it. So all I can talk about is the deal I have. I don’t know where else Tomb Raider goes.”
It might just be the translation of spoken word to plain text, but Spencer comes across as being very defensive about the issue. It would be understandable if he was; the Xbox exclusive release was clearly intended to attract consumers to the console in time for the holiday season, so admitting that the exclusivity has an expiry date and Rise of the Tomb Raider could release on other platforms in 2016 is probably something that Spencer did not want to do.
Evidence that the timed nature of the Rise of the Tomb Raider exclusivity is something that Microsoft wanted to conceal expanded yesterday when Microsoft PR representative Dom Carey replied to speculation that it was a timed exclusive on Twitter with the insistence, “nope, just exclusive,” later reiterating the claim. It’s unclear whether the dissonance between this and Spencer’s words is the result of Microsoft deliberately attempting to misrepresent the nature of the deal, or just a lack of communication.
As far as PR goes, this tactical move has been something of a mess for both Microsoft and Square Enix. Things probably would have gone a great deal better (or at least, not quite so poorly) if the two companies had instead made it clear right away that the deal was a timed exclusive, rather than attempting to fudge the details.
Rise of the Tomb Raider will release on Xbox 360 and Xbox One in Holiday 2015, with possible releases on other platforms to follow.