[History of Video Games Vol.2] Early History of Marvel Games (included discussions with Activision, Microsoft & Sony)
An interesting segment on Marvel Game's early history and how they reached out to both Microsoft and Sony to explore potential first-party deals, how they had to negotiate with Activision to terminate the Spider-Man deal earlier than deadline, and some extra details on Sony/Insomniac/Marvel...
Quotes from Jay Ong (Executive VP & Head of Marvel Games) & Ted Price (Founder & CEO of Insomniac Games).
Marvel Games reaching out to Xbox & PlayStation & why Microsoft passed over a Marvel deal
Jay Ong said:What he needed was a publishing partner who hadn't adopted the "crappy licensed games" mentality. He needed a company with an eye for long-term investments, one with a vested interest that would benefit from building a franchise. That partner would need to have a deep pool of talent, commitment to quality, and inexhaustibly deep pockets. There were three companies that fit that description. One of them, Nintendo, mostly developed games based on its own intellectual properties.
Being from console first-party in my past, I pinged both sides, both Xbox and PlayStation, and said, "We don't have any big console deals with anyone right now. What would you like to do?" Microsoft's strategy was to focus on their own IP. They passed.
I sat down with these two execs from PlayStation third-party, Adam Boyes and John Drake, in August 2014, in a conference room in Burbank. I said, "We have a dream that this is possible, that we could beat Arkham and have one game at least and maybe multiple games that could drive adoption of your platform."
PlayStation, Marvel Games & Insomniac - Marvel's Spider-Man and a worthy rival to Arkham
Ted Price said:Sony turned the project over to Insomniac Games,*18 an independent studio at the time, but one of Sony's most important partners. Insomniac had a long list of hits that were published under the Sony label—Spyro the Dragon, Ratchet & Clank, Resistance: Fall of Man, and most recently Sunset Overdrive.*19
Insomniac was an obvious choice for the project. As a studio, Insomniac had an impeccable record as both a designer of hit games and a reliable partner for Sony. Another plus, one of the studio's most recent games, Sunset Overdrive, incorporated a fast-paced, highly acrobatic style of combat that was equal parts parkour, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, and Call of Duty, a very Spider-Man style of fighting that involved swinging and grinding over cities while facing multiple enemies.
Insomniac's ability to create games based on already existing intellectual property may have caused some concern. Historically, the studio created IP rather than building off of other companies' ideas. In truth, other companies adapted Insomniac's IP.*20
When we heard of the opportunity, thanks to Connie [Sony Interactive Entertainment vice president of product development Connie Booth] at Sony, it was a real surprise for me because up until that point we had been working on our own IP and hadn't really contemplated working on existing franchises.
Ted Price said:Sony's participation in this project would be anything but passive. Including marketing, the budget for franchise-building games like Marvel's Spider-Man routinely exceeded $100 million. With so much money and prestige on the line, Sony Interactive Entertainment assigned senior director Grady Hunt and PS4 designer Mark Cerny to consult on the project. Both men had worked as Sony consultants with Insomniac on early projects as well.
The three-way collaboration between Insomniac, Marvel, and Sony was a success. Having partnered with Insomniac many times throughout the PlayStation and PS2 eras, Sony executives had confidence in the studio's technical and game design savvy. For their part, studio founder Ted Price and his fellow "Insomniacs" understood how to work with Sony as well. Having worked in different industries serving a mostly similar audience, Price's Insomniacs had a natural affinity with their Marvel counterparts as well.
Very early on, we knew that there was a great chemistry between us and our compatriots at Marvel. A lot of that came from being able to learn more about the Marvel universe from those who were really experts in it…guys like Bill Rosemann [executive creative director, Marvel Games]. At the same time, the Marvel team was fantastic in trusting us to come up with a new story…to come up with a new take on Peter Parker, and to explore the mechanics of what Spider-Man could be in a modern game.
Ted Price said:Along with its proven track record, Insomniac brought technical expertise to the project. Like so many games of the PS3/Xbox 360 era, Arkham Asylum was built using Unreal Engine 3, a versatile and powerful engine created by Epic. Insomniac used its proprietary Insomniac Engine.
The Insomniac Engine enabled us to create a very large city. The New York we created for Marvel's Spider-Man was ten times the size of the city we created for Sunset Overdrive and more detailed. More importantly, in Spider-Man you can go anywhere because you're Spider-Man. From the very beginning, we had to figure out how to make that work and make the views from the tallest buildings feel believable when we have limited horsepower to use. The goal is to be clever about how you display things and keep the game in frame while giving players a lot of freedom to do whatever they feel like at any time. Spider-Man is kind of the ultimate expression of that.
Jay Ong said:Marvel's Spider-Man was indeed a worthy rival for the Arkham games. Breaking Spider-Man into the top tier of games wasn't only a question of money and technology; it was a question of finding a team with a grand vision. Insomniac wanted to create an iconic game for an iconic superhero. Marvel's active participation ensured a new level of authenticity. Wanting to create a PlayStation-exclusive franchise, Sony not only lent Marvel's Spider-Man a gigantic marketing budget, the console giant also offered technical support from start to finish.
When it came to Spider-Man, Activision wasn't prepared to compete against games like Batman: Arkham Asylum. Sony was. To date, the Arkham games and Marvel's Spider-Man are unrivaled among superhero games for sales, with a steep drop to the next tier down. In 2020, as Sony prepared to release PlayStation 5, the exclusive game headlining that release was Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales.
Marvel's Spider-Man was the first time that Marvel proper realized that games as a medium could drive the brand…could drive "brand affinity," as we call it.