Gamescom 2014: The Exclusivity Crisis
Gamescom 2014: The Exclusivity Crisis
If you listened to either Microsoft’s or Sony’s press conferences the word exclusive came up. A LOT. This in itself is nothing new except maybe the number of times it was said. Such a continued use is to be expected as the two companies each try to differentiate their consoles from one another in order to be more appealing to the people who buy them. The problem is if you look back into the not so distant past, exclusivity was more meaningful and clear cut. Microsoft or Sony would announce an exclusive and it would only be on that platform. As the differences between the consoles is so narrow and the games marketplace becoming more crowded, timed exclusives are now more prominent. Content whether it be DLC, an expansion pack, a beta or even a whole game can be limited to one platform, whether for a week or a year. It really just depends on the deal made between the publisher/developer and Sony/Microsoft.
The problem in particular at this year’s Gamescom is the ambiguity of the term ‘exclusive’. It has become confusing and convoluted to determine whether a certain title will become available in the near or far-flung future for a given platform. This makes it unclear for consumers buying the product and is a frustrating trend in itself. Exclusivity deals of course make perfect business sense as it earns the developer a significant cash boost and earns the platform good selling points. Normally most exclusive games are first-party games, games that are developed at a studio owned or collaborated with by either Sony and Microsoft. A less commonly known event is when a third-party game announces exclusivity to a console.
This brings me to the biggest and most controversial news of Gamescom 2014. Rise of the Tomb Raider is an Xbox One exclusive. Or is it? When this was first announced there was a lot of confusion. Is it a timed exclusive? Or exclusive to Microsoft altogether? As it turns out this deal is a timed exclusive, but for how long nobody can say right now. First of all, this is a big plus point for Microsoft. With a release window of holiday 2015, Microsoft has gained not just from the publicity this announcement brought but will also profit from all the benefits an exclusive game brings. If people really want to play that game as soon as they can, they’ll need an Xbox to do it. This makes perfect sense for Microsoft particularly given its sales numbers for Xbox One are below that of Sony’s PS4 and its recent commitment to gamers.
Amidst the confusion, there was also a lot of anger from Playstation owners. A recently rebooted franchise more associated with Sony than Microsoft jumping ship seemed highly unlikely. The anger that some fans shown was exasperated when the developer Crystal Dynamics responded to the outcry with a blog post stating:
“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.”
This made things worse if anything as Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris is not considered to be of any relation to the rebooted franchise. Overall, the blog post came across as apathetic and pre-planned, meaning Square Enix knew there might be a backlash and responded quickly to it. While the fan reaction can be interpreted as simple ‘fanboyism’, this decision makes little sense when you view it from Square Enix’s position. The company’s recent financial troubles are well documented as were its high hopes for the rebooted Tomb Raider. Despite selling over 6.5 million units and impressing critically, the game underperformed in the eyes of executives at Square. This is one of the reasons gamers have a hard time understanding this decision.
By releasing exclusively on Xbox, Square is significantly reducing the number of potential buyers and while it may come to other platforms at a later date, many gamers will have moved on to other horizons by then, especially with the number of games releasing in the next few years. The longer the exclusivity deal lasts, the less likely other platforms will sell a great deal of copies. That is not to say that the game will not meet its sales projections. It could very well achieve great sales by releasing on one console first.
What can we take from this?
Well, as I mentioned, it’s a big win for Microsoft. Obviously its disappointing for Sony fans. Time will tell if Square made the right choice in accepting Microsoft’s money in terms of sales, but right now there is a lot of bad feeling being directed towards them from people who were looking forward to playing Rise of the Tomb Raider on other platforms. Is exclusivity a trend that will continue? Absolutely. Whether we’ll continue to see third-party games being bought out by Sony or Microsoft is another matter. One thing is certain though, these deals do matter when there is so little to choose between the consoles in terms of features, and will sway people’s decisions either way. The real takeaway should be this: the term ‘exclusivity’ is not as black and white as you may think, and it should be used with more caution in the future.
What do you think of exclusive content? What do you make of Tomb Raider’s decision to move to Microsoft first?
Let me know in the comments below.
Keep an eye out for more Gamescom 2014 content in the coming days.