Putting Lara in the Box: The Case for Platform Exclusivity

With the news of Rise of the Tomb Raider supposedly being exclusive to the Xbox One, plenty of people got miffed by it, especially those who had played the Tomb Raider reboot (myself included). However, this whole thing may be more than meets the eye, and it’s a look into business practices of gaming companies, as well as how consumers react to whatever the hell the “corporate suits” come up with. Some may think that there’s nothing new to discuss with this topic, but some still think that it’s a new thing even though it has been going on for as long as modern gaming has existed.

NOTE: You may read the addendum here, which adds to the points and conclusions made in this article.

The Knee-jerk

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So the gaming news outlets started coming out with RotTR’s Xbox One exclusivity, and social media was flooded with negative reactions about it. Being the hapless spaz that I usually seem to be, I shared the news on my Facebook wall with a subtitle that “reflects my anger towards the Japanese gaming corporate elite”, and plenty of other people responded with the same sentiments.

It’s similar to Platinum Games making Bayonetta 2 a Wii U exclusive, which was also met with much wailing and gnashing of teeth. In both cases, the masses responded with great vengeance and furious anger against the corporate tyrants who sought to poison and destroy the gaming industry with these decisions. They want Lara unchained, free to enchant whoever she can without the limitations of console exclusivity.

Quoting the Bible, Monty Python, and Samuel L. Jackson aside, it does feel rather silly now to have come off of having gone nuts about this news in such great fervor. It wasn’t something that battle lines should be drawn for (if so, that would be “Don Mattrick level”).

The Backhand

A good friend of mine who is known for being opinionated about a lot of things (and can back it up 9 times out of 10) came with a rebuttal that eventually convinced me that it’s not a bad thing at all. I did my best to hit back with everything I had in order to test the waters and see where it would go.

You may read the aforementioned Facebook thread here.

My argument was concerned with how this decision to make the game an Xbox One exclusive is a disservice to those who had played and enjoyed its predecessor, most of whom had played on platforms other than the Xbox 360. I was seeing it purely in the consumer’s perspective, which was most likely why I may have been antagonistic to whoever was in whatever board meeting from which that decision came from.

My friend saw the reactions of the majority and found them ridiculous, then made it known on that thread. He is an adamant anti-pirate who always considers the industry’s perspective since games are mostly thanks to developers and publishers who make them possible. They get to do whatever they think is best for the product, even if it means that they would make a game like this into a console exclusive. (Take note that he’s also anti-EA, so it’s not like he’s totally a corporate shill.)

As the debate progressed, I started to lose ammunition and it ended with him making his case clearer. The point was that it’s not a bad move at all since it’s standard business practice that has been done before for other well-known game franchises. He cited Halo: Combat Evolved and Final Fantasy (post-Nintendo era) as examples of this, which made his side fairly convincing.

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After letting myself cool down from the heat of the debate, I did start seeing some sense. A lot of my counterarguments were concerned with the questionable nature of Square Enix’s past decisions and current motivations, some of which I had written about in a past article about marketing hype. But then again, making Squeenix a scapegoat did little to support my case and I conceded that he was right.

I posted a link to the thread on a Facebook group (The Video Game Guild) to have others assess the proceedings, and it was agreed upon that it really was in line with standard business practice in the gaming industry, whether seemingly ridiculous at first or not. A consumer could buy the console if he’s very much interested in playing that game; he doesn’t have to if he’s not.

The Kickback

It wasn’t like I was broken and defeated since my friend and I have debates like that all the time (it’s a big part of the dynamic in our friendship). But then, I had this topic joggling around in my head for a good while to see if I could come up with something at a different angle. As always, I could never leave well enough alone.

thumbnail_final-fantasy-7I wish to make the case that while this standard business practice does make sense, it also works only for franchises that are relatively new. Most would then digress that Final Fantasy VII wasn’t “relatively new”, but it was more of an anomaly of the times with the inclusion of a PC version as Squaresoft testing the waters during their post-Nintendo era. Of course they would do that since they decided to go elsewhere on their own accord and had to see where they fit best.

thumbnail_halo-combat-evolvedAs for Bungie, they were a developer for computer platforms (mostly Mac) before deciding to go console exclusive with the success of their breakout series. In fact, the product they released before Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2 (yes, it also had a PC release) was a little-known third-person action game that I fondly remember called Oni, the only game made by Bungie West (which I’ll write more about in the future). Their switch to the Xbox 360 was a subsequent decision after figuring out that they finally struck gold.

thumbnail_bayonetta-2Looking at upcoming cases, Bayonetta itself is “relatively new” with only one game released and another one pending release. Nintendo and Platinum Games are also giving it something extra to make the console exclusivity work by having the first game bundled with the second one, most likely so that those who buy it won’t feel like they’re missing out. That’s actually nice of Nintendo and Platinum Games to do that for the fans (letting them win E3 2014).

thumbnail_tomb-raider-1996Tomb Raider is not new at all; it’s 18 years old as of 2014. It has a long-established fan base and even historical significance in gaming as a prominent early example of a strong female protagonist in gaming through Lara Croft (despite what neo-feminists say).

It also isn’t a Crystal Dynamics or Square Enix original; the former got to work on it after Eidos Interactive acquired them, and then the latter acquired Eidos. In contrast, Halo is still Bungie’s and Final Fantasy is still Square’s after all this time. So to go from the Tomb Raider reboot to this one after so long as an Xbox One exclusive is still questionable. It’s not wrong per se, but anyone who doesn’t think that it’s even a nigh bit questionable is off-base.

It still must be said though that such practice is common in the industry, so I can say that I was somehow wrong and ignorant of the facts in gaming history yet again (I’ve been wrong plenty of times before). Maybe I did have one or two bits of information right all along, but that’s besides the point.

The Jump-off

After around 24 hours or so, it came to light that it won’t be an Xbox One exclusive forever after all, as more insightful gamers had deduced early on. It makes more sense as a timed exclusive than just a straight-up exclusive only due to the nature of the Tomb Raider franchise, and the news served to settle the angry mob a bit. I should have taken those speculations more seriously, so the knee-jerk reaction was my bad.

While it wouldn’t be bad at all to make RotTR an Xbox One exclusive, it still doesn’t make as much sense as it would with Bayonetta 2, and that’s saying something. It would work anyway, but it’s still a head-scratcher. Nonetheless, I agree now with Microsoft’s claims of this deal with Square Enix being a good one, although declaring it a win-win may be a bit of a stretch right now.

With that said, some people are starting to see the Wii U as a potential buy due to some of the exclusive games it has (even with its reputation and bad marketing). The PlayStation 4 may look good right now as an overall go-to platform, but the Xbox One is starting to look more interesting with its own exclusives. When seen that way, the whiners should start to feel a bit foolish.

But just as things were starting to look good for the “righteous”, Hideo Kojima and his crew just announced that Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and Ground Zeroes will be released on the PC through Steam.

The whole world just exploded.

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Even Kojima couldn’t resist the call of the Master Race.

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