By Bryan Smith on July 25, 2015 at 2:40pm
Well Square Enix was quick to announce when “Rise of the Tomb Raider” would be coming to PC and PlayStation 4. Normally when it came to these kinds of timed exclusivity deals, Square, Sony, and Steam wouldn’t be allowed to know and/or announce when the game or DLC would be coming to their platform. Sure, the actual release dates aren’t known just yet, but it’s surprising that Square would be so quick to say anything about release windows.
So let’s get down to the obvious here: this timed exclusivity deal for “Rise of the Tomb Raider” has been extremely wasteful to people’s time, money, patience, and faith in Microsoft, Square Enix, and Crystal Dynamics. There have been very few rational people who actually were in favor of this business decision. In fact, I’ve seen Xbox One owners furious at this decision and rightly so. Ever since 2012, there have been three petitions that have spoken volumes of stupid corporate decisions: “Mass Effect 3’s” endings petition (which had some false advertising that EA and Bioware sidestepped out of), “Metroid Prime: Federation Force’s” cancellation petition (which is a stupid petition but Nintendo should still feel bad for the awful timing and ignoring poor Samus Aran [which is deserving of a write up as well]), and “Rise of the Tomb Raider” petition to get it onto PlayStation 4 and PC. I guess in that regard, the last petition kind of came to fruition with recent news, but not in the immediate way fans wanted.
For those who didn’t get the news, “Rise of the Tomb Raider” will release first on Xbox One and Xbox 360 on November 10, 2015, while the PC version will come out in early 2016 and the PlayStation 4 version will come out in Holiday 2016 (or maybe earlier. We’ve seen early, eager release dates thanks to “Five Nights at Freddy’s 4.”) Having the game on the 360 doesn’t boost confidence in how far developers can push the game, seeing that Xbox 360 < Xbox One in terms of power. Sure, Nixxes Software is doing the 360 version, but why have resources be put into an inferior version of the game when logically it can’t do the same things as the Xbox One version? Something has to be gimped, and I’m not willing to put money on which version gets neutered.
Back in 2014 when Microsoft announced any form of exclusivity at Gamescom, people were pissed. Not just the timed exclusivity, oh no- people were livid then, but the way Microsoft tried to hide that there was a timed deal made it look like “Rise of the Tomb Raider” was a flow-blown exclusive… when “Tomb Raider (2013)” was a multiplatform game. As I stated, everyone was furious and went probing Square, Crystal Dynamics, and Microsoft hard following the announcement to the point that Phil Spencer had to say that it was a deal with a duration. They probably saw how much outrage there was and tried to quell it without giving their competition too much leeway.
Without taking anything revealed in 2015 yet, what did taking a game that was multiplatform, a continuation of a story with no more than three years space at that, and forcing it to be exclusively on consoles a large portion of people don’t have or want? To try and push sales for the Xbox One? The 360 version, while inferior, would tell people that they don’t need to get an Xbox One because they can play it on the 360. Even with that in mind, “Tomb Raider” isn’t a system seller, let alone for the Xbox brand. An honest “Banjo-Kazooie” game with actual platforming would have sold Xbox consoles because that is something people really want from Microsoft.
On top of “Tomb Raider” not being a system seller, why didn’t Microsoft invest in something either original in their catalogue or something brand new? Phil Spencer even made this point that Microsoft doesn’t have an action-adventure game like “Tomb Raider” or “Uncharted” for Xbox.
Crystal has been investing in that game and Square has as well, in Tomb Raider as a franchise, and wanting to put it at the highest level, with the big triple-A franchises out there, but that's expensive. For us, as we've been working together on this, it's a nice franchise for us in terms of the genre and how it fits into our first-party portfolio. Do I wish I had an owned IP first-party action adventure game? Absolutely. But I don't right now. This is one that fits well and we had such a good working relationship with them.
All right Mr. Spencer. Why not make a brand new game then and have it compete against others instead of angering “Tomb Raider” fans? How did you think Sonic the Hedgehog got so famous? Because Sega took one of Konami’s franchises and having it exclusive on Sega consoles? Sonic was created to rival Mario; that’s how a healthy competition works. “Tomb Raider” is not nor will it ever be a first-party game to any console because Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix own the rights. “Halo,” “Uncharted,” and “Super Mario Bros.” are first party games for consoles.
