How Sony was able to snag the worlds most popular super hero as an exclusive first-party game franchise has been a long speculated topic. With the game originally releasing right around the same time that the friendly neighborhood web-head took a leap from Sony Pictures and into the wildly successful Marvel Cinematic Universe, many speculated that some kind of back room deal took place. That theory has been consistently debunked by Sony and Insomniac games over the years, but in case you needed a little bit more convincing even more evidence has now presented itself.
As part of an interview inside The Ultimate History of Video Games, Volume 2 by Steven L. Kent, Marvel Entertainments head of games, Jay Ong, sat down to discuss the studios journey from lowly movie tie-in games into game of the year contenders. In this interview he would state that the strategy he evoked was to find “a publishing partner who hadn’t adopted the “crappy licensed games” mentality.”
Ultimately his search led towards targeting prominent first-party publishers Microsoft and Sony. With Jay being an industry veteran, including seven and a half years with Microsoft, it was easy for Jay to get in touch with key figures at both organizations. However after presumably giving Microsoft the first shot at the opportunity, he was surprisingly shot down, as they wanted to focus on their current first-party lineup. You can read the full quote from the book below:
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.”
Its important to note that at this point in time Don Mattrick was on the way out and Phil Spencer was on the way in as head of Xbox, so that could have played a role in their decision making process at the time. Looking back, though, it is somewhat of an odd statement. At that point in time Xbox was limited to just five internal first party studios, and in 2014 Xbox would release several Kinect titles, Titanfall, and Sunset Overdrive as third-party console exclusives. The latter is very interesting itself because the developers of Sunset Overdrive would go on to create the incredibly successful Marvel’s Spider-Man for the PS4.
Obviously we are working with the power of hindsight here, but its hard not to imagine what the success of Marvel’s Spider-Man could have done for the Xbox brand, or how not having Spider-Man on PlayStation could have impacted Sony and its eventual acquisition of Insomniac Games. Video game history is full of what-ifs like this which makes books like The Ultimate History of Video Games so interesting. For more cool stories be sure to check it out as it is available online or at local bookstores.