Everything is so bloody stupid. In a world where major publishers like THQ can fold, and even something of the scale of Activision-Blizzard couldn’t find a buyer other than itself, you’d imagine Square Enix wouldn’t be doing absolutely everything in their power to reach as few customers as possible. But the company that recently suffered financial woes, and complained the first Tomb Raider didn’t sell enough copies, are doing exactly that. Rise Of The Tomb Raider is the sequel to the morbidly overrated Tomb Raider reboot and was previously revealed as an Xbox “exclusive” release, ensuring the vast majority of its potential sales are instantly removed. And now they’re tying up their marketing with in-store promotional brochure, Game Informer.
Square lamented that the just-above-average Tomb Raider (lots of potential, excellent movement and action, but a sodding awful script that wouldn’t ever leave you alone) “only” sold 3.4m copies in its first month. So their solution? Massively limit access to its sequel. We learned last August that the game was to be an Xbox exclusive. Sure, they’ll have received a giant wad of cash from Microsoft for the deal, and perhaps they considered that necessary to fund its development. But the result is that only those owning Microsoft consoles will be able to buy the game within months of launch.
Microsoft reckon around 10 million XBONES have sold so far. That’s a big number, but it’s also a very small number. The lifetime sales of the 360 by 2013 were around 78.2 million. The PS4 is in about 15 million homes, and the PS3 found its way into 80 million by 2013. PCs are impossible to count, but the general rule of a cross-platform release is that the PC version will make up between 5 and 10% of the overall sales. For a series as established on PC as Tomb Raider, let’s assume that’s nearer the 10% figure. That means you’ve cut off 50% of your console audience right away, as well as the 10% of sales that would have come from PC. Microsoft must have given them so much money. (And this isn’t even accounting for how few will want to get the game for 360, which will obviously have to be massively scaled down, and likely review more poorly as a result). Getting a ton of funding up front may seem like a way around troubles, but when it comes at the price of sacrificing more than half your sales, and fracturing your future audience, it’s such short-term thinking.
It gets stupider. Because we know that the announcement that Rise Of The Tomb Raider would be “released exclusively on Xbox” was a deliberately obfuscated phrasing to mean, “It’s a timed exclusive, but we’re pretending it isn’t”, we know that it’ll come to PC and PS3/4 eventually. And knowing that, as a site that wants to discuss potentially interesting PC games, that makes it relevant to us to keep track of the development of this game. But no, we can’t do that, because Square Enix has – like so many publishers so idiotically do – signed an exclusivity deal with Gamestop’s in-store magazine, Game Informer. I cannot speculate on what deals may or may not go on behind the scenes, when it comes to the largest distributor of boxed copies of videogames in America, and publishers giving their magazine exclusive information about their games. But what I can say is, despite the disturbingly large numbers in which GI is distributed, it still makes up a tiny, tiny fraction of the publications covering videogames. It therefore reaches a tiny, tiny fraction of the potential customers for Rise Of The Tomb Raider, for whom such marketing material is surely aimed.
We also know just how possessive Game Informer can be with these marketing materials they’ve procured, appropriately enough in relation to this bullshit with the last Tomb Raider. Even jokes about it result in threats of legal action, as we experienced when we pretended to be nicking their assets. This is about publishers entering an exclusivity deal for promotional information about their game with a publication that threatens legal action if said materials are shared.
This is beyond ridiculous. Exclusives, whether they be for consoles, for magazines, whatever, are always harmful to the players. (To be clear, yes, we do turn down exclusives at RPS. The closest we get is learning information about a game ahead of an announcement, so we’ll have more useful information about it for our readers at the point when that information becomes available to everyone. And we certainly don’t try to stop anyone else from repeating it. Generally, when we’re offered exclusives that would mean the information would be ours alone for a length of time, we reply pointing out how this would be unhelpful to both them, and people interested in the game.) In this case, not just to those who simply want to be able to learn about the new game, perhaps get excited about it, but even to more than half the people who would consider buying it.
So no, we’ve no news for you about Rise Of The Tomb Raider, despite its inevitable appearance on PC. However, if I were to speculate, Crystal Dynamics’ games have dropped in quality with each release, from the utterly wonderful Legends, to the great Anniversary, then the quite good Underworld, that trilogy was on a downward trajectory. 2013’s Tomb Raider was okay, but woefully flawed, so if the trend continues, maybe it isn’t worth getting excited about anyway? We’ve no way of knowing.