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Resisting Acquisition

Insomniac's CEO talks Resistance 2, PSN and the desire to remain indepedent

Ted Price, the CEO of Insomniac Games, did not speak to the crowd at this year's D.I.C.E. Summit. However, as an AIAS Board Member, he was there to present an Annual Interactive Achievement Award - and his company's Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction was itself nominated for three awards.

Price kindly agreed to stop running around for just long enough so that we could corner him to ask a few questions about the show, the Resistance sequel and Insomniac's independent developer status.


I know that D.I.C.E. isn't quite over yet, but what has been the highlight for you this year so far?

I really enjoyed seeing Gore [Verbinski] talk. It's tough to be a movie guy and come into an audience of jaded gamers and game producers and make an impact, but I think he did.

And the fact that he mentioned Ratchet by name as a game he and his kids liked to play?

That was cool. That was great.

I liked a lot of his features. I think every single one was different and offered something different to the audience, and that's what D.I.C.E. is all about.

How many years have you been attending D.I.C.E. now?

Ever since it started. I've been on the board of the Academy for eight or nine years at this point, I think. No, more than that. D.I.C.E. has been around for eight years, so I must have been on the board for ten or eleven years by now.

How do you think D.I.C.E. distinguishes itself from GDC, E3, and other such awards shows and events? It seems like there is a lot more activity than there used to be. Is there a risk that everything will become homogenised?

I don't think so. I think D.I.C.E. maintains a unique identity, mostly because it is an intimate show. There is only one track, we limit the number of attendees, and generally they are people who are the movers and the shakers in the industry.

So everybody you see around has been in the industry for a while, or you know them in some respect or another. And that's great for those of us who have been in the industry for a while, because you actually learn as much outside of the speeches as you do in the speeches.

As you know, last year there was a little bit of a controversy regarding your game and the Church of England. It was big news in the UK. Will that affect your decision to use real-world locations in the future?

(jokingly) We've actually made it a big focus to include more churches and now synagogues and mosques in Resistance 2.

To be fair to everyone?

Yes, exactly (laughs) [Price later remarked that he is an Episcopalian and considers the Church of England the "mother ship."]

PS3 sales have increased this past year, which is obviously good news for you, but considering the smaller installed base, how happy are you with sales of your titles?

Well, one thing we have going for us is that we sell to a fairly large percentage of that installed base. Resistance is a good example of that. It had an attach rate of 40 plus per cent early on, and that was great for us because we reached...just about half of PS3 owners have our game.

I think that we are optimistic that PlayStation 3 will continue to expand its base beyond the hardcore gamer as more and more games come out for it - especially as PSN continues to offer more free demos and more content that can be accessed by anybody very easily.

For example, my kids love playing the demos on PSN. They love Super Rub-a-Dub - I mean, I can't get them off of Super Rub-a-Dub. So there is a lot of potential there.

Are you considering doing some PSN titles on your own, in addition to the AAA titles you are known for?

Well, certainly there are AAA PSN titles too - that's important to note. We've actually thought seriously about doing a PSN title. It just hasn't made its way into our current production cycle yet.

What about the PSP? The portable Ratchet game was done by High Impact Games. Are you considering doing titles for the platform yourself, or is that something you feel is best left to other teams?

I think there are other studios that have expertise - like High Impact - on the PSP. Our technology is for the PS3 and we'd like to stick with that.

There were a lot of acquisitions in the news last year. You are still an independent studio, but so far are exclusive to Sony this generation. Have you considered development of - if not a Wii or Xbox 360 title - perhaps an Xbox Live Arcade title?

One of the challenges that anybody has during this generation is developing...Cross-platform technology is tough. All three platforms are very different in terms of their architecture.

For us, it's an issue of difficulty and bandwidth. We currently don't have the bandwidth to be able to do that anyway. But it has been impressive to see some of the sales numbers for people who are going cross-platform.

But you wouldn't rule it out in the future if you developed the technology?

Being an independent developer means we always have that choice.

Have you been approached by anyone recently with an eye towards acquisition?

You know, it's funny. During the past ten years I've been waving the independence flag so vigorously that I think people know it is not something we are looking to.

But, yes, we definitely get approached by people all the time who are wondering if we want to sell, if we want private equity money - you name it.

And so far...

The answer is always no.

We have a very good thing going at Insomniac right now. We are continuing to enjoy success with our titles. We have a great relationship with our publisher, and there are big things we are planning for our future. I think I, and most other people at Insomniac, are very happy with where we are.

You've also been named as one of the best companies to work for each year for the past several years, so somehow you are able to do that and still put out the type of games you're known for.

I think they work hand in hand. It's important. A lot of that has to do with communication and collaboration within the company. We're very transparent within the company - there are no secrets, and everybody gets a chance to contribute to all of our games. It doesn't matter what team you are on.

So, it's a fun place to work, and we try to keep it that way.

We hear talk about how difficult it is to program the PS3, but when we look at a game such as Resistance, Uncharted or Ratchet it seems that you guys don't seem to have any trouble. Are you still just scratching the surface of what the console can do? How much of the console's power is being utilised?

Our engine guys would probably have a better answer in terms of the percentage, but what's kept us excited about the PlayStation 3 is that, with every game that we have started on, we've seen significant improvements in terms of what we can get out of the machine. And we're not seeing that slow down at all.

Other than the Resistance sequel, are there any other upcoming projects you can talk about?

No.

And the release window for the sequel is...?

This year.

How many players will be able to play online at once?

Sixty players in the competitive modes - meaning the more straightforward multiplayer competitive - and then eight players in online co-op.

Are you considering downloadable content as you did with the first game, such as more maps and such?

We haven't made concrete plans for that yet. We're focused right now on making sure that the shipped game is the best it can be.

Ted Price is CEO of Insomniac Games. Interview by Mark Androvich. Special thanks to Alyssa Casella.

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