When Microsoft announced Crystal Dynamic’s follow up to the Tomb Raider reboot would be exclusive to Xbox One at Gamescom, the internet exploded. But not in the good way. People were upset that Rise of the Tomb Raider would be exclusive. It was so bad that this tiny announcement hung like a dread shadow over the rest of the conference – at least until the solution to P.T. blew everyone away. Then it was revealed that Rise of the Tomb Raider wasn’t actually an exclusive; it was just a timed exclusive. Once again, the internet sunk its teeth into this, accusing Microsoft of being dishonest with their announcement. What’s interesting is the special treatment of Microsoft in this regard. Why did this announcement trigger so much ire, when similar exclusive announcements like Star Citizen, Bloodborne, or Xenoblade Chronicles X don’t? So, today, we’re looking at exclusive through this lens and we’re going to see why they exist and if they’re good for the industry as a whole.
Over the past generation, multiplatform games have not only become the norm, but the highest quality games are often found in their ranks. Exclusives have become the definite minority. As console architecture becomes increasingly similar to standard PCs, it has become easier for developers to port their games between platforms. Since casting a wider net allows for a greater haul, most developers have no interest in exclusivity. Why limit yourself to the PS4 when you can have the Xbox One and PC user bases as well? In fact, most exclusive games are made either by first or second party developers or because of some financial deal. For example, Bayonetta 2 is exclusive to the Wii U because Nintendo helped publish it. The same is true with Titanfall and Microsoft.
So, the first thing that we need to look at with exclusives is the impact they have on the industry. PC exclusives tend to be those limited to the hardware such as strategy games, which can’t effectively be played on controllers. Sony relies heavily on its second party studios such as Naughty Dog or Media Molecule to provide it with exclusives. Microsoft does similar, but to a much smaller extent, especially considering that the company is divided between Xbox and PC divisions, so many Xbox exclusives get ported to the PC, thus killing their exclusivity. Finally, there is Nintendo which is the biggest manufacturer of exclusive first party titles in the industry. What’s important to remember is that with the exception of Nintendo, most of these games are still the minority, they are few and far between.
Exclusives serve two purposes. They allow developers to work entirely within the confines of a single piece of hardware, usually making them the most polished games on the platform. But, principally, exclusives are meant to act as an incentive for you to buy the platform as a whole. As mentioned above, it is much rarer nowadays that games simply happen to be exclusives, though it does happen more frequently on the PC. Therefore, exclusives in many ways are to the benefit of the hardware developer over the consumer, at least at first blush. There is an argument that building a fast user base to a platform through exclusives benefits everyone as more games will get ported and made for the system. Nintendo is currently suffering from not building a big enough base, and can attest that it stings. The main argument that exclusives actually help consumers, however, is when the exclusive game wouldn’t have been made but for the exclusivity. There are many factors that go into games like this, but what I’m mostly referring to is when a hardware publisher foots the bill in order to have the game made. In these cases, consumers aren’t prejudiced as they wouldn’t have ever had access to the game anyway.
Microsoft’s fake Tomb Raider exclusive contract wasn’t to benefit consumers, period. That’s a reason why it was so hated. When we see games like Bayonetta 2, gamers realize that these games are exclusives because they wouldn’t exist otherwise without the help from the publisher. Games like Bloodborne were clear from the beginning that they are exclusive, giving to suspicion. Rise of the Tomb Raider, on the other hand, is not only being published by the massive Square-Enix, but it also started off as multiplatform game. In other words, everyone knows that Rise of the Tomb Raider would be made with or without any exclusive contract, and Microsoft was bragging about stealing it from the multiplatform sphere and hiding it behind its curtain simply because they paid off Square-Enix. Now, that’s still what they’re doing, though for a smaller window of time, but I’d say that’s one of the big reasons people were upset.
Of course, bias must also be taken into account. Microsoft placed themselves in a very bad position at the beginning of the console race, and there is still a lot of bad blood amongst gamers. Add that to the fact that the PS4 has greatly outsold it, and you have many gamers who don’t have and don’t want an Xbox One. These gamers are obviously going to be upset, especially, once again, since Rise of the Tomb Raider was set up to be multiplatform originally. I do think that the switch between multiplatform and exclusive is the key here, though. Titanfall was a game PS4 owner envied, but it didn’t get the same kind of visceral reaction because everyone knew from day one where that game stood.
So, exclusives are self-serving. In a perfect world all games would be available to everyone. However, just because it benefits the hardware developer more that exclusives don’t benefit consumers at least a little. We don’t live in a perfect world. There are multiple platforms available for gaming and how is a consumer supposed to choose which one is right for them? There are features to be sure as well as price, but the principle reason to prefer one platform over the other is the games available on the system. Exclusives are important. They might not be ideal, but they serve a very particular purpose. And, until there is only a single platform available for gaming, I don’t think exclusives should ever go away.
Oh, one more thing. Microsoft was absolutely being dishonest with their announcement of exclusivity for Rise of the Tomb Raider. Every other timed exclusivity announcement from Microsoft and Sony has words like “you can play it first on PS4” or something similar that makes it clear it’s a timed exclusive. So, they deserve the shitstorm.
– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer