Rise of the Tomb Raider exclusivity: why fan outrage is unjustified

When I heard the news of Rise of the Tomb Raider‘s Xbox One exclusivity on yesterday’s morning commute, I clutched a Tomb Raider comic book in my hands and wailed in great sorrow. Okay, not really, mainly because you don’t want to weep openly on a crowded train–but I was upset. I’m feeling better now, since Microsoft confirmed that this is only a timed exclusive, but we don’t know yet how long PlayStation will be Lara-less. It could be months, giving Xbox a nice leg up for holiday 2015, or it could go on for almost a year (like GTA 4’s DLC). That’s disappointing for PlayStation fans. That’s it though: disappointing. Not idiotic, not evil, not a series killer. As upsetting as the news may be for some, and as little as we know about Microsoft and Square Enix’s deal, it still isn’t something Lara and her developers should be punished for.

While the situation itself is confusing, the reason that it’s happening is a little more obvious: mutual profit. Following a string of PR disasters before the Xbox One’s launch, Microsoft is playing from behind, and its comeback plan centers on exclusives. Not surprising, given how exclusive titles have carried its strategy in the past. It needs that to work again if it plans to push more consoles out of the door. Nabbing an established series like Tomb Raider–which has the benefit of a long history and a recent, well-received reboot–will sell Xbox Ones better than an untested new game no one has ever heard of. Although the exclusivity is timed, people will still buy XOs to play Rise of the Tomb Raider. Dip the price a little in 2015, release a bundle with Halo and Lara and… that’s a tempting reason to go green. And let’s not forget: if Sony was the one playing catch-up, as it did with PS3, it’d try EXACTLY the same trick.

So how does Square benefit from this deal? Consider this: Sony sold all ten million of its Square-Enix shares last April, despite Square’s stable finances. That’s not exactly a move you pull when you’re full of confidence. The cause of such a development, and whether the sell-off is related to the Tomb Raider deal, are both hard to say. There’s even talk that Microsoft’s investment could be what made Rise of the Tomb Raider possible, akin to what happened with Nintendo and Bayonetta 2. Microsoft would’ve had to make Square Enix a sweet deal to account for revenue lost by not working with Sony straight away, and surely the sweetest of deals is actually making the project possible. Yes, PS4 and PC-owning fans are upset, but would they be more resentful if the game simply didn’t get made at all?

All told, the situation is as confusing as it is frustrating and the fan reaction has been intense to say the least. Beyond the hyperbolic calling for blood, talk of boycotting the franchise and Crystal Dynamics in general has made the rounds. Even a few sympathetic Xbox owners have sworn allegiance to their gamer brethren, vowing not to purchase Rise of the Tomb Raider due to Microsoft and Square Enix’s behavior.

Boycotting the game, however, is only going to hurt the series fans claim to love. Tomb Raider and its developer are not to blame for the exclusivity, and every sale the series loses reduces the likelihood of a further sequel. While Crystal’s own statement talks about how “Our friends at Microsoft have always seen huge potential in Tomb Raider,” the fact is that Square owns both the developer and the brand. They can do whatever they like with it, regardless of what anyone else might want. Even if Crystal was completely against the deal, they would have little say in the matter. Yet they’re the ones bearing the brunt of fan ire.

Square Enix has the final say on where Tomb Raider goes. And ultimately, Square wants the series to be healthy and profitable. That doesn’t mean that Crystal Dynamics loves Lara any less, or wants to take her away from anyone. That isn’t to say that we should all rush out and buy Xboxes NOW NOW NOW, or that no one is allowed to be disappointed over this development. It makes sense to be upset, but to sling insults at creators and boycott something we care about (potentially endangering the future of the series) because it’s not in the format some want to be? When it may never have existed without Microsoft’s support, or may only be a short-lived exclusive? I opined in the general direction of my Tomb Raider comic book because I own a Tomb Raider comic book, and I still love Lara despite any console favoritism. I can only hope everyone else will too.

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