GS: With the big company (Ubisoft) you worked on their IP [on Dark Messiah of Might and Magic]; did you find that restrictive?
RC: It was restrictive, because we had to work with the limits that were given by them, even though they were willing to let it be revived and reshaped. We took part in that. They’re building a global franchise with Heroes of Might and Magic and the game, so they were really involved in the process.
GS: You also worked with Valve on this game, but with the previous game it was your own engine. What changed?
RC: Overall middleware is a big plus. It’s way better than doing our own engine. Of course, whenever you work with your own engine you can tweak it, and make the custom things that you want for your own needs, and while working in middleware it’s a way longer learning curve, every time you do something, like a custom feature, there’s a good chance you’re going to break another one, as you don’t know the engine as well as you would if it was your own. However, the Source engine is very flexible, and the Valve guys have been very keen on helping us whenever we need it.
GS: So how is it to be an independent developer in France?
RC: It is very difficult. I think it’s hard enough to do it here, but in France we’ve had a fairly bad record as a country for the past ten years, with few good games released by the French. So we’ve had a bad image, plus the economic context and the distance from the real activity in the videogames industry makes it very difficult, of course.
GS: So is that what convinced you to start the studio in Austin?
RC: It’s this word that I use all of the time, “passion.” It’s just, you don’t really think in terms of “let’s make some money,” when you start your own studio; what kind of business plan is getting together four guys to make their own engine for an RPG, none of us having done an RPG, and also in a context where RPGs and the PC market are declining? What kind of a business plan is that? It’s only passion that would drive that kind of craziness.
You work on the game and it takes about two or three years of your life, maybe longer, and at the end you’re three years older! You look back on your life and you think “what have I done with those three years?” It’s like being divorced. I really wanted to be working on things that I feel proud of, that I really wanted to do, so I felt emotionally attached to them.
A lot of the games that I loved in the past were created in Austin, from Origin with the Ultimas, Ion Storm did Deus Ex there, a game I really liked too, so when I went there for the first time I was really like, “wow.” I really thought the place was amazing, and that one day, if we needed to expand, it would be there. I didn’t even have a company when I was thinking that!
When Arkane was ready to expand because there was a business reason behind it, the first place I thought of was Austin. There are other reasons of course. We want to explore online gaming, and Austin is strong for that. Cost of labor in Austin is slightly cheaper than it would be in say, California or Washington. So those are good reasons. But the overall reason for us to move to the US in general is because we want to, in terms of production, we want to utilise great talent from both sides of the ocean. There are really great things about Europe and really great things about the US. We don’t want to work on different games in each territory; we want to keep working on the same games leveraging the good aspects of each country.
It also makes sense for purely business reasons; we’re closer to the real action, so we can pick up the phone and talk to EA or Activision or whoever and be in the same time zone or near it.