Experienced Points

Experienced Points
3 Odd Things About The Tomb Raider Xbox One Exclusive

Shamus Young | 19 Aug 2014 15:00
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I know I complained about the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot that one time, but the truth is that despite my gripes I thought it was a fantastic game. I did an extended let's play of it and the game even made my short list of favorites for the year. I would've been glad to buy the HD version if they'd bothered to put it on the PC, just for another reason to play through the game again. (Dear Square Enix: Still willing. Think about it.)

So I was a bit disappointed when I heard that the sequel Rise of The Tomb Raider was going to be an Xbox One exclusive. I know this is just how the business works and there's no sense in getting outraged over what is clearly a financial decision. But that doesn't really soften the blow that a game I really want is (at least for a while) only going to be available on a console I don't want or need.

Exclusive deals have always struck me as strange because they're so good for platform manufacturers but so obviously bad for game developers and consumers. But even as exclusive arrangements go this one strikes me as a bit odd. Here's why:

1. The Deal

The most amazing thing about the deal is that it exists at all. The previous Tomb Raider game came out in March of 2013, and it was about as cross-platform as titles get: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360. They even had an OS X release later that same year! This year they released an updated version of the game for both Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Precious few games have that kind of platform coverage.

Yet despite the good reviews, big marketing, recognizable name, and complete platform availability, the game fell far below initial sales projections. Yes, those projections were dumb nonsense, but if the first game had half the sales they wanted when it was available on all platforms, then what kind of sense would it make to limit the next game to just one platform? And not just any platform, but the one with the smallest install base?

This isn't a case where a console developer has decided to make their life simple by focusing all their technology on a single platform. They already have the tools and the team capable of going full-platform with this game. The harsh up-front cost of porting has been mostly paid. (All other things being equal, the first port to a particular platform is always the hardest.) So they're simply giving up audience they can't afford to lose in exchange for? What? Money from Microsoft, we assume. Which brings me to my next point:

2. Microsoft was willing to pay for this

Yes, the exclusive is of limited duration. But even so, there's a cost to going exclusive. Sales will be lower overall. We can argue over the importance of marketing, but it's clear that the publishers believe that it's crucial to making a game sell. They sometimes spend as much on marketing as they do on making the game itself, which means marketing is so important that they would rather have an ad campaign than another whole video game to sell. So (using their own logic, since we don't have reliable sales numbers) releasing on the other platforms months or years later means that they will either have to do a second ad campaign (which is crazy expensive) or release with limited marketing, thus hurting their sales on the largest platform.

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