Interview: Insomniac Click

Interview: Insomniac Click
Aaron Lee

By Aaron Lee

March 18th 2011 at 3:00PM

The creators of Ratchet & Clank explain their expansion to social games

The notion of a triple-A console developer creating social games is more than a little surprising.

But earlier this week the famed developers of Ratchet & Clank and Resistance, Insomniac Games, announced they are doing just that in a blog post from Brian Hastings, chief creative officer and a partner at the studio.

Insomniac Click is the name of the new division, and through it they aim to bring depth to social gaming.

We contacted Insomniac Chief Creative Officer Brian Hastings to hear more about the division. He explains the reaction to Insomniac’s expansion, whether other developers need to do the same to survive and shares what they’d like to achieve with their social games division in a year’s time.

Insomniac has always been open with its audience. What has the reaction been like to the announcement that you’re working on social games?
The most important thing most people wanted to confirm was that we weren’t pulling away any resources from our console games, and we aren’t. Beyond that the general reaction was a mix of “more power to you” and “do what you gotta do.” But I do think a lot of people are genuinely interested in seeing a different approach to social games. For the most part the core console audience simply isn’t interested in playing a game on Facebook no matter what, but we’re hoping that we can change their minds.

You described joining the social games market as a “necessity.” Is this a market Insomniac wished to enter sooner?
Sure, it would have been nice to have been the team that made FarmVille in 2009. Getting into the social gaming space two years ago would have been a huge advantage business-wise. But at the same time, the kinds of games we really want to make may not have been the right ones for the market at that time. The audience in the social space is growing more sophisticated in terms of what they expect from games, and what they are able and willing to play. So as much as it would have been nice to be one of the first companies in this space, I think the timing may actually work out better this way.

And do you think other independent developers, especially traditional console and PC developers, need to join the social or mobile market if they are to survive?
I’m not in the doom-and-gloom camp in terms of the health of the console market, but I do think it’s becoming increasingly challenging in that space. It’s getting to the point where only the very best triple-A console games are profitable. And, of course, it’s increasingly expensive to make the very best games. So not every developer can survive. But they’re not giving away free money in the social and mobile space either. You still have to compete with the other top teams in the industry.

The main reason I believe it’s important - even necessary - to expand into the social sector is that there is simply a bigger audience there. Because triple-A games are necessarily complex they have a fairly predefined audience of core gamers. That core audience isn’t really expanding much and the total dollars each core gamer spends isn’t going up, so as triple-A budgets inflate, each developer has to steal players away from other games in order to simply keep their revenues above their costs. The only long term viable solution for all parties would be to expand the audience.

So I don’t think that every console developer needs to join the social and mobile markets to survive, but as an industry we do need to broaden our audience in order to have more companies survive in general.

In your blog post you described many of today’s popular social games as providing ‘goals’ instead of ‘problems’ - durational tasks rather than skill-based ones - and made five promises to players. Why did you feel it was important to do this?
I want our audience to understand that we still stand for the same things we always have when it comes to making games. Whether the games are on consoles or phones or the web, we have spent our careers adhering to certain principles when we make games. Many people who play our console games have been turned off by certain practices in the social gaming realm and I want to make it clear that we’re in this to make the same kind of quality game experiences that we do on consoles.

Can we expect to see new, developer-owned IP from Insomniac Click?
Yes, Insomniac Click is 100 per cent dedicated to creating new IP. We aren’t working on integrations or add-ons to any of our previous titles.

You’re also planning work on mobile titles. So can we expect social games that have mobile connectivity?
Yes, we want to make game universes where the social and mobile experiences are tightly woven together. Our design mechanics are specifically created with this in mind from the start.

Where do you hope to be with Insomniac Click a year from now?
I hope we have an online world that introduces our brand of game design to millions of people who have never played an Insomniac game before. I also hope we make a game that helps blur the line between the console gaming audience and social gaming audience.

See more on Insomniac Games here.