Tiny French studio Arkedo began making Nintendo DS titles (Nervous Brickdown, Big Bang Mini), but really started to get noticed when it released a series of game experiments to Xbox Live Indie Games. That's a marketplace that doesn't generally lead to mainstream success, but often showcases the talents of up and coming developers. After a few entries, the company's next game, Hell Yeah!, was picked up by Sega for release on Xbox Live, PlayStation Network, and PC.
In this interview, the studio's co-founder Camille Guermonprez discusses his take on the industry as he embarks on the formation of his own indie publisher Nice Guys. While he's working with Sega for the release of Hell Yeah!, he hopes to build "the publisher that we've been looking for for 10 years and didn't find" in Paris.
In addition to the industry talk, he outlines his thoughts on the advantages of being indie in a "sea of brown", why he thinks this year's E3 was "a little bit out of focus with reality", and how he feels that game development has to be a dictatorship and not a democracy.
I know that, as a studio, it took you awhile before you were actually able to sign a game, right? It's a struggle for independent developers.
Camille Guermonprez: It is. I was lucky enough to start Arkedo as my second studio with a bit of a budget, and the general idea was to be able to fund a whole game before we show it to a publisher -- in order to make the company as much close to 100 percent production as possible, and not business development and back-and-forth with many people having many ideas.
We are a small studio; we are making a very specific kind of game for a very specific kind of gamers. Let's call it the "bright yellow" crowd. I know Edge called it that way -- people who like that very specific color.
The problem we have when we have to meet a publisher when the game is not done, is they give their opinion. Some of them are good. But my issue is that, as many people as you put around the table giving their color, in the end you've got brown. I can't be small and brown; it's not possible.
I've got to make sure that reality is out of the studio for as long as the great guys... I mean, I'm the boss because I'm the least talented guy on the team. It's the only position available. Those guys, my job is to keep reality outside and make them do their stuff only in terms of production, and providing an interesting environment to do that.
Arkedo Series 03: PIXEL! - Developed in collaboration with Pastagames.
When you did the Arkedo Series, was that to get attention, or was that to experiment? What was the point?
CG: There were two points for the Pixel experiment, and the Arkedo Series in general. The first one was to prove to ourselves that we could fill up a bigger screen. Do you know [the idea of] the level of incompetence? We were always hoping not to reach that level of incompetence.
We started on mobile games in 1999 when it was just a few lines of black and white pixels. Then we had the Nintendo DS with its bigger screen, and then the Wii; and, before going to XBLA and bigger screens like that, we wanted to know if the kind of graphics we do could fill up the screen.
We always want to have only one guy doing the design. It's always the same guy: Aurélien Regard. He's the author; he's the real boss of the company. I'm just trying to make what he does possible.
So we tried, and the experiment that we did was picking up two guys from the team randomly -- not randomly, but not the same every time -- and give them 30 days to make a game and see what happens, and if the game is bad, shame on them. That was the first goal.
The second goal also was, if it was successful, to stop and say, "Okay. Now we know we have learned the tool; we have learned a few steps. We are learning to walk. Let's try to jog a little bit." That was also a way to say that we now want to go to bigger screens, and we are open for discussion about that.
Do you feel like you need publishers? Is it specifically because of the platforms, or is it because of getting noticed in a crowded space?
CG: I think we are in a very weird time right now, a very interesting time. It has never been cheaper to create games. There has never been such a great indie scene. The means of distribution make it possible for people to do that, and, at the same time, you always have the problem of the market. Look at the Apple store and the problem of marketing.
At the beginning of a cycle, production is important, but I stop doing a project when I need to put more money into marketing than into production because, for me, it's not interesting. I want to put all of the money into production.
So it's an interesting time for a title like this, which is multiplatform. We need it to have the backing of a strong publisher like Sega, and we're really happy that they like the game, because I've been trying to work with them for the past six years as Arkedo. At the same time, the next game that we are making right now, we are going to self-publish.
And I am starting a new publisher specialized with indie guys called Nice Guys, where we will be able to do experimentation and prototyping, and trying to provide many of the services that we were looking for, for the last 10 years.
Basically, I'm usually cooking in my secret studio in Arkedo for other friends from the industry and trying to make teams; I say, "Okay, you should meet that guy. He's really good in that technology." I'm trying to do that, but on a larger scale right now.
It's a difficult time, but at the same time I love what's happening right now. There's never been as many indie hits as right now. Look at the colors of Hell Yeah! as compared to all the other ones, and look at all the indie guys as compared to all the brown.
The indies just look for the brightness, and for the colors, and for the people having fun. I'm not saying that you're not having fun in a large team doing some war things, but I believe something is happening right now with people trying to take some risks. There's no more glass ceiling.