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Marvel Games' new mandate is 'Make epic games,' and Spider-Man is just the beginning

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The new head of Marvel's video game group talks about its AAA console future

Last night, Sony and Marvel dropped a huge surprise: Ratchet & Clank developer Insomniac Games is making a new Spider-Man video game exclusively for PlayStation 4.

According to Jay Ong, Marvel's vice president of games, Insomniac's Spider-Man game is just the beginning for Marvel's ambitious plan to bring its superheroes to consoles.

"When I joined Marvel two years ago, I came in with a mandate to usher in a new era for Marvel Games," Ong told Polygon in an interview. "We have a treasure trove of the best superhero characters on earth. What can we do with this to create truly epic games?

"Is [Spider-Man] a signal of things to come? Oh, yes. Absolutely. And we can’t wait to tell the world about it."

Over the past few years, Marvel Games' output has been primarily on mobile (Avengers Academy, Contest of Champions, Future Fight), on PC (Marvel Heroes) and for Disney Infinity and Lego games. Marvel fans haven't had their own Batman: Arkham equivalent. But with multiple Marvel console games in development, it sounds like that's changing.

Ong said there was a lot about Marvel Games' plans for consoles that he couldn't talk about. There are existing partnerships with Telltale Games, Sony Interactive Entertainment and Warner Bros.' TT Games to make titles based on Marvel's properties, but he indicated there's a lot more in the works, some of which we'll hear more about later this year.

Marvel wants to work with the best game developers in the business, Ong said, teams that share the company's passion for its heroes and villains. But it's being choosy about who it works with, and which teams work on which properties.

"One of the things we really focus on in terms of our new strategy is that we all believe that great games drive the brand and great games are what our fans really deserve," Ong said. "The question is, 'How we can get there?' The thing we landed on is to be really selective with who we partner with. Extremely selective. Right now I would say that out of every 10 opportunities we look at, we maybe do one."

Ong said Marvel Games has a set of criteria as it looks to work with publishers and developers.

"What we look at first and foremost is the talent level of partner," he said. "Are they world class in building the games we're talking about? They have to have world-class talent. They have to be able to invest the resources to make that talent sing. Equally important is, do they have passion for the IP they're working on? Do they share the same ambition? Do they love the character? We look for passion, that comes through in the first 30 seconds.

"One of our mantras is authenticity; it's easy to make a game with Spider-Man on the label, but it's much harder to make it truly authentic in a way that reflects Peter Parker, the character." Insomniac Games and Spider-Man creative director Bryan Intihar, Ong said, embody that mantra.

When publisher Activision was in charge of developing and publishing Spider-Man games, those titles were often tied to the release of movies or annual publishing schedules. The quality of those games varied, and while they were often successful commercially, Ong indicated that Marvel Games doesn't want to push games to market just to coincide with a theatrical release. (The upcoming Spider-Man game is "wholly original" and unrelated to 2017's Spider-Man: Homecoming, the next Marvel feature film starring the web-slinger.)

"We are absolutely obsessed about [quality]," Ong said. "That is our North Star. We always say 'Great is not good enough. We're going for truly epic.'"

Ong said that if a future Marvel Games title happens to line up with the release of a Marvel Studios movie, that's great, but "in this modern day and age, that [video game movie tie-in] model doesn't work anymore."

"Things like [games] you cannot under-resource," he said. "You can't not give the development time ... to do justice to the game. We think, 'How do we make the game better? How do we help our partners make the game better?'"

It's not yet clear when Marvel, Sony and Insomniac's Spider-Man game — or Telltale's unnamed Marvel game, which Ong says will delight fans — will be released. But those titles represent a new course for Marvel Games.

"Building these franchises, and building these characters [at Marvel Games], this is that first big milestone from this team," Ong said. "This is a huge ambitious project."