Sony’s Live Service Vision Is Doomed, Insomniac Is The Future Of Triple-A

It’s been a hell of a week for Sony leaks and rumors, all revolving around the company’s big push into live-service. Last Monday, a previously-redacted court document, relating to a 2022 Q&A session between PlayStation boss Jim Ryan and investors, revealed some of the CEOs insights into Sony’s recent acquisition of Bungie. The transcript, which comes to us by way of the Microsoft vs. FTC legal battle, includes this quote from Ryan:


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“When you look at the $69 billion for Activision compared to $3.6 billion for Bungie, we believe that Bungie can give us way more than a $69 billion acquisition of Activision, and that’s before considering the relative value of that particular transaction.”

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If you’re clued into Sony’s live service ambitions, it’s obvious where Ryan is coming from. Sony hopes to expand Bungie’s games including Destiny and Marathon into other types of media like film and television, but more importantly, Sony hopes to leverage Bungie’s experience developing successful live service games to support the 10-12 live service games currently in development across Sony’s various first-party studios. Sony made an investment in Bungie’s expertise as much as its IP, which is why Ryan would think (or at least tell investors) that the $3.6 billion Sony spent acquiring Bungie would pay dividends.

Back in May, Head of PlayStation Studios Hermen Hulst told investors that Bungie was conducting a “rigorous review process” of all of Sony’s upcoming live service games. Days later, following the news that the upcoming TLOU multiplayer game was being delayed, Bloomberg reported that Bungie had raised concerns about the long-term viability of the game. This was our first indication that Sony’s big live service play may not be going smoothly.

25-Where Is The Last Of Us Factions 2

Last Friday, another Bloomberg report suggested that some of the studios currently developing live service games for Sony aren’t entirely sold on the initiative, calling it an “uncomfortable pivot for some of Sony’s studios.” Perhaps spurred on by the news that Ryan will be stepping down from his role as CEO, some insiders seem to be hoping for a change in direction under new leadership.

All of Sony’s live service turbulence came to a head on Tuesday when Kotaku reported that Naughty Dog was cutting contract workers and, according to a source, putting the TLOU multiplayer game “on ice”. Sony’s most high-profile IP, the flagship of its pivot to live-service, may have just been effectively canceled before the gameplay, or the even the title for that matter, has even been revealed.

As far as we know, the other nine (or is it 11?) unannounced live service games Sony is producing are still on track. It’s likely Sony will soldier on, stick to the plan, and unleash a torrent of forever games over the next few years. They’ll no doubt be ungodly expensive to produce, developed by massive teams over many years. And of course, most of them will fail in the first year. Sony will be lucky if two of these games manage to stay a float as long as an Apex Legends or Destiny 2. The rest will struggle to find an audience, fail to make money, and quietly disappear while putting hundreds of developers out of work.

It’s not all live-service doom and gloom over at Sony though. Later this month, Insomniac’s Spider-Man 2 will launch on the PS5. The single-player superhero game is an assured hit for Sony, as it follows both critically acclaimed and commercially successful Marvel’s Spider-Man in 2018 and Spider-Man: Miles Morales in 2020. Three incredible Spider-Man games in five years is a remarkable accomplishment for a triple-A studio, but let’s not forget that in the same time frame the studio also released Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, two Magic Leap games, and Stormland, one of the best VR games of all time. That’s eight games in five years, not including 2020’s Spider-Man: Remastered. This kind of pace is nothing new for Insomniac. In the last 20 years that studio has developed more than 30 games.

Insomniac’s games represent a countertrend to the rest of the triple-A landscape, and in particular the excess and demand of developing live-service forever games. Developing smaller games on shorter timelines allows the studio to be consistent, and hopefully, more sustainable than its contemporaries. As triple-A budgets continue to balloon and development cycles exceed an entire console generation, Insomniac continues to demonstrate that less can be more.

Spider-Man in the Symbiote Suit kicking a bad guy

Over the weekend a player with early access to Spider-Man 2 shared a screenshot of their platinum trophy, claiming that they were able to 100 percent the game in just 30 hours. This caused some minor outrage online, but this is as long as an Insomniac game has ever been, and the longest this kind of game ought to be. The technological arms race to create the biggest games possible that studios like CDPR and Bethesda are engaging in is unsustainable and so is the desire to support ten successful live service games. The way Insomniac makes games is the way the vast majority of triple-A games should be made (and used to be made).

We’re starting to see other studios catch up. Assassin’s Creed Mirage is reported to be just 20 hours. While we’ve had shorter AC games in the past, it’s notable that Ubisoft doesn’t consider Mirage a spin-off or stop gap for the franchise, but a mainline entry; one that’s a fraction of the length of the previous entries going back at least a decade. Mirage still utilized more than a dozen studios and 500 developers to create, so it isn’t necessarily fair to say Ubisoft is scaling back here. But, if players embrace smaller games made on shorter timelines, we’ll see a shift in the way games are made. While Sony’s live service plan will inevitably lead to wasted time, money, and artistic efforts, Insomniac’s continues to demonstrate what the future of triple-A should be.

Next: The Last Of Us Factions 2’s Failure Could Be A Win For Video Games

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