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Rise of the Tomb Raider may come to PS4 and PC after all. Xbox boss Phil Spencer admitted in a new interview that the game is only a timed exclusive for Xbox.
"I have Tomb Raider shipping next holiday exclusively on Xbox. It is Xbox 360 and Xbox One," Spencer told Eurogamer. "I'm not trying to fake anybody out in terms of where this thing is. What they do with the franchise in the long run is not mine. I don't control it. So all I can talk about is the deal I have. I don't know where else Tomb Raider goes."
He goes on to confirm that the exclusivity deal between Microsoft and Rise publisher Square Enix "has a duration" and that they don't own the rights to the game in perpetuity. He declined to say how long that duration will be, though.
"It's not because I'm trying to be a headfake on anybody. It's a deal between us and the partner. People ask me how much did we pay. There are certain things I'm just not going to talk about because it's a business deal between us and them."
I haven't heard audio of the interview. I'm guessing, though, Spencer said these quotes with the sort of frustration that can only come from being asked the same question over and over for 24 hours: "How exclusive is your exclusive?"
This is obviously not how Spencer or Microsoft wanted Rise of the Tomb Raider's Xbox exclusivity to be received. It was supposed to be the highlight of their Gamescom press conference. They wanted a reaction to the effect of, "Wow, Xbox has an awesome exclusive lined up! Rise sounds like a good reason to buy an Xbox One!"
However, everyone knew that there would be an expiration date on that exclusivity. The Tomb Raider series has a long history of PC and PlayStation releases. While going Xbox-only comes with short-term advantages like aggressive marketing from Microsoft, the long-term costs for going exclusive would be too great for Square Enix. Microsoft can't pay Square Enix enough to outweigh the potential sales they'd lose by skipping PC and PS4.
The problem, though, is that lifetime exclusives are better at driving sales than timed exclusives. "Xbox One is the only way you'll ever be able to play this game" is a more convincing sales pitch for the console than "Xbox One is the only way you'll ever be able to play this game THIS YEAR."
What we saw yesterday was Microsoft and Square Enix trying to thread the needle. They wouldn't say Rise of the Tomb Raider was a lifetime exclusive, because it wasn't. They didn't want to say it was a timed exclusive, because that wouldn't be as compelling. So they decided to announce Rise as "launching in holiday 2015, exclusively on Xbox" and hope that no one would probe further.
Unfortunately for them, people did ask questions. The word "exclusive" is now a term that no one takes on faith. Everyone's seen too many cases of one-time exclusives eventually leaping to other platforms six months or a year or two years later. Dead Rising 3 and Ryse: Son of Rome are two recent examples.
I suspected that the companies would play coy for longer than they did. I'm glad that Spencer decided to just drop the act, though. No one stood to benefit from a year's worth of denials that no one believed.
Spencer's admission is what needed to happen here. The question "How exclusive is your exclusive?" was drowning out the actual news: Xbox One and Xbox 360 are getting the next Rise of the Tomb Raider first. It was poorly announced news but it's still good news for Xbox.