It may be one of the most important and influential dates on the annual gaming calendar (only rivaled by E3) but despite the many big budget games shown off or talked about at Gamescom in Europe, the headline that dominated all else was the news that Rise of the Tomb Raider would be an Xbox "exclusive."
Of course this didn't go down well with everyone. Tomb Raider began its humble, treasure-seeking beginnings on PC, Sega Saturn and the original PlayStation One as one of the first games to have 3D graphics and it’s also regarded as one of the games that helped the PlayStation brand establish itself in the first place. As a result, some PC and PlayStation gamers found themselves feeling betrayed whilst many an Xbox gamer reveled in the exclusivity.
But amongst the arguments and calls for Square Enix to explain themselves, many pointed to the “Holiday 2015” timing of Rise of the Tomb Raider’s release — it would put the game directly up against the massive PlayStation exclusive Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. So will Rise of the Tomb Raider be Microsoft’s answer to Nathan Drake?
Xbox boss Phil Spencer explains that very question in a new interview with Eurogamer. Spencer acknowledges that Tomb Raider existed long before Xbox ever did, explaining that “the relationship [with developer Crystal Dynamics] has been built over time.”
"The one thing people have to know, it wasn't a situation where we looked at a third-party space and just all of a sudden targeted a certain game and said, 'we need to go get that game.'"
He also gave some credence to the rumor that off the back of 2013’s Tomb Raider failing to reach Square Enix’s initial sales targets, development on Rise of the Tomb Raider would not have gone ahead without Microsoft’s investment. Spencer says that “Crystal has done a great job in rebuilding it since '09”, “but continuing to invest at that level, it takes a partnership”.
Other benefits from this “win/win” situation, as Spencer calls it, are that Microsoft can throw their marketing muscle behind the game. He likens the Rise of the Tomb Raider partnership to the exclusivity deals they have with Dead Rising, Titanfall and Ryse: Son of Rome. However, Crytek has said that Ryse’s sales on Xbox One weren't to their liking, opinions about Dead Rising 3 were mixed amongst gamers (according to metacritic) and EA’s reluctance to release Titanfall’s lifetime sales figures could hint at disappointing numbers, even if the game reviewed well.
But could this middling track record drive the nail further into the Tomb Raider franchise’s coffin after sales have already threatened it once? Spencer explains that “this is an opportunity” to make Rise of the Tomb Raider Microsoft’s equivalent to PlayStation’s Uncharted as he’s “a big fan of Uncharted and I wish [Microsoft] had an action adventure game of that ilk." He continues, “I want to have a stable of hits on our platform that we own. Absolutely. That's fundamental to us having a successful platform. When a unique opportunity comes up, I've got to go look at that.”
Spencer also outright says that Microsoft’s backing will help Rise of the Tomb Raider directly compete with Uncharted next year, pointing to the crowded holiday schedule of 2014 as an example (although plenty of games this year have been delayed).
“If you're going to build shows like this, and IP and marketing budgets, in certain instances a partnership is a good way for a publisher to find a way to get to the level they think they need to break out. Just look at this year and the October lineup. It's crazy. If you're one of the people who wants to make noise around the game you have, there are opportunities out there to partner with platform holders, with sponsorships and other things to make it big.
In the long run, Microsoft’s support could greatly benefit Rise of the Tomb Raider even when its a “timed exclusivey” (Spencer wouldn't say when the deal ends) runs out and the game comes to PC and PS4. Though, Spencer did say “But I don't [own the Tomb Raider IP] right now” setting alarm bells off for anyone expecting multi-platform releases of Tomb Raider games to continue. Timed or otherwise.
Rise of the Tomb Raider will be released on Xbox 360 and Xbox One in Holiday 2015.