Microsoft announced a bombshell at Gamescom 2014 which took us all by surprise. Rise of the Tomb Raider will release “next holiday exclusively on Xbox” (Phil Spencers exact words). It is a smart move by Phil and the Xbox team. Tomb Raider is a household name. The IP may have been through a recent reboot but Lara Croft is a recognisable face amongst most gamers and the game won’t need much marketing. It is an obvious plan to toe-to-toe with Uncharted 4 which is rumoured to be releasing in the holiday season 2015. Ever since the announcement I have been mulling it over and it is a big coup by Microsoft but (and this is a big BUT) there is a possibility that the timed exclusivity of Rise of the Tomb Raider could backfire and cost Microsoft and the Xbox One big time. I know – bold claims but hear me out before calling me a Sony Pony or a troll in the comments section.

Performance differences leak on-line

tomb_raider_game_informer_cover_art_mediumThe visual fidelity differences between the Xbox One and PS4 are widely publicised and one of the major talking points in the start of 2014 was Tomb Raider: The Definitive edition. The game released for both the PS4 and Xbox One but the gulf in visual differences were massive. While the Xbox One was hitting 30 frames per second at 900p, the PS4 was pushing 1080p at 60 frames per second which helped the game sell twice as much on Sony’s machine as it did on the Xbox One. It is unlikely that the same will happen again with Rise of the Tomb Raider – Crystal Dynamics will have had a year longer with the Xbox One to develop what ever visual trickery they need to to ensure it hits 1080×60 – but what if it does? What if, even with the extra development time, CD are still unable to get the game up to scratch? That news alone would be a hot topic and the subject of another probable flame war, but what if details about the inevitable PS4 version leak and those are better? A total disaster. Microsoft’s big coup turns into a damp squib that people are willing to wait for the superior version of.

The “Timed exclusivity” is too short

The wording around the Rise of the Tomb Raider timed exclusivity is being deliberately ambiguous. “It has a duration” is all that Phil Spencer would add and Square Enix & Crystal Dynamics have not mentioned anything more – wisely so. So what do we know? It will be releasing “next holiday, exclusively on Xbox”. Now “Next Holiday” could mean any time after October 1st to be in time for Christmas. And what of the PS4 and PC version? Well, once January 2016 starts that is “next holiday” over and done with. (I hope) Microsoft were not dumb enough to secure exclusivity for only a few months but no one outside of Microsoft, Square and Crystal know the specifics of their deal. If the timed exclusivity is too short, and these details make their way on-line, this could dampen the sales of the Xbox One during that holiday season. What sounds more appealing? Rise of the Tomb Raider or Uncharted 4 followed by Raise of the Tomb Raider a few months later? I know what would get my vote.

The game is bad

Probably the least likely of the reasons on this list is that Rise of the Tomb Raider is a bad game. Crystal Dynamics have a great track record with the Tomb Raider games and if it is anything like the 2013 reboot, it should be hailed as a success – but what if something goes wrong during development? We see it all the time – projects that start off with great potential but end up finding the middle of the road or try to please everybody and end up pleasing no one. The fact that Microsoft have gone out of their way to secure exclusivity hints that they are concerned that they don’t have another game to push the platform next holiday season and if Rise of the Tomb Raider doesn’t live up to the hype it could result in a bare looking release schedule.

The game bombs

image_40556_fit_940We see it year in, year out. Great games get released and don’t sell anywhere near what they deserve. This unenviable situation is usually reserved for PlayStation exclusives (Tearaway, The Puppeteer, MotorStorm – the list goes on) but what if this happens to Rise of the Tomb Raider? What if it gets swamped by the inevitable multi-platforms and annual instalments that will be hitting the market at the similar time? The impact of this could be far more devastating to the Xbox One in the long run, purely because of the kind of deal that it is. Third party exclusives are rare these days because of the risk involved (even though we have seen a recent resurgence of them with the launch of the now-gen) and if a Tomb Raider game, a series with mass market appeal and an established fan base, fails on the Xbox One, do you think many other developers or publishers will be lining up to talk about exclusivity (timed or otherwise) with Microsoft? No. No matter how many zeros Microsoft write on a cheque, if a game like Tomb Raider bombs, potentially doing irreparable damage to an established franchise, it could put a lot of other companies off working with the American giants and could push them in to the open arms of its competitors. This, in turn, will have an obvious effect on potential future sales.

Of course, the probability is that Rise of the Tomb Raider will be fantastic, the game will sell by the truck load and we PlayStation, PC and Nintendo gamers will have to put up with insufferable trolling from Xbox One owners until it arrives on our platforms – and I don’t blame them. Xbox One owners should be optimistic about Lara Croft’s next outing, but it should be cautious optimism because if Rise of the Tomb Raider fails for any of the above reasons, Microsoft and the Xbox One will be picking up the pieces.