Q&A: Resistance and Overstrike developer's Ted Price talks about trying to find a foothold in the new world of games with Insomniac Click, whether the social market is a bubble waiting to burst, and launching a new IP with new hardware.
In the last two months, Insomniac Games has launched new PlayStation 3 games in its two trademark Sony-exclusive franchises: Resistance 3 and Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One. The company's only announced-yet-unreleased project is the squad-based shooter Overstrike, a new intellectual property and the studio's first multiplatform project ever.
Insomniac's expansion isn't limited to platforms. The studio has also established a new social-focused Insomniac Click division, and All 4 One marks the debut of Insomniac's offshoot North Carolina shop.
During last week's International Game Developers Association Leadership Forum, Insomniac president and CEO Ted Price sat down with GameSpot to talk about his studio, the game industry at large, and the rapid expansion of both. The chief of Insomniac addressed the staying power of social games, the balance between listening to game designers and listening to gamers, and why it benefits a developer to launch new intellectual property on new platforms.
GameSpot: Where do you see the social and mobile space now that there has been a bit of time since the announcement of Insomniac Click?
Ted Price: Things are changing every day in that space. I think that is what's so exciting about dipping our toes into that particular ocean. What we are learning as we get further into social game development is the importance of on-boarding, the importance of social hooks, and reaching the broadest audience possible while delivering a AAA experience. These are things that we of course considered in console development, but as we are building social games we have to be even more focused on particular aspects of development, and because of that, we are learning a lot that also applies to our console games. And as a result, we are learning lessons that we probably wouldn't have learned if we were purely focused on our console games.
GS: So even if some Insomniac fans don't play social games, they will probably still gain the benefits of lessons Insomniac has learned from the social games space?
TP: I think it's opening our eyes to the necessity of more social hooks. And when I say that, I mean more focus on community, more focus on sharing within and across games. These are big topics that we discuss frequently at Insomniac when it comes to looking to the future, and we want to make sure that we are not stuck in the traditional console development set of rules.
GS: It seems like the rules in social games are still forming and changing.
TP: Absolutely. Games in general are probably evolving faster than any other entertainment medium in the past 50 years. What's really exciting is that for the past couple decades, the evolution was moving at a pretty steady pace, but in the past two years it has accelerated. And that's brought tremendous opportunities for developers of all types. And I say accelerated because suddenly we have seen the rise in the prominence of the casual market. The casual market has been around for a long time, but now all of the sudden, there are a lot of viable business opportunities, and that is something that all developers can learn from. I'm sorry, I'm not being too specific.
GS: There aren't too many people being very specific about social games these days.
TP: Well, most of us are trying to figure out exactly where we want to focus in terms of making our mark in social games, because there is so much experimentation happening every day, and there is no right way to do it. That's what is exciting about it. Whether it's a social game or a console game, because we're able to get consumer feedback so much quicker than five or 10 years ago, we can make changes that affect our audience more quickly. I used the Resistance example in the panel saying we wanted to go right out to players and ask them, "How do you want to modify Resistance? Tell us what you want in terms of weapon-tuning." We can have weekly decisions made by the players.
And that's certainly not going all the way in terms of giving players complete control, but it's a step away from the old mentality that we used to have which was: You ship a game, and you modify it a bit, but you move on to the next thing. Games in general are becoming much more of a service. You are always listening to the consumer; you are always making an attempt to tweak things so people have a better time.
GS: Is it difficult for your designers to give up that authorial control? "If we are just putting this out to the community, what am I doing?"
TP: Yeah, I definitely think it is, because designers are the experts. Designers on the team are supposed to be able to anticipate what players are going to find the most entertaining, but you have to swallow your ego a little bit, and understand that we may not be the experts here. We certainly may not know exactly what our players want all of the time. And I think the most important aspect of that challenge is the opportunity to learn. And to understand that our preconceived notions may not be right. Because our consumers are always changing, we need to be able to change even more quickly than we used to in terms of what we are putting out there in our games.
