Rise of the Tomb Raider represents one of the more controversial Xbox One exclusivity deals in recent memory.
Xbox One is no stranger to third-party deals, picking up console exclusivity for Dead Rising 3, RYSE, Titanfall, Sunset Overdrive and others, but none struck a chord like Rise of the Tomb Raider. A quick perusal of the developer's Twitter mentions reveals a stream of vitriol from PS4 users angry at the deal, which hands Xbox One a whole year of console exclusivity.
Square-Enix isn't blind to the criticism. Speaking in an interview with Examiner, Square Enix CEO of the Americas and Europe Phil Rogers defended the deal, which he described as being "not an easy decision".
..."I hope fans know that it wasn't an easy decision. I think any sort of partnership at this level is a decision that took a longtime for us to get to. The decision at a studio level, we took very, very seriously. We knew it would, in the short-term, disappoint fans."...
Many commentators speculated that Rise of the Tomb Raider's Xbox exclusivity was intended to head-off competition from the similar PS4 exclusive Uncharted 4. UC4 has since been delayed into 2016, leaving some of us wondering whether the deal still makes sense.
Tomb Raider's reboot back in 2012 failed to meet Square-Enix's sales expectations, despite selling well over 3 million copies in its first month. Square-Enix stated previously that Microsoft are helping fund Rise of the Tomb Raider's development. Phil Rogers elaborated further in the Examiner interview, noting that Xbox head Phil Spencer himself visits the dev team on a regular basis:
..."Having been working with us on previous games in a lesser sense, they've been supportive. [However], for Rise of the Tomb Raider, they've just brought this passion and belief that has really enabled us to blow people away. People should feel that about Microsoft. Their commitment to Tomb Raider is just amazing for us. [...] If you don't know, Phil visits Crystal [Dynamics] every time he's in the Bay Area. Phil is the most welcomed guest, he'll come talk to the team, play the game and [Microsoft] is a very committed organization to our properties. It just makes it that much more exciting for us."...
Phil Rogers also noted his delight to see Tomb Raider showcased alongside Xbox heavy-hitters like Halo, Forza and Gears of War. Being featured with the best Xbox has to offer is sure to raise Tomb Raider's profile for younger gamers unfamiliar with its PS1 roots. The deal also allows Microsoft to attach a ubiquitously recognisable brand to the Xbox One moving in to the 2015 holiday season. For Square-Enix though, it's all about taking Tomb Raider to "the next level" according to Phil Rogers:
..."It becomes the most important thing. We're about growing our IP, this is a long-term decision. We're going to take Tomb Raider up to the next level. With Microsoft's belief, passion and sort of muscle to help us deliver, we really think this is going to be an awesome game that people will enjoy for years and years to come."...
It seems likely that Square-Enix came away from the Tomb Raider reboot with a great deal of anxiety. The game achieved solid reviews from both fans and critics and sold millions of copies in its first month. However, the fact Square-Enix described the sales as 'disappointing' makes me wonder just how inflated the game's budget was.
By partnering with Microsoft, Square-Enix can offset the costs of developing a triple-A sequel - which, in theory, are always higher budget than the previous title in the series, to grow in-line with fan's expectations. It's hard to gauge what form Rise of the Tomb Raider would've taken without Mircosoft's involvement, or whether or not the project would've existed at all. Maybe Square-Enix and Microsoft are buddy-buddy enough to bring me an Xbox One version of Final Fantasy XIV... maybe, please?
What do you think? Could Microsoft's "muscle" be better spent elsewhere? Is the adverse reaction worth it for Square-Enix? Hit the comments!
Rise of the Tomb Raider releases on November 10th, 2015 for Xbox One, early 2016 for PC and Q4 2016 for PS4.