On its launch day, Spider-Man: Miles Morales managed to sell only 663,000 copies for both PS4 and PS5. Compared to the 2.2 million copies of Marvel’s Spider-Man sold on its launch date, this makes about a 70% difference in profit. The first installment in Sony’s franchise featuring the webhead remains to this day one of the most-sold PS4 games of all time. Recreating this level of success is a lot to ask from Insomniac Games, but sales numbers for the newest title still fell short of expectations.
This is not reflective of the gaming experience of Spider-Man: Miles Morales, which has received great reviews and includes mechanical improvements from the original game. There are a number of reasons why fans decided to skip on this gem. Most probably assumed that it was a PS5 exclusive, which were impossible to get their hands on. The marketing for the game was confusing. Was it a sequel or a spin-off? If it was a sequel, it didn’t look like it built upon much from the last game. If it was a spin-off… People are universally less interested in spin-offs.
However, the biggest reason this game’s sales were poor in comparison to Marvel’s Spider-Man is the same reason that Marvel’s Avengers performed so poorly. Both games put side characters into the spotlight. In Marvel’s Avengers, a majority of the gameplay is focused on Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel. In a game based on some of the most recognizable heroes in cinematic history, you spend more time playing as a character that some hardcore comic book fans would have trouble recognizing.
Despite the success of the glorious Academy-Award winning animated movie Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse, Miles Morales is still a minor character compared to Peter Parker. Miles is a great character with unique powers, but it is Peter Parker who’s etched into the public consciousness. In Spider-Man: Miles Morales, he’s not there. He’s out on vacation in the made-up Marvel country of Symkaria. It’s like Wakanda, but way less cool and way more European.
Warner Bros. is taking this same path with their Gotham Knights game. If you loved the Batman: Arkham games, you’re going to love playing as Robin, Nightwing, Batgirl, and the Red Hood. But not Batman. In fact, Batman is dead, so there’s no hope of him being in the game at all (although the ending to Arkham Knight was a bit ambiguous.)
Spin-off games work if it is made clear that they act to build towards something in the future. That’s not the way Spider-Man: Miles Morales was marketed, but it is likely that it will affect the premise for the inevitable official sequel to the first game. Games that feature side characters of beloved franchises have every right to be made. But if developers believe that it is not a financial risk and that fans are ready to accept these games with open arms, they are sorely mistaken. It doesn’t matter how much exaggerated swagger is involved.