As one of the best places to work 12 years and counting, Insomniac Games deserves any potential success that its upcoming Marvel’s Spider-Man can deliver. The team at Insomniac has constantly—with one quickly-forgotten exception—released exciting, technically ambitious, and creatively charming games on a variety of platforms over the last 20 years.
For much of the studio’s life to this point, Insomniac’s products were PlayStation-exclusive, and the most enduring of these exclusive lines was, of course, Ratchet & Clank. In 2016, the series returned with its most successful entry yet, a budget-priced, yet indefatigably well-regarded, remake of the very first game.
As a 3D hop-n-bop style game—with the bopping done with an array of bizarre weapons—Ratchet & Clank was a watershed moment for the moribund big-budget platformer genre and arguably paved way for the triumphant Crash Bandicoot re-release in 2017. Even in 2018, as a PlayStation 2 classic remade for the modern day, Ratchet & Clank played its part in the road to Shadow of the Colossus‘s success. Given the length of triple-A development cycles, to suggest that Insomniac’s work on Ratchet helped make Sony and Marvel eager to get the new Spider-Man off the ground is not an unreasonable idea.
Unfortunately, fans of Ratchet & Clank will have noticed that, despite this good news, the series has lain completely dormant. In previous years, comic books and mobile spin-offs filled the time between main entries, but since the release of the latest game and film adaptation? Radio silence.
WHAT HAPPENED TO RATCHET & CLANK?
Today’s game industry is mercenary as ever, and despite ballooning costs and team sizes, many franchises remain yearly or bi-yearly—from Madden NFL and LEGO to Assassin’s Creed, Pokémon, and Call of Duty. These triple-A releases require at minimum two years (often longer) to properly gestate; they soak up developer man-hours on a massive scale.
Even having the original game as a pre-existing design, the new Ratchet & Clank was as substantial a project for Insomniac as any other. Two years later, though, the successfully rejuvenated series has apparently flatlined. Not only is there no sign of a follow-up (a remake of Ratchet & Clank 2, perhaps) but Insomniac Games has brought to bear practically all development resources on Spider-Man—and who could blame the team? Marvel and Sony offered the keys to the biggest toy box imaginable. Do not forget that, as an indie developer, Insomniac is not reliant on PlayStation for its continued existence, and it would not have to work on Ratchet & Clank if it did not choose to.
Therefore, the traditional custodians of Ratchet are busy, and the lack of a sequel leaves money on the table for Sony. Could Sony have passed the IP on to another studio? Surely hundreds of developers would kill to work on one of PlayStation’s biggest series, so why not?
SONY’S NEW FIRST PARTY APPROACH
The PlayStation of old might have had no qualms passing Ratchet & Clank on to other developers. During the 2000s, as the PSP was ramping up, both Ratchet and its sister series Jak & Daxter saw handheld game spinoffs, developed by newcomers High Impact Games and Ready at Dawn respectively.
If money and brand-awareness were the only concern, Ratchet might never have gone away: the instant Insomniac Games indicated that it might want to try something that did not star Lombaxes, Sony could have turned to Sanzaru Games, Idol Minds, Armature, or any other mid-tier player to fill a spot on the balance sheet. Instead, as the 2000s came to an end, Ratchet & Clank remained tied with Insomniac—as close as God of War to Sony Santa Monica and Uncharted to Naughty Dog.
The PlayStation of the 2010s is a very different company. The crucible of the PS3 era has seen Worldwide Studios consolidate into a handful of large teams across Japan, North America, and Europe, producing few titles yearly compared to the glory days of the PS2. Sony does not need sequelised franchises akin to the original Ratchet & Clank games because the pressures and trends that birthed the company’s old first-party productions are absent. With renewed primacy in the PS4 generation, PlayStation focuses on yearly tentpole releases (Bloodborne, Uncharted, Horizon, and God of War), none of which have seen sequels of the kind that aimed to refine and evolve their predecessors on the scale those in the age of Ratchet, Jak, or SOCOM.
Ultimately, those big sequels will come (and PlayStation has made clear that it wants to renew its focus on first party) but one cannot expect Bloodborne 2 sooner than four years after the original. Horizon 2 is unlikely to arrive before the PlayStation 5. This same long interval could be the fate in store for Ratchet & Clank.
THE ROCKSTAR/NINTENDO COEFFICIENT
Alongside its then-competitors Sega and Nintendo, the original PlayStation was buoyed by explosive new franchises: Resident Evil, Crash Bandicoot, and Tomb Raider are just a few examples of rapidly sequelised series that kept PlayStation in the conversation in the same way Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog did for its competitors.
However, as single-player fans will be aware in particular, times have changed and once-frequently sequelised names such as Grand Theft Auto or Resident Evil are instead showing up every four to ten years. Perhaps the pioneer of this pattern was Nintendo, whose The Legend of Zelda series in particular adopted an “it’s done when it’s done” approach. Rockstar is clearly the most triumphant example, with this year’s highly anticipated Red Dead Redemption 2 coming eight years after the first.
Similar to many aspects of the evolving games medium, cinema of the 21st century already has the road map for these long-in-development sequels. With home releases, digital distribution and the conversation-cauldron of social media, works of commercial art no longer need to fade into obscurity. Sequels to Finding Nemo, Star Wars, or The Incredibles can arrive a decade or more after their originals and still dominate the box office. These days, interested fans are only a trip to the Google Play store or a Wiki search away from being up to speed on a property that hit cinemas before they started primary school.
If players have to wait five, eight, or even ten years for Horizon: Zero Dawn‘s inevitable sequel, will the game’s sales actually suffer from the lull in-between? The continued dominance of Rockstar and Nintendo’s core properties, many of which follow this release cadence, suggests not. Fans of Ratchet & Clank may have to come to terms with a PlayStation that is pivoting from its 2000s era ‘disposable franchise‘ approach to the more long-term IP maintenance of Disney, Take-Two, and, naturally, Nintendo.
WILL INSOMNIAC GAMES EVER MAKE ‘RATCHET & CLANK’ AGAIN?
The secret story is that the old Sony (or Microsoft, or SEGA) would have taken the sales of 2016’s Ratchet & Clank as an opportunity to crank out sequels for a quick dollar. However Insomniac Games has been through that process before, at the end of the PS3’s generation when it jumped between co-op multiplayer games, tower defence spin-offs, and episodic releases in attempts to keep things from getting stale.
The developers at Insomniac deserve a break from cartoon space adventures. In the 2000s, an age of disposable franchises, this shift might have spelt doom (and indeed did, for the likes of Jak and Sly Cooper), but in a year when God of War returns and Devil May Cry rumours abound, Ratchet & Clank’s next title is almost certainly coming, just in due time rather than once every two years.
If Sony has another remake slot on its docket for Ratchet & Clank 2 in 2020, Insomniac will be the first team it asks. On the other hand, if by then Insomniac Games is hard at work on its third Spider-Man game, Ratchet might just sit dormant for a while longer.
After all, no one thinks the fans will not buy the next one if it takes another five years.