Before I move on with other reasons that the deal was botched, I’d like to mention the “Final Fantasy VII Remake” and “Street Fighter V” as an argument for Microsoft, seeing they are either seemingly exclusive and/or timed. “Final Fantasy VII” debuted on PlayStation, which makes sense. If there’s any other platform it’d appear on, it would be PC, since that’s the only other platform that “FFVII” ever came out on (assuming PlayStation brand is one console in general). With “Street Fighter V,” the argument is half and half. Yes, it is a valid counterpoint to “Rise of the Tomb Raider,” but there are also more circumstances that make it hard to outright say it’s as bad.
For one thing, it is also coming to PC off the bat and has been stated “SF5” will be exclusive to PS4 and PC- no dodgy or shady turn of words. Another thing is that financially; Capcom is doing worse than Square Enix is. There are very few games that have both great sales and reception that isn’t banking on older games (i.e. “Resident Evil Remake HD”). They really haven’t made any big leaps or risks lately that aren’t backed up by Sony, Microsoft, or Nintendo. Lastly, and I think this is the most important thing; it’s Capcom. They are the most notorious and most shady when it comes to exclusivity. Allow me to show you the Capcom Five deal. Five games were supposed to be exclusive to the Nintendo GameCube- only one kept that status. “Resident Evil 4” has been ported to every major home console, not including the eighth generation consoles, since. In fact PC got two different versions. My lack of faith in this exclusivity deal is low, if anything.
Let’s put Square Enix and their sales expectations into play. When “Tomb Raider (2013)” released, they deemed 3.4 million sales a failure for a game out on PC, PlayStation 3, and PC Xbox 360. That’s probably while the Definitive Editions exist so they could try and make more money off of what they saw as a failure. Crystal Dynamics was very proud in their game, regardless of sales. Square then saw that the game was more of a success… only after a longer release date with more platforms. With the unrealistic sales predictions of the first game, how on earth does Square Enix think that “Rise of the Tomb Raider” would be anywhere near the success of the first game on only two consoles- those consoles being the ones that sold relatively worse than PlayStation consoles and PC. What makes them think, with all the negative feedback thrown at them and their past sales predictions, that the initial sales will be stellar? That’s not even counting on the fact that the game is good in the first place.
So the timed exclusivity was also seen to try and put artificial competition for “Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End,” as both were slated to release for a Holiday 2015 date. “Uncharted 4,” however, was delayed by Sony and Naughty Dog to ensure quality in the product. No one likes a rush product, right “Assassin’s Creed: Unity?” So now the most obvious plan to put competition between the two similar game has been defeated. That would mean “Rise of the Tomb Raider” is going unchallenged, right? Wrong. Very wrong.
Before diving into November 2015’s games, November is now what I deem a suicide date if there is a huge risk placed on the project. The few big games that didn’t get mocked last November were “Super Smash Bros.,” “Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare,” “Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire,” “Lego Batman,” “Dragon Age,” “Far Cry 4,” and “Grand Theft Auto V.” You want to know why? The publisher and developer had confidence and knew exactly what to expect and what fans wanted. November 11? That was a miserable date for gaming. “Assassin’s Creed: Unity,” “Assassin’s Creed: Rogue,” “Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal,” “Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric,” and “Halo: The Master Chief Collection.” What happened guys?
I’ll tell you what happened- November is when companies want to have people rush out and buy, buy, buy because of the holidays. The good examples have been in development for a long time. They didn’t have a whole lot at risk. The bad ones I mentioned were most likely rushed. I have my suspicions that “Rise of the Tomb Raider” may be an unfortunate victim of being pushed out the door without all of its necessary development.
“Tomb Raider (2013)” was only set into motion after “Tomb Raider: Underworld” was completed. That game came out on 2008, by the way. The game received some vague announcements before being announced- with two years of development on its back. For a game like “Tomb Raider (2013),” at least five years went into it. That’s not even counting the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions and the additional work on multiplayer. Now we have “Rise of the Tomb Raider,” with at the most a little over two years of being made. That’s being generous thinking that Crystal Dynamics immediately went into the sequel with that in mind, which is rather doubtful to begin with.
Around two years of development for a game that is being touted as bigger and better than the original is cocky indeed… and not realistic at all if they want the game to run as intended. The sad fact about the gaming industry is that these big games need long times to develop. There’s a reason why we don’t see yearly releases from those like Naughty Dog’s catalogue, “Super Smash Bros.,” the “Fallout” series, and the like. Indies have become (ironically) bigger since their scope is smaller and they don’t need a lot of time to make what they need to. I’d point again at “Five Nights at Freddy’s,” seeing how one man made a popular game series with four games in almost a year.
