'No Bullshit': The Management Style Behind Deus Ex: HR's Success
April 9, 2012 Page 1 of 4
For Stéphane D'Astous, the general manager of Eidos Montreal, a lot has changed in the last five years. Gamasutra toured the studio in 2007 after its founding, and spoke to D'Astous about his undertaking.
"One of the challenges was to find a place where we could grow three ways," said D'Astous back then. "With that in mind we have the whole floor here for us. Right now we're only using 60 percent of the floor, but by next summer we'll occupy it completely. At this stage we have 150 people. Stage two we'll have 250 people, and in stage 3, about December 2009, we should be 350 people."
As he discusses in this new interview, that went to plan. So did the studio's plan to reboot the Deus Ex franchise with Human Revolution, which launched last August. Eidos Montreal is now at three teams and 450 people, which is where D'Astous plans to cap things, as to preserve the culture he has built.
In this interview, D'Astous talks about growing the studio, revitalizing old franchises, working with management, the Montreal development scene, and how he hopes to tackle the next generation of consoles head-on.
Your studio just had its fifth anniversary.
SD: It really started with nothing, and that's the beauty. The challenge that I embraced is to build a studio from scratch. The initial mandate was about 350 employees, three projects, bringing the QA department to Montreal -- and that was basically my job description.
But in retrospect, now, we're really proud of what we've accomplished, because a lot of big studios that were built from scratch, you don't see much of them. People acquire existing studios with maybe a couple hundred people.
But starting from scratch, Montreal seems to be a little bit more possible to do that, because we were the fourth studio in Montreal, back then, and now we're at seven major studios.ret
I think not a lot of people realize what it takes in this very competitive, very fast-moving industry, to build something from the ground up. And having a very high quality bar, too, as an objective. And I think the goal was to do one step at a time or else you just get too intimidated. So it's like climbing a mountain; you just do it one step at a time.
You said the original goal was to do three projects.
Do you have three projects now?
SD: Yep. Yeah, in fact yeah, the two first projects were pretty much set in stone in the very early beginnings: Deus Ex and Thief. We had some discussions about which one we should start with, but I think the consensus was Deus Ex, and follow up with Thief. Third project was always an open option for us. We didn't want to set in stone too many years in advance.
So we knew our challenges as for projects. Maybe we were a little bit innocent in saying, "Yeah, we'll do that." But people around the studio said, "You're starting with what?" You know, "You said what?" Also with the community, the fan base, were saying, "Oh, Deus Ex is being done by a team other than Warren's team, and Looking Glass, and Ion Storm?" We had some headwind in our face for a couple of years, and we knew that we needed to really address that, because we didn't want to start with a strike, so we really did our homework.
We totally respected the franchise. If you don't respect the franchise to start with, and you say, "No, no, we'll do it with our flavor," and all that... The guys really took time to understand what worked well in the first and second.
Over the course of this generation, the definition of a console game has changed. You see bigger and bigger blockbusters at the top end, and downloadable games at the bottom. It's stratifying, and the competition is getting very fierce at the top. How do you feel about that, and what it takes to compete at the top end?
SD: The entry-level bar is going up every day. Obviously, especially, with what's coming in the near future, the entry-level is going to certainly go higher and higher.
So what I think is really important to make sure that we're able to play with the big guys is to have a solid understanding of what we want to do, and how we can accomplish it, with a good headquarters. The headquarters needs to have an understanding of what you're trying to do, which I think Square -- and previously Eidos -- understands.
I think we're well-equipped. Square is two billion revenue per year, and we're quite conservative in cash, so we keep a lot of cash in bank just to make sure that what we want to support, we're able to support well.
Other companies right now, they're going through little rough patches. I don't want to name one, but this is exactly what we had three years ago, before the Square Enix acquisition of Eidos. And those guys, I don't know how they're going to go through that storm.
So yes, more money is going to be made by fewer games, and that can be scary, a bit, but if you believe that what will sell is a strong experience, quality has to be their value. I think the elimination will be done naturally.
I think we're well-positioned to be able to deliver that. We hit [our goals], and that is a sign that we have good people on board, good support, good tools, good methodology. My goal is to align all these factors to be able to deliver the end result.
So yes, there are going to be fewer people doing games, making money. There's going to be fewer people, maybe, in the triple-A [space] because, as you say, you need now to be extremely well-crafted to hope to make money. So I guess there's going to be a natural elimination of some.
It's a little bit like in any industry. When things are tougher, you cannot improvise, and for the publishers and game studios that are improvising, it's going to be a rough road. And I think we're doing our homework to make sure that we improvise as little as possible.
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