After rebooting again last generation, the Tomb Raider franchise is moving on to the next sequel, Rise of the Tomb Raider. Announced back around E3 time, the gaming community assumed the game was headed for the new generation platforms and PC, but this morning at Gamescom, Microsoft turned heads and riled up the fans by announcing that the sequel is to be a Xbox exclusive. That's enough to make news, but what's really keeping people talking today is that thanks to some unspecific and nebulous language, nobody's quite sure how long this exclusivity will last. Rise is due on the Xbox One exclusively for Holiday 2015, but that doesn't mean that Rise of the Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition for the Sony PlayStation 4 isn't six months around the corner from then. It's all speculation right now until someone on the inside of the deal decides to talk; I've heard compelling arguments from both sides. Here's a statement from developer Crystal Dynamics:
As you may have seen, we’ve just announced that Rise of the Tomb Raider, coming Holiday 2015, is exclusively on Xbox. We consider all of you to be the lifeblood of Tomb Raider and the work we do at Crystal. I’d like to give you some insight into this decision, and why we feel this is the very best thing for the Tomb Raider sequel we’re creating at the studio.
Tomb Raider in 2013 was a success due in large part to your continued support. Our goal has always been to deliver something truly special with Rise of the Tomb Raider. Today’s announcement with Microsoft is one step to help us put Tomb Raider on top of action adventure gaming. Our friends at Microsoft have always seen huge potential in Tomb Raider and have believed in our vision since our first unveil with them on their stage at E3 2011. We know they will get behind this game more than any support we have had from them in the past - we believe this will be a step to really forging the Tomb Raider brand as one of the biggest in gaming, with the help, belief and backing of a major partner like Microsoft.
That's quite the bombshell of an announcement, one that few people saw coming. On paper, it makes sense from a business perspective. Microsoft gets a big exclusive for the holidays to help sell consoles and compete with Sony's Uncharted 4 due out around the same time. Crystal Dynamics and publisher Square-Enix get a nice payment to keep the game on the Xbox platform which will surely please investors. Interested Xbox One owners can play the game as they'd originally planned. Owners of other platforms are the losers here, but assuming this is timed exclusivity and not a lifetime deal, the game will turn up elsewhere sooner or later. Of course, the community is pissed, petitions are circulating, and the immature fans are throwing around death threats as usual. Just another day in the gaming industry.
It's worth pointing out that this kind of thing has all happened before and it will all happen again. Remember when Street Fighter II was exclusive to the Super NES? How long was it before Street Fighter II: Special Championship Edition turned up on the Sega Genesis? Final Fantasy was a Nintendo-platform exclusive for years until one day it wasn't anymore, moving to the PlayStation family. Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare began life as a Xbox One exclusive and is coming soon for the PS4. That's not to say that Rise won't remain a Xbox exclusive, but there's plenty of precedent for these so-called exclusive titles to arrive on other consoles given enough time. Then again, this could be a Dead Rising 3, Titanfall, or Bayonetta 2 situation where Microsoft is funding development at some level which really would keep it tied to the one console. Let's just say that I would love to know the details behind this Tomb Raider deal. There must be quite the story there surrounding the negotiations.
Of course, Crystal Dynamics isn't leaving PC or PS4 owners totally out in the cold. Here's what the company has in store for owners of those platforms:
This doesn’t mean that we’re walking away from our fans who only play on PlayStation or on PC. Those are great systems, with great partners, and amazing communities. We have Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris coming to those platforms this December, and Tomb Raider: The Definitive Edition is available on PS4.
Osiris is the sequel to 2011's Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. It's not a bad game at all, but it's not the big new Tomb Raider game. To me, this kind of statement compares to, say, Nintendo announcing "Hyrule Warriors is exclusive to Wii U, but 3DS owners can enjoy a Virtual Console version of Ice Climber this holiday season." That's patronizingly cold, Crystal Dynamics. No pun intended.