GS: How big are the two studios, and how do you structure them to work together?
RC: For now in France it’s about 35 people, we’ve skimmed a little bit as we went up to 45 for Dark Messiah. In the US we mostly use contractors and people who come in and out, so it’s close to 10, maybe. It’s really only the beginning in the US, and won’t take off until we sign our next game.
Most of the work is still done in France; I’d say the content is mostly done there. The game direction and the mechanics are being done in Austin. That’s how we split the two loads. The French studio also does the level design and the AI behaviour and all those things, so it’s not like they’re just working on the characters and textures; they really assemble the game. In Austin we get all the player related stuff done, the game structure.
GS: How does hiring differ between the two countries?
RC: It’s so different. You know in France, the economic context, and the social structures are in such a certain way that the French guy wants a job for life. He’s looking for security, he’s looking for a nice environment where he has friends, and that’s what matters. So people don’t really leave your company as easily as they would do in the US. At the same time they’re harder to fetch from other companies. They’re very loyal; they just want a job for life, that’s what matters to them.
If you compare to the US, it’s like a jungle. People are really in a constant race. They’re trying to get a better job all the time. Once they’ve done this game, they move on to try and get a lead position at that company, etc. etc. They’re very competitive, and they’re in a hurry. So there’s quite a lot of opportunity that we’ve passed on with people who only want a job now, and we can’t provide them a job now, so they just move on to another company, as the market is so fast and so rich there that as much as there a lot of people to pick up it’s very easy to make a wrong decision. It’s been a novelty for me to deal with that.
I’d say also American people really know how to sell themselves compared to European people. In Europe people are like “Well, you know, I’m kind of crap, but if you give me a job maybe it will work out”, but in the US people are like “If you don’t pick me out you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.” So you’ve got a whole bunch of guys and you don’t really know who’s good and who’s not.
GS: You mentioned an interest in MMORPGs earlier, but your previous RPGS were both offline. Was, say, the impact of World of Warcraft something you took into consideration?
RC: When we did Arx Fatalis, we didn’t care a thing about the rest of the world, we didn’t know the market rules and we didn’t care; didn’t want to know them. Now, the success of online games and multiplayer games in general is strongly affecting our business strategy. And you know, the thing for us, the rule is, that as long as we manage to match our creative ambitions and our creative needs within the market, we can do it. We’re now mature enough that we want to do that. It’s very important even to our creativity that it actually sells, not that it’s just a piece of art. Not just the online space is influencing us, though; the consoles too. I think the next step for us is to not only do great things; but to actually create great things that sell.
GS: So what is it that separates Arkane Studios from the rest of the pack?
RC: Well, every studio has got its own identity. But the thing that is uniquely ours is that we just don’t fear death. We’re going to risk it every time. We just want to go for what seems to be the craziest challenge to do (as long as it makes financial sense, of course). Dark Messiah was first person melee combat, and no one really believed in it, it was really hard to find a publisher for it. “First person melee combat! That will never work! Ha ha!” And it actually works! That was our focus and it worked. And our next game is going to be a crazy thing that will fascinate people, but it’s going to be a hard challenge.
I think that’s what drives us. To really go for creative challenges. I think that’s the need for us, important to our survival.