Microsoft came out fighting at Gamescom this year.
If the European team was lacking any confidence after nine months in which PlayStation had dominated, and Microsoft had made wide-sweeping job cuts, there was no sign of it in Cologne.
The big blockbusters such as Fable Legends, Halo, Quantum Break, Evolve and Sunset Overdrive were sandwiched between some early ID@Xbox titles (a year-on since the programme was first launched at Gamescom 2013). It made for an eclectic and refreshing line-up of software that was a far cry from the endless violence that has dominated previous Microsoft conferences.
But the announcement that sent shockwaves across Twitter was the news that Rise of the Tomb Raider, the sequel to 2013’s brilliant Tomb Raider reboot, will be exclusive to Xbox One. At least for a little bit.
The new Lara Croft game is likely to go up against Uncharted during Christmas 2015, and coupled with Halo 5, will be a very strong offering from Xbox during what is likely to be a critical Q4 in the console race.
“The last Tomb Raider was very successful,” says VP of marketing Mike Nichols. “It has a character that people gravitate towards, a character that is iconic. We have a fantastic developer on the game. And so those are the reasons we looked at it and we are really pleased to be bringing it exclusively to Xbox next holiday.”
"If I am a Call of Duty or FIFA 15 fan and I want the exclusive
content then that gives me reason to buy an Xbox One."
Mike Nichols, Xbox
The reaction from Tomb Raider fans was not so excitable, and PS4 owners were understandably frustrated with Square Enix for signing a deal with Xbox.
Yet in truth the battle of exclusives were on both sides of the spectrum. As Microsoft revealed exclusive partnerships with EA for FIFA, Activision for Call of Duty and Ubisoft for Assassin’s Creed, Sony too were promoting its partnership with EA for Battlefield, Activision for Destiny and Ubisoft for Far Cry 4.
This content-grab from platform holders has been received negatively from some corners of the press. Is either side really winning anything from this?
“I do think all those things give people something to talk about,” adds Nichols. “If I am a Call of Duty or a FIFA 15 fan, and I want these extra modes, then that gives me a reason to buy this console. It is a mixture of all of this, the service, the games on the system, the underlining technology and these exclusives. Each aspect has its role in getting people over the line in choosing one ecosystem over another.“
BUT HAS SONY MOVED ON?
PlayStation did not really react to Microsoft’s Tomb Raider announcement. In fact, PlayStation did not seem to react to Microsoft at all.
The firm’s most impressive announcement was not a new game, but rather that PS4 has sold an astonishing 10m units in nine months. It was news that preceded a range of video game trailers that targeted the broader games market. Tearaway Unfolded, LittleBigPlanet 3, Rime, The Tomorrow’s Children... Sony offered a lot at Gamescom that went beyond the core gamer.
It was of course a sensible business strategy. With 10m sales secured, PS4 has already at the stage in its life where it needs to attract the wider gaming public.
“There is almost a burden on the console industry - if we are to repeat the success of PS2 - to be able to make that transition into a more casual and family audience,” says PlayStation CEO Andrew House.
“That is already happening in Europe, because it is our sense that the core gamer audience is just not as big in Europe as it is in North America. But our emphasis is going to be looking for the easy, accessible but still fulfilling game experiences that are going to reach out to the broader audience.”
But PlayStation is careful not to disappoint its core gamer fanbase. And there were plenty of new adult titles shown at Gamescom. These included the UK-developed Hellblade and Until Dawn.
“The important thing is that it is not an either/or,” adds House.
"If we are to repeat the PS2's success we need to
make the transition to the broader audience."
Andrew House, PlayStation
“The platform and, to a degree, the industry will be successful being able to sustain interest among multiple audiences at the same time for the same platform. That for me was our biggest core strength on PlayStation 2.
“I had to convince our ad agency on PlayStation 2 that it was ok to put Barbie on the platform. Their brand purist view is that we could only talk about the dark and the edgy. It was something I took issue and we honestly had to pull a core gamer opinion leader focus group. so that these gamers could turn around and say: ‘I couldn’t care less if you had Barbie on the platform. As long as you keep delivering FIFA and Madden and what I want to play.’
“What I am trying to get at is that this has always been, for me, where our strengths lie.”
This article originally appeared in MCV 801.