Why The Timed Exclusive Craze Is No Good For Anyone Who Loves Games

Gamescom is well underway now and most of the big announcements are out of the way. We’ve seen plenty of good news for gamers since Microsoft kicked off the press conferences on Tuesday afternoon but one area that has drawn a lot of attention, particularly from angry PlayStation fans, is that of exclusivity.

The exclusivity of Rise of the Tomb Raider was, perhaps, clumsily announced, with carefully selected language and a degree of obfuscation around what the message actually was – was it exclusive forever or only for a period of time? Does this mean the PC version is on hold too? We got mixed messages or defensive posturing from some of those involved in the deal. The developers themselves issued a statement saying that partnering with Microsoft would really help them. Well, yes, I would assume that plenty of money changed hands and that financial security will put many minds at Crystal Dynamics well at ease.

It’s difficult to judge the developers (or their publishers) too harshly when there’s a bag full of cash on the table that means they all get to feel safe in their jobs for the duration of the game’s development. They undoubtedly do want as large an audience as possible to play their game, that’s a driving force for most creative producers, but if someone is offering them financial security, they’d be taking a significant risk to turn that down. I struggle to be too damning about anybody taking measures to ensure they can continue to feed their families for the foreseeable future. That said, I think that exclusivity is generally a bad thing for developers, almost as much as it is for the people that enjoy their products.

I’m not talking about first party exclusivity here. Uncharted and its numbered sequels being made only for PlayStation 3 (so far) has meant that the best was wrung out of the system and it made for a better experience thanks, in part, to the fact that the developers were able to focus on the strengths and weaknesses of the system they were developing for. This is true for many exclusives, even if it is often simply a side effect of the cold, hard business-minded fact that top quality exclusives can tempt people into buying one system over another.

But it’s rarely a good thing for a third party game. Rise of the Tomb Raider now has a significantly smaller install base to sell to. Choosing a convenient figure for my limited mathematical skills, if ten per cent of all new-generation console gamers buy it, this exclusivity decision has cut off a million potential sales on PlayStation 4. Using that simple figure, for the sake of argument, this decision has cut Rise of the Tomb Raider’s future sales from 1.7 million copies down to 700,000. That’s significant.

It also tarnishes the future of the series in the minds of over half your potential customers. Even though it has eventually been revealed as a timed deal, when Rise of the Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition (or whatever they pitch the almost inevitable eventual release as) finally does come to PS4, there might still be people who no longer want it. Even if the PlayStation fans are prepared to forgive the momentary slight of being prioritised beneath their Xbox-owning counterparts, Square Enix will have to spend another round of marketing budget on getting awareness raised. Selling your game twice to a million people each time seems like it would be more expensive than selling it once to two million.

And what do Xbox owners get now that this deal has been done? Exactly nothing that they weren’t already getting. Third party exclusivity is simply a deal that takes away from people – it’s only ever a negative interaction with your fans. It’s someone using their money simply to stop a group of people enjoying something. That’s the very definition of mean-spirited.

Let’s not let everyone else off the hook either. Tomb Raider is the bombshell that most people are reacting to but there’s plenty of other instances around the exclusivity issue that devalue the creative work and belittle the passions of those who pay for it.

Exclusive content is a recent favourite strategy of both Sony and Microsoft. But it’s self-evident that the content a game like Destiny will have exclusively on PlayStation is content that is surplus to the needs of the game. If you can afford to hold it back from half your game’s players, it’s obviously not needed to play the game. So you’re dedicating development time and resources to making superfluous tat that does nothing for the creative work – but plenty for the business side of things. And if it’s so unnecessary, is it really worth having for those that are lucky enough to have the golden ticket of the requisite console? It’s detrimental to the development process, pointless for the fans of the medium and only really beneficial to the people who care more for the cashflow than the creativity.

