There’s a term in business you’ve probably heard: “calculated risk.” It’s defined as “a chance of failure, the probability of which is estimated before some action is undertaken.” Basically: the recognition that going a certain path could make things go to shit but it’s either necessary or success could be worth it.
It could be said, then, that Crystal Dynamics’ (or, really, publisher Square Enix’s) decision to make the upcoming Rise of the Tomb Raider a timed exclusive for the Xbox One maybe should have been referred to as a “calculated disaster.”
I get it. Exclusivity deals come with a host of bonuses and a chunk of change, and considering Tomb Raider is an iconic IP, this was likely a big chunk of change. But is it worth it, in the end?
CD rolled out this post on their official tumblr blog which was rather forgivingly entitled a “Rise of the Tomb Raider FAQ”, which is one of the most hilariously inept attempts at calming a fanbase I’ve encountered in recent memory. This is a barebones post which is a paltry five questions long, which runs the gamut from such hard-hitting questions as “What does exclusive to Xbox mean?” and “Did Crystal Dynamics know about this deal?”
Yeah, I’ll bet Crystal Dynamics just had absolutely no idea. Good one to answer there.
The truth is that what everyone wants to know is question number two: how long does the exclusivity last, and can Playstation 4 or PC releases be expected in the future. Their answer is a non-answer, and that’s to be expected, because providing answers to either will a.) reveal the details of the contract and/or b.) violate the terms of the contract. So the other four would be worthless even if they were good questions or had any value in the answers, leading one to wonder what the point was of making this pathetic little stab at all.
The proper thing to put out would be a letter to the community, a heartfelt statement about what this could actually do for the company or the product as a whole while asking for faith and understanding amidst the rage. It won’t make issues go away, but it would be better than this. At the end of the day, anyone who has followed this industry for longer than a year should expect to eventually get screwed over by corporate decisions. The least that can be done is a down-to-earth, human response, divorced from the PR speak which has permeated and exacerbated the issue.
Their final question, “Why all the indirect language?”, is frankly the most damning one of the bunch, with their reply - “We certainly didn’t intend to cause any confusion with the announcement,” and that the announcement wasn’t a time to “go into details” - doesn’t excuse a giant image at the Gamescom showing declaring the game is “exclusively on Xbox”. The language was, in fact, quite direct, and the better question would have been “Why the deceptive language?”
I was very fond of Microsoft’s showing at E3, and I’m a fan of Phil Spencer. I’m happy with the direction Microsoft is taking the Xbox One, and I intend to pick one up in the near future. But this strikes me as an impressively odd business decision. The Xbox One is getting battered in the market: console-wise it was in fourth place this July, ranking behind the PS4, Wii U, and 3DS, while its software sales came in tenth. This Tomb Raider deal had to have been awfully attractive considering month by month the divide between Xbox One and its competitors only seems to be getting wider.
And it’s impossible to avoid the issue of the ire this has riled up amidst the fan base. Taking a classically Sony franchise over to Xbox and praising their “long history with Microsoft” must feel akin to a slap in the face, and while internet rage often proves as fleeting as it is impotent, this has all but started a movement - one fueled by years of brand loyalty and multi-platform freedom.
Will the extra cash and promotion from Microsoft make up for the ire, despite this launch being attached to a console which may be heading for dire straits? Once the timed exclusivity inevitably ends and PS4/PC releases come around, will the hate have died down? It’s impossible to estimate what the industry will look like come holiday 2015 and beyond, but where we’re standing right now, it’s hard not to see a calculated disaster.