There aren’t many game makers with a track record as impressive as Ted Price.
For 25 years, Insomniac Games, the company he founded and where he still serves as CEO and president, has consistently been creating hit titles that have burrowed into the hearts and minds of players. Together, he and his team are responsible for mega-franchises including Spyro the Dragon, Ratchet & Clank, Resistance: Fall of Man, Sunset Overdrive, and Marvel’s Spider-Man.
It almost never happened, though.
Price grew up playing games, starting with Pong on the Magnavox Odyssey and then whatever he could get his hands on with the Atari 2600. As a child and teenager, he had a dream of making games and would try to emulate titles like those on his Atari. By his own admission, those fell short.
After college, he put those dreams aside and went to work in the medical industry as a controller. But the call of the video game industry proved to be too strong.
“In the 90s, the industry began moving away from cartridge-based games,” he says. “What that meant practically was that someone like me, who had little experience and not a lot of money, could break into the game industry as a garage developer and begin working on something that was viable.”
He was soon joined in his quest by Alex Hastings and Brian Hastings and the trio released Disruptor, a shooter that won critical praise, but was a sales flop. Next came Spyro, though, and Insomniac was on its way.
“The challenge we always face is understanding the true constraints we’re working under,” says Price. “That may be time, or budget, or the number of people on the team. It may be self-imposed constraints, like the genre or the audience we’re trying to reach. We want to do everything and put every single idea into our game. The challenge is figuring out what matters to players.”
Insomniac is one of the more than 750 video game publishers and developers who call California home. The state is the epicenter of video game creation in the U.S., employing over 123.000 people (who earn an average salary of $113,000) and boasting an annual job growth rate of 7.3%.
That’s a crowded market, but Price says he wouldn’t have it any other way. While, technically, those other studios are competitors, it’s not a cut-throat industry. And game makers are almost always open to sharing tricks and techniques they’ve learned as they’ve worked on their own titles.
“It’s nice to be surrounded by developers who have similar experiences,” he says. “We will often visit other developers here in Los Angeles—and they’ll visit us—to compare notes. … We’re interested in helping each other succeed, because when a big game is successful, it brings more attention to our industry and that helps both elevate our craft and explain that games are a cultural phenomenon that deserve to be treated with the same respect as film, television and theater.”
Part of that craft, of course, is creating compelling gameplay. But with Marvel’s Spider-Man, Insomniac got a chance to flex another creative muscle: Storytelling. Price says he was initially “neutral” to the opportunity to work on a game centered on the comic book icon, until Marvel and Sony insisted they wanted Insomniac’s take on the character. Players and critics loved the story and the game has sold more than 9 million copies so far.
Price takes pride in the praise the story received, but says it’s a skill the company continues to hone. And he doesn’t think it is one Insomniac will ever perfect.
“Storytelling is a craft that takes forever to master,” he says. “There are few people inside—or outside—of our industry that are considered master storytellers. We’ve improved; we think we can continue to improve. But game mechanics are something we’ve focused on longer. Since the first game, we’ve known that … those are the things that make or break the game. That’s why we’ve focused so much on them in every game we’ve made.”