Marvel’s Spider-Man ended up becoming a Sony exclusive after Xbox turned an opportunity from Marvel Games down. That’s according to Steven L. Kent’s 2021 book, “The Ultimate History of Video Games, Vol. 2.”
In the book, Jay Ong, executive vice president and head of Marvel Games talked about the series of events that led to the web-slinger’s hit game on PlayStation. He went into about how Marvel Games had their initial deal with Activision cut short to look for greener pastures.
Activision had been publishing Spider-Man games for almost 14 years and Ong felt that the publisher wasn’t doing enough for the IP, noting that 2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 — a tie-in with the Marc Webb directed movie — scored in the 40s on Metacritic.
Ong knew that superhero tie-in games weren’t held in the highest regard in gaming history; “You judged [superhero games] by a different standard, a lower standard because most superhero games and most licensed games were pretty poor.” This resulted in publishers giving very conservative budgets for superhero games. The outlier however was Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham Asylum in 2009, which went on to sell 10 million copies and proved otherwise. It was an example of a superhero game that when given the love it deserved, could flourish critically and commercially.
Marvel Games, according to Ong, was unsatisfied with the quality of games being published under Activision, and the two companies mutually agreed to terminate their licensing deal early. Ong stated that after the deal was made to take their separate paths, Activision asked them, “What are you going to do with this IP after you get it back?” To which Ong replied, “I’m going to find a better home for it.”
According to Ong, Activision’s reply was: “Good luck finding your unicorn.”
Marvel Games then approached both Xbox and PlayStation to see if the big console companies would be interested in forming an exclusive partnership. Ong asked them: “We don’t have any big console deals with anyone right now, what would you like to do?” Ong recalled that Microsoft’s strategy at that time was to focus on its own IP so they passed on the offer. Sony, on the other hand, was more receptive of the notion.
“I sat down with these two execs from PlayStation third-party, Adam Boyes and John Drake, in August 2014, in a conference room in Burbank. I said, “We have a dream that this is possible, that we could beat Arkham and have one game at least and maybe multiple games that could drive adoption of your platform.”
Sony then reportedly responded by providing them the offer they were looking for. A triple-A, PlayStation-exclusive Spider-Man game. And then they handed the project to Insomniac, at the time still an independent studio, but considered to be “one of Sony’s most important partners.”
Marvel’s Spider-Man resulted in being one of the most critically acclaimed games released for last generation’s consoles. It reportedly sold over 20 million copies, with its spin-off title, Miles Morales selling another 6.5 million. This has made Spider-Man one of Sony’s most successful video game franchises ever in terms of dollar sales.
The obvious response to this story is that Xbox truly passed up a golden opportunity to have a top tier IP like Spider-Man as one of their exclusive franchises. However, it’s worth noting that in this alternate reality where an Xbox Spider-Man game exists, it wouldn’t be the same game that was made under Sony, which still made the decision to entrust a $100 million Spider-Man project to one of its most trusted partner studios.