While many thought that the focus would be on Gamescom 2019 this week, Sony stole a lot of the attention by announcing that it had acquired both of Insomniac Games studios in Burbank, California, and Durham, North Carolina. This shouldn’t come completely out of left field as the developer has had a long relationship with Sony harkening back to PlayStation publishing the original Spyro the Dragon in 1998. This started a lengthy business relationship that has spanned the Spyro trilogy, all of the Ratchet and Clank titles, and the console Resistance trilogy. Making one of its most talented partners an official part of the company ensures that PlayStation owners will receive all of the studio’s great games going forward, and is a huge get for the company when Microsoft is gobbling up developers.
This acquisition wouldn’t have been surprising in the slightest if it had happened in the 2000s or even earlier this decade. However, Insomniac spent the past seven years showing that it is more than just a Sony partner and was an independent studio. This all began when the studio started toying with mobile development and put out Outernauts with Electronic Arts. That relationship continued with 2013’s Fuse, a cooperative third-person shooter that wound up being a rare misstep for the developer. Future titles saw them drift further away from Sony as they put out one of the Xbox One’s best exclusives in Sunset Overdrive, a multiplatform Metroidvania game Song of the Deep, and several virtual reality titles exclusive to the Oculus Rift (including the upcoming Stormland).
However, the studio never got on bad terms with Sony and has delivered two great PlayStation 4 games in the past couple years: the Ratchet and Clank remake that released alongside the movie adaptation and last year’s Marvel’s Spider-Man, which, after selling over 13 million units, Insomniac’s most successful title to date. Sony was clearly impressed with how much of a success Spider-Man was, and locking up Insomniac Games was an easy decision to make from their perspective. Clearly Insomniac Games founder and CEO Ted Price agreed as he said that “our partnership amplifies our potential, and Marvel’s Spider-Man was a testament to this.”
Insomniac Games has always valued its independence
This likely wasn’t the first time that Sony tried to purchase Insomniac Games. They purchased two very similar studios in the past that had strong relationships with Sony as a publisher: Naughty Dog in 2001 and Sucker Punch Productions in 2011. Back in 2012, IGN asked Price if Sony had tried to purchase the studio and he didn’t give a straight answer. Instead he told them that Sony “respected, and still respects, our independence.” A lot has changed since 2012, and Sony must have made Insomniac an offer that they couldn’t refuse in order for Price and the rest of the company to give up that freedom of being able to do whatever they want with whomever they want.
But the timing doesn’t just come after the monstrous success of Marvel’s Spider-Man, which further reiterated that Insomniac Games is one of the best developers in the world, but also after Microsoft has made some major purchases. Before ramping up to the next generation of consoles, Xbox had added Double Fine, Obsidian, Undead Labs, Ninja Theory, Compulsion, and Playground Games to its roster of first-party studios. It’s a major play as Microsoft has lacked the number of first-party titles that Sony has been able to produce consistently throughout the last few console cycles.
Purchasing Insomniac Games doesn’t just mean that PlayStation owners will get more fantastic games from the studio. It also ensures that Microsoft, which notably worked with the studio on Sunset Overdrive, will not be able to make any future deals with the company. It’s a great addition for Sony, but taking Insomniac off the market from their competitors is just as important. When you have money like Sony does, you can afford to make moves that are important in terms of limiting your competition’s options.
And that competition probably got Sony to step up and start opening its wallet. Sony’s healthy lead of first-party teams started to dwindle as Microsoft snatched up a whole host of different developers. Buying Insomniac shows that Sony is not going to go into the next gen flat-footed, ignorant of what its competition is doing. As both Microsoft and Sony has shown us, that’s the best way to sink your console before it is even out. It appeared that Sony wasn’t doing much either and that looked worse as Microsoft was working with other companies, utilizing cross-play, bulking up Game Pass, and focusing on backwards compatibility while also buying studios. Sony was slacking and it was a bit worrying. But taking in Insomniac shows that Sony is competing and that is healthy for the industry and helps more teams find the security they need in a more hostile market.
Insomniac Games joins a fantastic roster of first-party studios
Sony now has a line-up of first-party studios that can’t be denied. If you want to experience the best that gaming has to offer, then you need to have a PlayStation console. From Horizon Zero Dawn developer Guerrilla Games to the oftentimes experimental Japan Studio (responsible for games like LocoRoco, Gravity Rush, and Tokyo Jungle), there are no shortage of must-play games coming from internal studios. That is even without mentioning huge developers like Media Molecule, Naughty Dog, and Sucker Punch, who have all put out multiple Game of the Year contenders. Their titles are also as diverse as anyone as it ranges from great sports games (Gran Turismo and MLB: The Show) to some of the best single-player titles in recent memory. Adding Insomniac Games to the mix is putting the cherry on top of an already strong collection of studios that almost always pump out premier games.
Exclusives are what ultimately makes a console a commercial success or failure. A manufacturer needs to have games that make people buy their system rather than the competition. It’s why Nintendo has still managed to succeed and thrive throughout the years despite largely using less powerful hardware than the rest of the industry. By making games that nobody can get elsewhere, Nintendo has gotten a healthy devout following and has become the secondary system of choice for many gamers. By purchasing Insomniac Games, Sony is ensuring that more people choose the PlayStation 5 as their main gaming platform next generation.
With both Microsoft and Sony using their sizable wallets to gobble up talented studios, it is certainly a fascinating time for gaming. Sure, you might need to purchase more consoles than ever before to enjoy all of the great releases, but the trade-off is that these talented developers are getting more support and a greater opportunity to succeed thanks to their publisher’s marketing power. All of these moves are ultimately a positive one for gaming as a whole, and it shows that the next console generation is going to be more exciting than ever before as competition pushes these console makers to expand in exciting ways.