Exclusive content – whether it’s a multiplayer map, a section of single player gameplay or an entire game – is a con, foisted upon us by the business people who infest the modern games industry and don’t really care about advancement of the medium, just about advancement of their company’s market value. I can’t blame them for striving to get better at doing what they do but I can’t help wishing their influence wasn’t as strong as it has become.

As long as we keep falling for the polarising trickery that drives a wedge between fans of video games, by throwing money at it or by fighting over how important it is to us and our choice of platform, they’ll keep running the same con. We, as fans of games – as those that nurture the medium and encourage its continued evolution – must embrace all that is inclusive, adventurous and innovative so that the medium may continue to offer us more and more meaningful ways of interacting with it. There is nothing inclusive, adventurous or innovative about exclusivity.

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33 Comments

  1. Best read on this I had so far, read a few blogs yesterday hawking this as a good thing. I’m delighted the backlash from gamers forced MS to reveal the true nature of the deal.

    • When sales tank becuase its a exclusive on a platform nobody cares about, was it really duch a wise move to accept thst backhander. I think not.

  2. Hammer, meet the nail’s head.

  3. Very well written and balanced. A lot more mature than the majority of reactions I’ve read.

    This is nothing but a carrot dangled in front of people to tempt them in to buying something they had no intention of previously. The way they revealed it was deliberately deceptive and clearly intended to give people the wrong impression too. You’d think after the initial balls up with the XBONEs reveal MS would have learned their lesson. Alas, no.

    As pointed out, MS’ sole aim was to use this to shift consoles and screw over PS owners. At least the devs intentions and purpose was somewhat more honourable…

    • Was it deceptive though? Tuesday, it was “Rise of the Tomb Raider is exclusive to XBox”. It was pretty clear they didn’t mean a timed exclusive.

      24 hours later, all we’ve got is an interview with some dodgy website that seems to say that the Tomb Raider franchise itself isn’t exclusive to XBox, but doesn’t actually say that Rise is coming to any other platform. After all the bad publicity, you’re obviously supposed to think Rise is a timed exclusive, and everyone seems to have fallen for that. But that’s not what was said. It’s all about long term future for the franchise, which kind of suggests they’ve paid lots for Rise, but not any further games. Nothing to stop them trying to do a deal after Rise is released. But for now, there’s nothing at all to say Rise is coming to anything other than XBox. Apart from some “we were so pissed off yesterday, we’ll jump on anything that could possibly be good news”.

      • When you said ‘dodgy website’, were you referring to eurogamer? Because they are quite well known and far from a poor source of information.

  4. I think the numbers are a bit wrong there. 10% would mean 1m PS4 sales lost if the game was releasing now. But it’s not, it’s at least 15 months away. So it’d probably be more like 2.5m lost sales, possibly even more.

    The 700,000 figure is probably right for XBone though. They might have reached 7m actual sales by then (while probably claiming they’ve shipped a billion XBones).

    Having a game exclusive to one platform is the least bad option though. Exclusive (timed or otherwise) DLC is a bit more annoying. Stupid pre-order nonsense where you get different things from different places is worse. Want the whole game? Buy 3 copies from 3 different places. Or wait a few months and pay more for that extra stuff they obviously held back from the game you bought in the first place. Or just refuse to buy it and get the game from wherever the best price is to start with.

    And don’t get me started on the whole “season pass” thing either. Pay full price for half a game, or 1.5x the price for the full game. Assuming the season pass content is something you’re actually interested in, which is either a gamble or a wait until all the content is released. I fully expect someone to start removing the season pass option once everything is available. Buy it early and get it cheap, or wait and pay more if you’re still interested.

    • I’m in agreement with the whole Season Pass thing.

      Like an idiot I spent £50 on BF4, then let my brother talk me into spending another £40 on the Premium Pass.
      All I’ve got out of the extra £40 is to play a couple of extra maps, literally a couple of times as I prefer the original maps you get with the game and ranked up a bit quicker due to the occasional double XP weekend.

