Why Xbox Turned Down the Opportunity to Make Exclusive Marvel Games
PlayStation fans are currently enjoying a new era of exceptional Marvel titles, but in another world, Xbox gamers could have had Spider-Man and more.
Marvel’s Spider-Man is an award-winning title that turned the PlayStation 4 into a must-buy console for many fans of truly great superhero video games. Against all odds, lightning even struck twice with its spin-off sequel, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales. In another universe, however, those games may have been associated with Xbox. Mind you, that’s not us trying to add to Marvel’s ever-growing Spider-Verse; it’s an event that almost happened in this reality.
Last year, video game journalist Steven L. Kent published Volume 2 of The Ultimate History of Video Games. As part of his research, he got to interview Marvel’s Vice President of Games, Jay Ong, and the founder and CEO of Insomniac Games, Ted Price. Their quotes (transcribed to ResetEra by the user Nightengale) seemingly revealed why Insomniac was granted the chance to make their dream Spider-Man game in the first place and how things almost went in a very different direction.
See, before Insomniac developed Marvel’s Spider-Man, Activision had published nearly every fairly recent video game associated with the character (from the beloved Spider-Man 2 to the reviled The Amazing Spider-Man 2). However, according to Ong, Marvel wanted “new talent, a bigger budget, and fresh eyes” and negotiated an early-termination deal to free up the license. After the deed was done, Marvel sought a new publisher, ideally one who “hadn’t adopted the ‘crappy licensed games’ mentality” (Ong’s words, not ours). That left Marvel with three obvious choices: Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft. However, Ong quickly ruled out Nintendo since that company primarily focused on its own IPs, which really meant that the decision was down to Sony and Microsoft.
According to Kent, Ong contacted Microsoft and PlayStation and told them point-blank that Marvel didn’t have any console deals and was looking for pitches. Ong recalled that Microsoft wanted to focus on their own properties and not licensed games — just like Nintendo — so the company passed. That surprising decision pretty much left Sony as the only game in town. PlayStation representatives promised Ong a title that could challenge, if not beat, the Batman: Arkham franchise. Once they had won Ong over, the PlayStation team handed the project over to Insomniac Games: developer of acclaimed PlayStation franchises such as Ratchet & Clank and Resistance: Fall of Man. Shortly thereafter, Marvel’s Spider-Man was born, and, true to their promises, the game turned out to be a true Batman: Arkham rival in terms of its quality and the way it utilized its lead character.
Given Microsoft’s recent releases and library of upcoming titles, it’s easy to see that the company really has been more interested in focusing on its own properties. Of course, they kind of stretched the definition of their “own properties” by purchasing companies and turning some of those studios’ in-development titles into Xbox exclusives. Sure, Halo Infinite wowed audiences — well, its campaign did — but many of the company’s other recent IPs were just assimilated. Scorn, for example, was an indie project before Microsoft partnered with its developer Ebb Software, and Starfield was a Bethesda’s in-development RPG before Microsoft purchased the company.
However, the biggest irony of this situation may be the fact that, in 2021, Microsoft bought out Activision Blizzard. Had Marvel not asked to bow out of its partnership with Activision, then Microsoft may have ended up controlling some of the Marvel rights via that acquisition (though that scenario obviously depends on quite a few things working out another way). If you want to dive even further down “what might have been,” remember that Microsoft previously worked with Insomniac Games to produce Sunset Overdrive. Former association with Spider-Man’s eventual developer aside, it’s worth noting that Sunset Overdrive helped pave the way for Marvel’s Spider-Man‘s gameplay (at least according to Insomniac Lead Animator Lindsay Thompson). If Microsoft had taken Marvel up on their offer, it could have potentially produced a Spider-Man game that played similar to the one we got on PlayStation. In another world, Insomniac may have eventually joined Microsoft’s family of subsidiary developers (though Insomniac has historically been much closer to PlayStation than Xbox).
While Xbox owners can still play incredible Marvel games such as Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy and can still look forward to upcoming titles like Marvel’s Midnight Suns, that console will play second fiddle when it comes to exclusive Marvel titles for the foreseeable future. Developing a repertoire of recognizable franchises you can call your own is a must for every game studio, but it’s hard not to wonder if Microsoft missed a golden opportunity by passing up on that deal.