Insomniac's Ryan Schneider on Holiday releases, working with Sony, and enjoying success
One of the key PlayStation 3 franchises that's made a splash since the console launched is Resistance - although the orginal caused some controversy over the setting of part of the game (inside a cathedral in the UK), the fuss did no harm to sales, and the sequel late last year also sold well.
But independent developer Insomniac - also working on Ratchet & Clank: A Crack in Time - has no intention of shying away from the busy pre-Christmas release schedule, as the company's director of marketing and communications, Ryan Schneider explains here.
Q: It's been an interesting few years for Insomniac - looking back at Resistance 2, how do you look back and appraise its release?
Ryan Schneider: Well, Resistance 2 is our fastest-selling title so far in Insomniac's history, so it's definitely been a commercial success. It was perhaps our most ambitious project - essentially you're getting three games in one, with the co-op, the competitive and the campaign... you're talking eight-player class-based co-op which was breaking new ground, and sixty-player multi-player was huge.
We learned a lot along the way, and we always try to grow from title to title. We definitely had a lot of lessons that we learned.
Q: In the UK there was a degree of fuss around the first game - is that something you bore in mind for the sequel? Did it prevent you from doing certain things, or make you tread carefully?
Ryan Schneider: With Resistance 2, with it being set in America we had a completely different palette to contend with, and we wanted to bring to life what we called "alternate Americana" - we wanted to show this idyllic 1950-60s lifestyle turned on its head. It was really a completely different set of opportunities.
Q: Did you have those meetings where you talked about what might offend people, though?
Ryan Schneider: I don't think so. I think it was more about what was the kind of story we wanted to tell, and the best way to tell it. I think you have to be aggressive but at the same time you're not being sensational for its own sake. You want to tell a certain story, and make sure that you're using the best devices for doing so.
Q: When Resistance 2 launched, it was a really busy release time - you said it was your fastest-selling game, but would it have been better to have waited until January?
Ryan Schneider: I think the Holiday season is still a great time to release a title - it's been hugely successful for us in Insomniac's 15-year history. If we'd pushed to January we'd have been closer to Killzone's launch window as well, so I think one of the strengths of working with Sony is that you have this huge pipeline of great content.
So we pick our spots, and stick to them. We've consistently delivered during the Holiday season and I think we're proud of how we did. You can see we've had a lot of success over the years, and still Resistance 2 will probably be our biggest commercial success. The Holiday season's treating us just fine so far.
Q: There's a general trend to move away from platform exclusivity - cost of doing business being what it is. Do you wonder how many more units you might have sold if Resistance 2 was multi-platform, or is it the sort of thing you just don't think about?
Ryan Schneider: Sure, as an independent developer, you do consider those options - but at the same time we do have a great relationship with Sony. We've been with Sony for a long, long time now, and that's where we intend to stay for the foreseeable future.
Q: That relationship has been crucial for you, but what's it like working with Sony? Most developers who do so seem pretty positive about the experience.
Ryan Schneider: Sony bends over backwards to work with its development teams. Their product development team is second to none - we absolutely love working with them. Their PR and marketing folks are terrific to work with and very dedicated to the cause, and there are some very creative people there. We feel very fortunate to have that sort of relationship in place.
Q: As somebody working on a high-profile PS3-exclusive, are you happy with the platform installed base at the moment? Are the hardware numbers out there as you expected them to be?
Ryan Schneider: That's a great question - all we try to do as content creators is just try to make the best games we can and let the hardware battle settle out where it may. As a developer we want to give people as much of a reason as possible to buy the hardware and I think from the perspective of the developer we've got a very family-friendly title in Ratchet & Clank, we've got a game for a more mature audience in Resistance... so we're very comfortable with where we're at as producers and at this point we have to kind of let the chips fall where they may in terms of how the console wars play themselves out.
Q: Does Sony talk to you about that stuff? Do the guys there share their thoughts on the reasoning for their decisions?
Ryan Schneider: Yeah - Sony's very open when it comes to strategy and communicating with regard to where they're at, where they're headed, what our role as a studio is within that greater framework. We definitely feel like we're in the loop.
Q: Do you look at other platforms and wonder about the challenges - there are a few action IPs being developed for the Wii right now, would that be interesting?
Ryan Schneider: From a theoretical perspective, we're all gamers and we're all interested in what's going on with the other consoles and handheld space, or casual games or iPhone games.
For us, we're dedicated to making PlayStation titles, but from a creative perspective that doesn't mean we can't look around and wonder "What if?"
Q: What do you think about the iPhone platform? Has its success surprised you?
Ryan Schneider: Well, it's Apple. At a certain point, nothing takes you by surprise. They create magic in a box and it sells wildly to everyone's joy and admiration. We have a lot of iPhone owners in the office...
iPhone games are intriguing, but at the same time our modus operandi at Insomniac is to make blockbuster games. It's important to stay dedicated to your cause - focus on your strengths but at the same time consider all your options. I think that's a smart business strategy.
Q: Do you think it's good for the industry overall when these kinds of platforms come along? You can almost see a whole new chunk of audience coming into games...
Ryan Schneider: Absolutely - that was part of the discussion we had on our session at Nordic Game - community building, and just the landscape of how games development has changed over the past five years. It's pretty remarkable when you consider we were talking about PlayStation 2 as the dominant console just five years ago, but now there are so many types of players in the space, as a result more people have greater entertainment options.
Now I think people won't necessarily classify themselves as 'gamers' any more than they will 'movie-goers' or 'book-readers' - it'll become as ubiquitous a term as being mindful about recycling. Everybody cares about the environment, everybody is a gamer, everybody watches movies - it's just to what degree you engage in that.
Q: Looking at the business landscape - with the titles you create and the audience you reach it must be pretty good right now. So how are you viewing the economy?
Ryan Schneider: Everybody's talking about it now - part of that discussion about community was how it can act as somewhat of a buffer in terms of in effect creating free advertising by empowering them to evangelise your titles.
In terms of Insomniac it's a time of growth. We just opened our North Carolina studio, and we're growing overall in the wake of uncertain economic times. That's humbling, and exciting, and a little scary - all at the same time.
Q: We've been gauging where people are at in terms of projects, and how they're getting on, and for the last couple of months we've hit the point where teams are coming to the end of projects but nobody's biting on new pitches - so is it now that the delayed effect is wearing off and developers will get hit?
Ryan Schneider: It's hard to say. You look at the latest sales forecasts, and some of the numbers were down year-on-year, but it just depends on what titles came out last year versus this year. I'm sure that you'll see headlines of people panicking, thinking that the games industry isn't recession-proof...
But I can only speak to how we're doing at Insomniac - we're mindful of the economy, and it would be insensitive not to be so. But to celebrate our 15th anniversary we all went on an all-expenses-paid cruise to the Bahamas; we opened up a studio in North Carolina; we're preparing for the launch of Ratchet & Clank: A Crack in Time.
So fortunately for us - knock on wood - times are good. All you can do is keep your head down and try and make a great game, and be mindful of the outside circumstances that might be beyond your control.
Q: Do you look at your relationship with Sony as a handy insurance in difficult times?
Ryan Schneider: It's good to have a long-term, stable relationship like we do with Sony. It's nice not to be worrying about the state of a publisher's vitality or success, and know that the kind of partnership you have is open, that the dialogue you have back and forth is very honest and trustworthy, and filled with respect both ways.
It allows you to focus on making a great game, and less so on the outside conditions you can't control.
Ryan Schneider is marketing and communications director at Insomniac Games. Interview by Phil Elliott.