GS: Is there any concern about social being a fad or a bubble?
TP: I think that's a concern with every new turn in the games business. Whether it's social gaming, peripherals, Blu-ray, the Wii, these are all new advances that have popped up and have been major opportunities for people. But at the same time, we have seen a lot of detractors saying, "Yeah, this is just going to be a flash in the pan."
When it comes to social gaming, I think the numbers are so big in terms of the audience participating in casual games, that it's hard to see it going away. But I will admit, probably much like many in this conference, that it's going to change. [id Software design director Matt Hooper] just said that what we see five years from now is going to be far beyond what we could have ever imagined, and I would agree with that. This current flavor of social gaming is going to morph into something different, and it's all up to developers to try to stay in touch and try to anticipate the changes when we can.
GS: In your Leadership Forum panel, you were asked about launching new intellectual properties with new technology--new hardware platforms. Your affirmative answer was so curt that it brought up the thought of what this means for Overstrike. Is there any chance that we will have to wait for the Wii U, PS4, or the next Xbox before we see that game?
TP: I think that if you have a great IP, and a game that people want to play with a story that people want experience, it doesn't really matter what platform you are on. It certainly helps to go out on a new platform because you have a captured audience; you have less competition, and if you have a great game, it is going to stand out more. We experienced that with Resistance.
GS: So much so that the smaller installed base doesn't offset that?
TP: I think you have a greater penetration within that installed base. For us, we were just launching on one platform at the time, so we had a pretty high percentage of those owners playing Resistance. And that helped us with a great installed base for the sequels. People knew what Resistance was, and when Resistance 2 came out, we weren't fighting against a much larger number of new IPs. Resistance had already been established, and people knew what it was. It was easier to make our mark on the market.
GS: With the launch of Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One, it's time for Insomniac North Carolina to move on to its second project. Is that studio going to have a specific focus going forward? Some sort of specialty within the company, in the same way Click focuses on social games?
TP: North Carolina operates autonomously in that the group decides what games they are interested in making, and of course we all talk about it across groups, and we provide support in terms of technology, but they have some very specific ideas in terms of what they want to do next.
One thing I want to point out is that we operate as one studio. It's been important for the folks in Burbank and North Carolina that there isn't some sort of wall. We operate as Insomniac. When you go and visit the two offices, the culture is essentially the same. We have the same approach to doing things. We also talk fairly frequently and play the other team's games to get feedback, and it's really nice to have two separate groups who can provide an objective perspective on each other's games. We've never had such geographical separation between any of our teams. When we do play builds from the other team, we are each coming in fresh. Be it Resistance or Ratchet & Clank, we get very useful feedback that way.
@KBABZ I totally understand that. But look at the Crysis 2 compared to Crysis. Do you not agree that it would be painful to watch Insomniac games take such a step backward?
Their plans on using a new console to arguably artificially "funnel" themselves a decent sized audience for sequels and such makes perfect sense... very much looking forward to seeing what this Overstrike will be like
Social games. That is kinda a misnomer unless you are playing directly with your friends, family in the same room. Playing over the internet or via fackbook doesn't seem very social. But still the videogame industry must expand into new markets. So since everyone is going to interpet social differantly. For me Social videogaming was meeting your friends at the video arcade. Each with a roll of quarters in hand and destroying each other for high score. or co-op play in order to finish the game to get the end credits. Or playing co-op or competive in the living room. Videogames have alway been social. sort of..
I don't have a problem with games having a social aspect per se. But with that in mind I wish developers would stop trying to shoe horn in social elements where they aren't needed just to jump on the band wagon. Not every game needs to be an interconnected multiplayer experience. Look at Batman: Arkham City. It's a great game with only single player; the only social experience being able to share your challenge map scores and compare against other players.