      And like others have said in the past, seeming the game already cost me £50, the extra maps should be free anyway or at least a couple of quid if they do insist on charging – not over a tenner per pack.

      Better still, give me a choice of paying less just for the multiplayer as I never bothered playing the single player campaign. I’m gonna stop before I go off on a completely unrelated tangent. :)

  5. Nice article. I’d just add that ms money has probably enabled more staff to work on the game and hopefully make it better than it would have been. So on a way everyone benefits.

    • Except that’s not how the world works. The money will go into the business and the guys who made the deal will no doubt get a fat bonus, along with various corporate execs who manage to attach themselves to it somehow, but nothing more will be allocated to the project (as it would’ve been budgeted a long time ago) and the people who do the actual work will get nothing from it. At best, some of it will go into the marketing budget for the GOTY/Definitive editions later on, once the embargo/exclusive period is up.

      • You can’t possibly know any of that for sure.

  6. Good read, i can’t really blame MS for a timed-exclusivity deal given the situation they find themselves in, but SE and CD had to know there was going to be a shitstorm over this, especially the way it was announced.
    It won’t stop me buying the game whenever it comes to PS4 though.

    Agreed on the wedge-factor of exclusive content but also see room for the unique IP’s which go towards differentiating one console from another.

    • Pretty sure I’ll buy it roo after enjoying the last one so much. Won’t be day one though. Wait for the price drop as this behaviour does not deserve to be rewarded.

    • I read an article today about Bloodborne and I remembered that basically the whole Souls craze started because of Demon’s Souls. A gamble that payed off for Sony and look what that gave to the gaming world. Wouldn’t it be better if MS used their money that way ? They wanted to have an X1 in every living room, right ? This doesn’t get them closer to that dream.
      What did they pay for ? For X1 owners to get what they would have already gotten anyway ? Fund a game that kills the AC craze. Fund a good TBS game for consoles. Fund a space mech game, that seems to be coming up. Fund a new exploring game type IP. Fund a sandbox game set in the future, Blade Runner or Batman Beyond style. I would pay for ideas like that to be materialized.

  7. Agree with this article and a good read indeed.

    But reading the conversation between Eurogamer and Phil Spencer, there is a quote at the end from SE that suggests “support from MS as regards Tomb Raider”. What if Rise of the Tomb Raider was an uncertainty following the less than expected sales of Tomb Raider? If the combined cost of Tomb Raider last gen followed by a quick stab at getting more cash via the definitive edition for the current gen, meant without financial backing RofTR was already looking like a financial failure.

    Perhaps Square Enix approached both MS and Sony asking for assistance and a deal to be struck, likely approaching Sony first with a higher install base. However, Sony have their own financial worries at the moment, and let us be honest, Tomb Raider isn’t exactly a system seller. Yet MS have more cash at their disposal and took the opportunity to strike up a deal with Square Enix, thus enabling the game to continue in development. Sure enough Xbox is getting it first, but timed, which is certainly better than the game not being made through accountants ordering it canned due to a bad forcast on return. Square Enix get to see the game developed, MS get to see a timed exclusive but more importantly – a better relationship with a great dev/publisher, and everyone gets to play it in the end.

    Sure enough, MS may have just gone and bought a timed exclusive, but why would anyone want to drop money on Tomb Raider? Hardly a system seller nowdays and off the back of less than desired sales for the original.

    Either way, timed exclusives are bad for everyone no doubt. But I bet far more goes on behind the scenes than us the gamers are entitled to know. Phil Spencer wasn’t exactly going to say “Square Enix are in the crap as regards this game, we’ve bailed them out for a slice of the pie”, that isn’t for MS to say. But everyone is quick to condemn MS for this, when there is actually a chance they just saved the game.

    • That’s what I said the other day. We know sqenix weren’t happy with the reboots sales so we don’t know how committed they were to Rise. Asking for funding to reduce their risk in exchange for timed exclusivity makes perfect sense. Going by the meltdown on the internet though maybe they misjudged how popular tomb raider still is?