When E3 2015 rolled out, it looked like no one wanted to really acknowledge “Rise of the Tomb Raider’s” presence. Microsoft briefly mentioned the game during their press conference (still waving the “Holiday Exclusive” flag) and Square Enix didn’t even prod the “great business relationship” they had with Microsoft during their conference. At this point, I think Square Enix was just tired and upset at the business decision. Then comes a big kicker to “Rise of the Tomb Raider-” the release date of one of the most anticipated and more fabled games people have been waiting for.
“Fallout 4.” Want to know when that releases? November 10, 2015. The exact same day “Rise of the Tomb Raider” comes out. With the backlash from the unnecessary timed exclusivity and “Fallout 4’s” release date, Xbox sales for “Rise of the Tomb Raider” are going to be abysmal- especially in Square Enix’s eyes. That’s not even counting “Halo 5: Guardians” and “Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate” in October and “Star Wars Battlefront (2015),” “Need for Speed (2015),” “Call of Duty: Black Ops III,” and “XCOM II” around in the same month either. People have limited budgets, after all. Why go for the game limited to Xbox consoles when “Fallout 4” comes out for PS4, PC, and Xbox One?
So of all that leads to July’s news of the PS4 and PC versions being confirmed and addressed. The announcement tells me three things. First, this deal has been bungled from the start considering Microsoft probably had a contract agreement stating Square couldn’t say when the other versions could be announced. This isn’t a small deal exclusivity thing, like a game or DLC coming out a day later. Oh no- it sounds like the game was paid off to release much later after the fact. Something happened; either the agreement date was reached or something financial/development wise caused Square to make a decision to announce the other release windows. This rarely happens with these kind of company deals, with the only major one that comes to mind is the “Resident Evil 4” PlayStation 2 version releasing sometime after the GameCube version.
The second thing the announcement tells me is that, while this is up to wild speculation, Square Enix took a look at pre-order sales and went white in the face. Regardless of the “don’t pre-order because game could be bad,” mentality that a lot of gamers are upholding, pre-orders are what companies look at to gage interest in their games. I think Square, at the very least, wisened up to their sales predictions. I say that because, if the announcement is anything to go off, the pre-order numbers must be awful. It’s important to reiterate this point- PlayStation 4 + PC users > Xbox One users (in terms of numbers, not quality). With the timed exclusivity deal, Square alienated all of those fans who supported them on the PlayStation 4 and PC. They aren’t going to buy an Xbox One so the PlayStation 4/PC version of the prequel would be obsolete/rendered pointless, and it’d be an easy guess those numbers are holding true.
The third, and most concerning thing, is that Square may be scared out of their wits from this deal. They really want to get the PlayStation 4 and PC versions out and known to the public. If we ignore the last two speculated things, why may that be? Do they want to get out of this awfully made contract? I wouldn’t blame them- the fans are pissed off enough at them already. That’s when the development timelines hit me. “Rise of the Tomb Raider” only had a little over two years if the team dropped everything and went to the game after “Tomb Raider (2013)”, at most, to be made, while “Tomb Raider (2013)” had at least five years. If the November release date wasn’t enough of a tip off, I fear this game is getting rushed. Microsoft certainly proved they’d rush a game for the holiday season- “The Master Chief Collection” anyone? Heck, that release alone should put up red flags for “Halo 5: Guardians” if 343 Studios was floundering to fix “MCC” months later. It’s not solid evidence that the game will be rushed, but it’s likely seeing all of this flood out of Square Enix. If the Xbox versions are riddled with bugs and problems, then they can at least fix things enough for the PlayStation 4 and PC versions, right?
Before people say “oh, it’s Microsoft. They’re a multi-billion dollar corporation. They know what they’re doing,” that is false. Any company can make horrible mistakes. Remember the Virtual Boy?
That was a corporate decision. “Aliens: Colonial Marines” was also a corporate decision. For a more apt comparison, “Resident Evil Remake,” “Resident Evil 0,” and “Resident Evil 4” are great GameCube games. With perhaps the one exception of “RE4,” the other two sold miserably despite being some of the best games in the series. Good ideas have ended bad before.
To wrap up, this timed exclusivity deal is just a mess. Microsoft should have invested all of that money given to Square Enix on an actual IP they own or a new one. All this deal did was piss off the “Tomb Raider” fans who bought the game on the PlayStation 4 and/or PC. Square probably didn’t remember their sales expectations from the previous game until it was too far along in the deal, which made them plan already for the PlayStation 4 and PC versions. The sales for “Rise of the Tomb Raider” will be significantly lower than expected because of the ill will the fans have for Square Enix at the moment and other bigger games like “Fallout 4” releasing in November 2015. Square Enix should have declined the deal, and I believe they’re regretting that decision now based on what has transpired.
EuroGamer Wikipedia: Capcom Five