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Sony Acquires Insomniac Games, Delivering a Strategic Blow to Oculus


Sony Interactive Entertainment announced Monday that the company is acquiring Insomniac Games, a storied game studio and one of the most experienced in VR development anywhere in the world. The studio has developed three Oculus exclusive titles, with its fourth and largest yet, Stormland, still due to launch in 2019.

Founded in 1994, Insomniac Games was best known for the creation of the Spyro and Ratchet & Clank franchises which have collectively spanned more than a dozen titles, many exclusively on PlayStation consoles. In recent years the studio has been well known in the VR space, having developed three exclusive titles for Oculus Studios: Edge of Nowhere (2016), The Unspoken (2016), and Feral Rights (2016), not to mention the non-VR hit Marvel’s Spider-Man (2018) which was a PlayStation exclusive.

Sony Acquires Insomniac Games, Delivering a Strategic Blow to Oculus 1
Image courtesy Insomniac Games

Sony’s primary reason for buying Insomniac is surely the quality and success (13M+ units) of Spider-Man (alongside the studio’s decades of experience developing for PlayStation consoles). Sony will bring the studio under its SIE Worldwide Studios group, which has churned out some of the company’s most lauded exclusive games (VR and otherwise).

While Sony will surely focus in the near-term on leveraging Insomniac’s talents for more AAA non-VR titles, the acquisition is a strategic boon for PlayStation’s VR ambitions, and a blow to Oculus. Sony has effectively sniped one of the world’s most experienced VR development studios after Oculus spent several years investing in the studio’s VR expertise.

In addition to the three Oculus exclusive titles the studio had already released, Insomniac is still developing its forth and largest title for Oculus Studios, Stormland, which is due out in 2019. The acquisition will surely not impact the release of the title, but it very likely will impact its future.

Sony Acquires Insomniac Games, Delivering a Strategic Blow to Oculus 2
Image courtesy Insomniac Games

If Stormland turned out to be a hit for Oculus, and if Insomniac had remained independent, Oculus would likely ask the studio to start working on additional content and possibly a sequel. But now that the studio is owned by a direct competitor in the VR space, it’s unlikely that Insomniac would take on that work.

This of course all depends on who owns the Stormland IP. If Oculus holds the rights to the game, the company would have to search for a different studio to pick up where Insomniac left off (though the friction of switching teams on such a big project would be substantial); if it turns out that Insomniac retained the rights to the game, Oculus could be totally barred from continuing it unless they want to pay Sony to license the IP.

It’s likely that the Stormland deal between Oculus and Insomniac specifies a certain period of ‘post-launch content and support’ which the studio will be obligated to fill regardless of the acquisition.

However, generally a studio like Insomniac would want to do good work on post-launch content so that the publisher (Oculus Studios in this case) would be encouraged to pay for the development of even more content. But given that no additional deal is likely to be made following whatever was originally negotiated (considering the acquisition), Incomiac doesn’t have much incentive to put its heart and soul behind additional Stormland content.

In that sense, this was a pretty good move for Sony on the VR front. Not only are they benefiting from years of Insomniac’s VR talent—that Oculus paid for—but they’ve also put some major hurdles in place for Stormland’s future and deprived Oculus Studios from one of its core collaborators; VR game design is so new compared to non-VR game design that it’s not like Oculus can just go out shopping for another studio with the same level of VR expertise as Insomniac, and that means Oculus Studios has less access to great VR development talent moving forward.

Oculus Studios has consistently worked with a small number of independent game development studios over the years to deliver exclusive games to its platform. Oculus may now be taking a close look at the likes of Ready at Dawn, Twisted Pixel, Sanzaru Games, 4A Games, and others, to ensure they don’t get snatched up, especially considering that Microsoft’s Xbox Game Studios has also been on a studio-buying spree.

Sony Acquires Insomniac Games, Delivering a Strategic Blow to Oculus 3
Image courtesy Insomniac Games

While it won’t be the studio’s top priority, the odds seem good that Sony will have part of Insomniac Games work on a PSVR exclusive title; at least half of Sony’s current Worldwide Studios teams have worked on PSVR games. If this comes to pass, it seems likely that the studio would begin working on a launch title for PSVR 2, which Sony has all but confirmed at this point.

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