      • Exactly.
        Though there is likely no misjudgement of how popular Tomb Raider is. It is the news of Xbox getting a timed exclusive that popular and an excuse for bitterness and stabs at MS.

        PS4 is getting exclusive DLC for many a game but that bothers me not. Most people are assuming this is MS being “evil” etc, yet there is no reason to deny MS may simply be helping and getting something back in return (it is a business after all).

        PS4 got Destiny Alpha and the Beta a week early. Fortunately I was able to play it, but had I only owned an Xbox at the time I certainly would not have been bitching about the early access etc. Sadly you can’t come here on TSA to have a sensible discussion about anything outside of Playstation with anyone other than the staff and a handful of people. Might aswell go to an Android blog and try to talk about iPhone news :-p

      • MS didn’t announce this as a timed exclusive though did they? They wanted people to think it was coming exclusively to the XB1 and when the shit hit the fan and fans of the series (not Sony) were threatening to boycott all CD/SE games, they were forced to come out with a statement which was just as obscure as their initial announcement.

        Also, getting tidbits of DLC & a Destiny Beta a week early is not the same as missing out on a full game release indefinitely (as we were lead to believe). Tomb Raider has a huge following and has been a multiplatform game as long as I can remember. Denying fans of the series a chance to play the next instalment as part of some desperate attempt to save your failing console is not going to go down well… whichever platform buys exclusivity.

        I’m sure you wouldn’t be fine with this practice if Sony announced that GTA6 was exclusive to PS4 in 2015.

    • 1. The game made a profit before the definitive edition even came out, so the game was a critical and financial success.
      2. If Microsoft ‘saved’ the development of rise, then why was it announced for PS4 and PC? And why aren’t Microsoft telling everybody that’s the case? They woukd kill for some good pr right now.

      So, I’m not buying it.

      • Firstly, Square Enix announced Tomb Raider, Hitman Absolution and Sleeping Dogs all failed to hit internal sales targets. Resulting in a drastic cull on the profit forcast and a resignation.
        Secondly, did Sony announce Destiny DLC was timed? Or was it later revealed that it would make its way across at “somepoint eventually” by Bungie.
        Thirdly, I speculate on MS assisting Square Enix as it does not state anywhere that it is or is not the case. What I won’t be doing is bitching about exclusive games and/or dlc a)because quite frankly it is a waste a time to complain so b)nobody except the two parties involved know the real situation and thus slagging either party off is just silly without full facts.

        The article makes the valid point that bought exclusives are bad for everyone. Yet there is the possibility such a cash injection was needed and will ensure the game is available full stop with little threat of being canned. Of course I may be totally wrong, but who the fuck here actually knows the exact nature of the deal? Nobody? Exactly. But because it is MS gaining something, PS4 losing something for a limited time, MS may aswell be the devil at work. Pathetic and single minded.

      • To be fair Fruit, in regards of Sony fans kicking up a fuss because a game has been made exclusive, I think with Tomb Raider its a bit different and its more to do with the fact that Lara Croft is pretty much the Poster Girl for Playstation. To people who have been Tomb Raider fans from day 1 and played Tomb Raider through generations of Playstations they are going to be pretty p*ssed.
        It’s like Microsoft has run off with their Girlfriend! :)

      • Not taking anything away from anything anyone has said here, but they failed to hit internal sales targets as the numbers they were expecting to shift were absolutely bloody mental. They expected those games to sell as well as something like CoD (well perhaps not quite that much, but I recall their projected sales to be waay off what it was ever going to realistically be).