@mjc0961 one thing to note though, if you're an "EA Partner," which Insomniac is, you don't to have an online pass unless you wanted to. Exhibits A and B, neither Portal 2 nor Crysis 2 have online passes. And they both sold well, imagine that?
Well, they're right on this one-- there's no decent way to make something inherently terrible, good.
Buck_Swaggler : Please keep in mind that Insomniac are working with EA Partners, which is purely a publishing branch of EA themselves. Crysis also works through this branch as a franchise.
If there's a will, there's a "right" way to do everything you want. That's what today's gaming about.
That such things are called "games" is from their relation to another kind of "gaming" that involves getting users to pump endless amounts of money into a machine to watch things light up and make noise. At least the latter has the decency to give you some money back from time to time.
Of all the publishers they had to go with for there first multiplatform game why does it have to be EA. I just hope it turns out great cause i love insomniac their one of my favorite devs.
@mjc0961, you write poetry good sir... And remember, you can't spell disease without EA. Insomniac is great, and I still have hopes for them, but finding out they have partnered with EA is similar to finding out that a girl you like has Gonorrhea... probably best to forget about them for now.
http://www.change.org/petitions/insomniac-buy-back-spyro-from-activision We need people to sign this and send it to Insomniac!
Half-baked titles like the ''villes'' and the like build up a bad taste in most gamer's mouths when it comes to the word ''social'' but there can be some very interesting features that are commonly held in more casual ''social'' games...for example how great would it be to check out your friends crime-lair in gta and come along with them on heists? Oh wait....we already have that and it is called multiplayer! :P I seriously think though that they should focus on more creative and unique multiplayer experiences instead of social..do I think that there is a right way to doing social games? Probably...but so far almost every way it has done HAS been the wrong way.
"Designers on the team are supposed to be able to anticipate what players are going to find the most entertaining, but you have to swallow your ego a little bit" What a giant lie and smack to the face that comment is (coming from a fan of insomniac since spyro). Explain to me how you can take out co-op from r2 completely because it was one of the best parts about that game, also 60 player deathmatches, then have paid dlc and a less than stellar campain. ohh and an online pass :( Great anticipation there... insomniac is falling off...
@mjc0961 I fully agree on your opinion of EA,I hate them too.Just find out now how Insomniac ended up with them,somehow missed it.That will indeed strongly damage the studion,perhaps even destroy it with time.EA,the biggest cancer of gaming industry,attempting to create a monopoly and extinguish any sign of creativity and innovation :cry:
There is a right way. There are many wrong ways. Surprisingly it seems as though developers are the only ones that don't understand this.
I was an avid ps2 fan, but the price point on the ps3 was too steep for my taste so I bought a 360. That to say I would love to get Ratchet. I played all those games so much. Just give me a game in the vain of 3 and I would be the happiest person ever. (HD of course)
Dear Insomniac CEO Ted Price, Buy Back Spyro from activision, have you seen what they done to your franchise that you created? :( Signed, Taix34
There is a way to make a right FPS though, and after Resistance 3, Insomniac surely doesn't know what that way is
@Sling_Master By that logic, what IS gaming news? Interviews are commonplace newsy things. It would be bit odd if they only ever reported game announcements.
Is social gaming a fad destined to either burst or ruin gaming? Shorter and more correct answer: Yes, yes it is. It cannot die fast enough.
I didn't feel like reading this as most developer commentary is mind-numbingly boring/stupid. But, judging from the headline, someone's bitter because they have to actually put some effort into creating a decent game. PS: Farmville sucks. PPS: So does Mafia Wars.
Long story short, insert-developer-here has an opinion about the gaming industry. Every day there's at least one of these. Why does Gamespot think this is news?
I agree with the headline,but at the moment,I feel lazy about reading all this.Will do it later,and post something more "smart" :P
A little hurt that Xbox users will also get this :P but great job Insomniac. They're also my favorite developers. I remember back in the day I always got a real response to an email I sent them, just chatting about Ratchet or whatever. Always.
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