Rise of the Tomb Raider will be the first of many sudden exclusives for PS4 and Xbox One

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Square Enix today revealed that Rise of the Tomb Raider, the E3-revealed sequel to the 2013 original, will be exclusive to Xbox One. Initial reports suggested that the game would only be a timed exclusive, unique to the “holiday 2015” period, but Crystal Dynamics head Darrell Gallagher has since clarified that the game will, in fact, remain only on Xbox.

Gallagher added that “this doesn’t mean we’re walking away from our fans who only play on PlayStation or on PC,” but mention of Tomb Raider reboots and remasters failed to lessen the sting. A once-multiplatform series now has the added gatekeeper of console ownership, leaving many fans of the original with the frustrating dichotomy of missing Rise altogether or investing in another system.

Rise of the Tomb Raider

Xbox exclusivity is uncharted territory even for Lara.

The reaction to Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics’ decision is apparent and unsurprising: PlayStation and PC gamers are pissed. From both a consumer and business perspective, the immediate implications of this shift are alarming, as our own Joe Donato discussed in a recent piece. Arguably more disturbing, however, is how prophetic Rise of the Tomb Raider may prove to be. Indeed, as the new generation of consoles is fleshed out, it’s probable that many once-multiplatform IP will pick up either Sony or Microsoft’s banner, and only theirs.

The most concerning point is not that Microsoft wants Tomb Raider on a short leash. Every hardware manufacturer wants more and more powerful munitions to fire off at events and in press releases such as those seen today, and exclusives are as potent as they come. The fact that Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics saw the deal as the best path for Rise of the Tomb Raider is a much brighter red flag. Nevermind the financial forecast; there’s a reason they shook Microsoft’s hand, and that reason undoubtedly traces back to the troubled status of Tomb Raider.

It’s no grand secret that, due to frankly irresponsible development expenses, Square Enix was forced to deem Lara’s 2013 reboot a failure despite moving over three million units in its first month.  It stands to reason, then, that the publisher determined Xbox One exclusivity to be the safest or most promising avenue of distribution for Rise. Moreover, it’s also likely that who made the offer was irrelevant; had Sony moved in offering comparable numbers, we’d almost certainly be hearing of Lara’s sudden fondness of PlayStation instead.

This formula for exclusivity is made dangerous by how easily it can be replicated. From studio closures to publisher buyouts, the jury is out on the futures of countless IP. Let’s look at Darksiders.

Darksiders 2

Originally created by Vigil Games, Darksiders quickly wound up with THQ. When THQ went under and much of Vigil’s staff was picked up by Crytek, the IP vanished. Only recently, with the departure of those members and their subsequent decision to form a new studio, Gunfire Games, has a potential Darksiders 3 become relevant. Incidentally, the prospect of console exclusivity just became much more relevant as well.

The future of the Four Horsemen is a prime candidate to follow in Crystal Dynamic’s footsteps of selling to one side. The same can be said for the likes of Saints Row—which may soon see a new-gen announcement judging from Volition’s recent teaser—if only because both Sony and Microsoft would love to hold the IP for themselves as added padding for their console’s position in the open-world genre. Saint’s Row has always been caught in the crossfire of differing pre-order incentives and platform-exclusive content, and that bickering may escalate to full exclusivity with a new-gen installment.

What’s more, we’ve seen this string of dominoes fall before. Bayonetta 2, for example, wouldn’t even exist if Nintendo hadn’t agreed to partner with Platinum Games. Preferring exclusivity to termination is yet another motive backing the jump to a single system. All it takes is a few extra zeroes from the big boys of gaming.

Bayonetta 2

Or big girls.

This is to say nothing of the torrent of indie that the new console generation has spawned. Small-time developers know better than anyone how difficult finding a publisher can be, and it’s clear to see that Sony and MS place quite a bit of stock in owning the rights to eye-catching indies. Sony has No Man’s Sky and Microsoft has Ori and the Blind Forest, but you can bet they won’t be the last single-console releases (No Man’s Sky will release on PC).

Rise of the Tomb Raider is not some catalyst; it did not start the trend of console exclusivity. However, seeing such a prominent title play favorites will undoubtedly bolster that trend, pushing it further up the list of options developers confront with every new game. In part thanks to this, a few short years from now, the IP venn diagram which Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo so frequently recolor may look radically different from its current shape. 

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Austin Wood
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