        We all like to dream, but sometimes reality has to take precedent! :)

      • Double O Dave – I get that, and to let in on a little secret I have the Plat for the Definitive Edition and had every intention of getting Rise of The Tomb Raider on PS4. Not just because Tomb Raider looked and played better on PS4, but because I do see both Tomb Raider and MGS as games I will always want to play on Playstation. I may or may not get Rise on XB1, that will come down to resisting temptation. I get why many would feel let down, but some people are slinging sh*t in the direction of MS without knowing the reasons for this “deal”. What I speculated is actually less likely than a simple purchase for whatever reason, however I’m not going to throw my dummy out the pram because the full facts simple are not available.

        Forest – 3.4million copies sold in a month and they were not happy is crazy isn’t it? As you say, it is hardly CoD. But they obviously felt they had done poor enough to announce less forcasted profits and a resignation, and perhaps that is why they “may” have approached big guns in the industry to help fund Rise and minimise damage should it not hit a gazillion sales.

        But to both of you, cheers for displaying sensible people still exist around here and don’t just reach for the pitchforks ;-)

      • Ok then… Are you saying that we don’t know what’s going on, or did Tomb raider get saved by Microsoft, I can’t quite work out which you are saying.

        I stand by what I said, what I THINK has happened. And as for Destiny, I have mentioned in another comment (page 2 of comments)how it makes me cringe when they mention ps exclusive content (timed or not).

        Sorry if I come across blunt. I just feel strongly about this. I would be mega pissed off if I had to buy another console just to play the next instalment of my one of my favourite games (thankfully for me in this case, not tomb raider)

      • I think what he’s saying is that it’s not ok to judge MS for what we think (and probably have) done but it’s perfectly sensible to defend them for what we think they haven’t done.

        You make it sound like Square Enix were on the brink of bankruptcy until Microsoft swooped in and saved the day. If SE could’nt afford to make TR2 they wouldn’t have started it. You’d even think they’d hire a financial adviser to budget their multi-million dollar, multi-platform game before announcing it to the world. It’s not like this is their first game and they don’t know what they’re doing.

        Fruitoftheloom, I’d like to live in a world where the poor ‘struggling to finish their game’ company gets rescued by the kind and generous corporation because they failed to accurately budget one of their biggest, most popular and successful franchises. But maybe, just maybe, in the real world… MS approached SE/CD with a big wad of cash in exchange for timed exclusivity of the highly anticipated follow up to one of last years best selling games?

        Because they hoped it will help shift those huge, huge piles of unsold XB1’s.

        That sounds like the more sensible explanation to me.

  8. I’m still not happy about the timed exclusivity but I can live with it. The reason this caused so much fuss was because MS implied that this game was exclusive to xbox full stop. It wouldn’t have been as big an issue otherwise. But for them to imply that the sequel to one of last years most successful multiplatform games (who’s success was due in large part to the people they were now excluding) was just wrong. Even more so as the sequel was announced to be coming to all platforms a few months before. MS basically held fans of the series at ransom – if you want to see how the story continues, you’ll have to buy our new console or miss out – which is what caused such a backlash online. MS more than anyone should be going out of their way to improve their consumer relations. Instead they pull a stunt like this (because they didn’t have anything else of significant merit to show) and proved that they haven’t learned a damn thing in the last year. Think we’ve seen the last of their ridiculous policies from last years E3?

  9. Good article, especially about the exclusive content. I’ve been playing through Watch_Dogs on PS4 and I couldn’t even tell which bit was the exclusive or even if I played it (I haven’t finished it, cos its a bit of a slog after awhile), so where’s the benefit?

    Interesting point about the marketing too, when you consider that marketing budgets often cost more than the development budget itself, I’m wondering if Squeenix are even going to make more money out of this..

  10. Agree with the article, Microsoft are wasting their cash and gaining more negative publicity.

    As far as the fan reaction goes – as someone who grew up with 8bit home computers, where the games that were available were often heavily determined by what system you owned, I find it difficult to get worked up by this. It’s one game and it’ll come to playstation in 6-12 months. Everything else is available cross platform these days (unless you have a WiiU!)

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