The Internet absolutely exploded when this was first announced and we didn't hear the whole "timed" bit. PlayStation fans were absolutely up in arms over this apparent "betrayal" by Square Enix. The prequel sold about 4.8 million units across five systems, with 2.2 million, or nearly half, coming from the PS3. This move was also slammed by most analysts, which called it bad business on the parts of both companies.
I think that the move, however, is smart business for both parties. It's no secret that sales figures for the reboot were underwhelming at best, regardless of who the strongest platform is, you have to diversify if your numbers are low. Signing an exclusivity deal implies that the hardware partner has some sort of obligation to try and promote it harder than a cross-platform title. The most hardcore fans will reluctantly buy an Xbox One, which is all Microsoft really wants at the end of the day, no matter how much they trash it on the forums. Square Enix gets to have unrivalled access to an underserved audience, but then gets to sell to its main base. Even if they are savaged relentlessly by the fans, if the game is good, people will buy it.
Upon the horrific realization that the new Tomb Raider was to be an Xbox exclusive, the developers at Crystal Dynamics went on Tumblr to explain their reasoning behind their decision to focus on a single platform. To quote, "Our friends at Microsoft have always seen huge potential in Tomb Raider and ... we know they will get behind this game more than any support we have had from them in the past -- we believe this will be a step to really forging the Tomb Raider brand as one of the biggest in gaming, with the help, belief and backing of a major partner like Microsoft."
In many ways, it felt more along the lines of the company simply admitting to their fans that Microsoft simply paid them off for exclusivity rights. Most of the responses I have read regarding that post have ranged from inane fanboy rage to abnormal death threats, which could also explain why the developers quickly pulled their post for a short while. And in many ways, this is actually one of the worse blunders Square Enix has pulled off in recent months, including the decision to not port Final Fantasy Type-0 to the Vita.
Don Mattrick isn't even running Xbox anymore, yet his foot-in-mouth comments are still going strong. GameSpot published this gem of his from 2008: "History has shown us that the first company to reach 10 million in console sales wins the generation battle." Right. Well, it seems like we can call it a day here and see you back in 10 years for the next console launch! Microsoft has only managed to make 5 million, and that's just putting them on shelves. Sony has put 10 million units into the hands of paying customers.
The difference is humbling and staggering. Microsoft really has only one somewhat bright spot that it can point to, which is that Sony launched the PS4 in all planned 48 markets by Christmas, with the only exception being Japan, which got the console in mid-February, but as we've seen, has been shockingly underwhelming. The Xbox has only been available in 13 countries so far, just over a quarter of the market presence of Sony. An additional 29 markets will be reached this September. But one thing is for certain: time is running out.
Already, we're seeing what the future holds for this generation of consoles, and it appears to be that Sony will come out on top of the competition. The last generation's winner was very evident: Microsoft; and because of that, they could easily roll with exclusive deals from a great many studios that wanted their game to sell well on the Xbox platform. However, things might take a turn for the worse for Microsoft, especially given this stat. It is very much possible that the big publishers that were siding with the Xbox 360 will jump over to the PS4 for the exclusive content on that platform. We saw that very prominently with Battlefield Hardline and its beta offering. On one hand, they'll make that jump over to the winning console and stay there for good. On the other hand, though, perhaps some studios will stay with the underdog and land a surprise attack on the PS4. Whatever happens, we just have to hang on to our seats and sift through the storm.
This would actually be the steal and reversal of the century, because Sony has already managed to successfully bring down the Xbox One for having this sharing system. Now, Sony is trying to appropriate it and do what Microsoft never managed to do in several months of trying: communicate clearly how it works and what the limits are. It is less of the game borrowing mechanic and more of a virtual drop-in, drop-out system, but the idea is no less ambitious. If Call of Duty were still challenging, I hypothetically would have been able to let a friend get me through a particularly difficult sequence on Veteran. But again, it isn't the whole game, just however much you let them play in an hour-long session.
This concept of Share Play seems to be the next evolutionary leap for sharing on the PS4, especially given how you'll be able to share games to people that don't have your game, something they were touting back at E3 with Far Cry 4. But one problem I see with this feature is one they've explicitly been marketing: the ability to ask your friends to help you with a game by having them play the level you're on. The person who is helping you has to at least have the game on them and know what to do, for obvious reasons. I wouldn't want to give someone access to my game to someone who doesn't have it and screws with it in a number of ways. In addition, they have to stream the game to their console, but how much is actually streamed?
While I did not have Jonathan's tenacity to see the live stream, I am personally grateful to see that there is at least one studio out there that is committed to continually producing new IPs. It recognized that Mass Effect had come to a natural conclusion, and while Bioware is still producing new entries in the series, it is not a primary focus at the moment, seeing as we've still heard next to nothing about it. It is also not a forced continuation of the existing story, as they've said Mass Effect 4 has almost nothing to do with the previous titles. Back to the matter at hand, it seems that we're seeing a new trend of asymmetric games, with Evolve being the other notable example of the 4 vs. 1 gameplay we usually relegate to Juggernaut multiplayer matches.
When I first saw Shadow Realms during the live stream (yes folks, I literally stayed up until 1 AM just to watch it), the only thing that came to mind was how much it reminded me of The Secret World, FunCom's failed MMORPG that was of a similar nature. I'm still questioning how the game's 4v1 system will work utilizing a Free-to-play model, given the fact that 2K's Evolve has already beaten them to the punch with that system in hand. Still, I question whether or not this game will succeed in today's market, as many similar MMOs have actually failed dead on arrival (see WildStar and Firefall for example).