A year ago at E3 2014, Microsoft unveiled Rise of the Tomb Raider, the sequel to the 2013 popular franchise revival Tomb Raider. Unfortunately, what people were talking about more than the game was that it was an Xbox One exclusive, puzzling when considering Tomb Raider 2013 was multi-platform. When asked about their thoughts regarding the exclusivity deal, the developers of Crystal Dynamics were just as confused, some even saying they weren’t even aware of the deal. Later throughout the week, Square Enix had to clarify the title would be a timed exclusive, and would eventually find it’s way to the PS4 and PC. This should have been the end of the conversation, but the head scratching continued.
When asked about a launch date for the X1, a release window was provided clearly, Fall 2015. But when prompted about a PS4 and PC launch, nobody seemed to have an answer. Speculation stirred up in December 2015 when it was reported Microsoft would be publishing Rise of the Tomb Raider, but the deal did not exclude multi-platform releases. General PR remained unclear, some Microsoft heads said Rise of the Tomb Raider was a full on exclusive, while others simply advertised the Xbox One would be the first place to play the game. Practically a year in, and still no news regarding a multi-platform launch, or even existence.
E3 2015, Microsoft uses Rise of the Tomb Raider as one of their flagship fall titles, showing off a sizeable chunk of new gameplay. Hype once again starts to build for the aforementioned sequel, once again raising the question of when (if at all) Rise of the Tomb Raider will launch for other consoles. But this year Square Enix is holding their own press conference, a perfect time to give some clarity regarding Rise of the Tomb Raider’s exclusivity, but they didn’t. Another E3 comes and goes and fans still have no clue what’s going on with the PS4 and PC edition of ROTTR.
Fast forward a month, in a small press statement Square Enix finally lifts the lid on Rise of the Tomb Raider, telling fans they’ll be able to play the game on their PS4 or PC November 2016, a whole year after the Xbox One launch. As you can imagine, fans were not happy. Forums, Reddit posts and comment sections were set ablaze with angry, confused and saddened gamers alike. Even for a company as old as Square Enix who’s received their fair share of bad publicity and outcry, this was a new low.
July 27 2015, Square Enix CEO of America and Europe Phil Rogers did an interview with examiner.com regarding the exclusivity deal and the fans outcry. “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,” Rogers said. It’s important to remember at the end of the day this is a business decision, business’s and companies need to make money. Obviously we will never know the figures Microsoft and Square worked out, but I’m willing to bet it’s nothing short of jaw dropping. Something that bothered me about this specific statement is how Rogers says it will disappoint fans in the short-term. Let’s table that tidbit for now and come back to it.
Rogers goes on to praise Microsoft commitment and “passion” for Rise of the Tomb Raider, even regaling how Microsoft head Phil Spencer visits the studio whenever he’s in the area to check up on the game. “What we saw in Microsoft, which is probably not as well known, is that Microsoft’s passion for Tomb Raider is amazing.” Well yeah, of course Microsoft’s “passion” for a AAA game is amazing, why wouldn’t it be ?
“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,” Rogers said. Now this part I have issues with, mainly how exactly does Microsoft’s “passion and belief” help with the game’s development ? As far as we know, Microsoft is only publisher, and has no hand in development. They’ll pay for marketing, manufacturing and all the business side of things, but creative control still rests with Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics.
The confusion grows when Rogers talks about how Microsoft’s “passion” will help grow the IP, “It (passion) 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.”
As anyone in the gaming industry will tell you, the average gamer has a very short attention span. Whatever’s trending will only do so for a month at best, with single player-focused games such as Tomb Raider, relevancy is even hard to maintain (I know Tomb Raider had a multiplayer but honestly, who really played it ?). It’s almost funny how contradictory Rogers’ statement is, exactly how does limiting your audience help grow the brand ? Right off the bat Rise of the Tomb Raider is behind, creating an impact in an industry as fluid as the gaming industry is almost entirely reliant on the audience. I understand their goal of elevating Tomb Raider to that upper echelon of elite franchises, but none of those franchises ever alienated more than half their audience with their first sequel.
Phil Rogers wants Rise of the Tomb Raider to be the next The Last of Us, a single player-focused game that has critics and fans alike talking about it years after it’s initial release. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, it’s a noble goal. I can’t help but feel Square Enix has gone about this the wrong way though, if they truly believed in Microsoft’s “passion” then why not let them co-develop instead of just publish ?
As harsh as I’ve been on Square Enix, make no mistake, I want nothing more than for Rise of the Tomb Raider to be an amazing product. If Square truly believes hitching a ride with Microsoft is the best way to do so then all the power to them ! But it would be foolish to think the other chunk of the audience they just gave the symbolic middle finger to be so forgiving. If there’s anything other developers and publishers can learn of this whole ordeal it’s to be transparent with the audience, they’re the ones that decide if people will be enjoying their game for years and years to come or not.