Sega’s acquisition of strategy game house Amplitude Studios on Tuesday set up the publisher’s European arm as a strategy-gaming powerhouse.
The move is interesting because the French-based studio won renown for being one of the best strategy-game developers in the indie scene. It made a splash with Endless Space in 2012, and it followed up this success with the acclaimed Endless Legend. It then branched into role-playing games with Dungeon of the Endless. All along, it continued to hew to its “games2together” philosophy — one that saw the studio work with its fans to craft their games in Early Access, where people can buy and play a game before its official release (and in this case, give the designers a great deal of feedback). With Amplitude, Sega now becomes one of the top publishers of strategy games along with Paradox and Kalypso in Europe.
GamesBeat interviewed Amplitude Studios creative director and chief operating officer Romain de Waubert on why Amplitude choose Sega, which has strategy-game heavyweights Relic Entertainment (Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War, Company of Heroes) and The Creative Assembly (Total War) under its Europe subsidiary, and what it means for the studio’s fan-driven approach to development.
Here is an edited transcript of our email exchange.
GamesBeat: How long has this deal been in the works?
Romain de Waubert: More or less a year. Last spring a few big digital companies contacted us to talk about a buyout, which was very seductive, but we just took it as flattery. Eventually, though, it got us thinking about where we were heading. At the time we were thinking of expanding into territories where our games were strong, but we didn’t really have the time to pursue it. We came to realize that we were not businessmen, but game developers; nothing else.
However, with our games becoming more and more ambitious and therefore more and more expensive to create, we needed to continue attracting new players. If not we would probably have had to compromise on quality. This is not what we want to do with Amplitude!
So we started looking quite widely for companies with whom we could partner.
GamesBeat: What does this mean for Europe’s strategy game dev scene?
De Waubert: With this kind of alliance, I have to think that it is a great thing. It is funny to see that within a month of Paradox getting closer to Tencent we joined Sega. … At least it shows European strategy developers are attractive, and the market is here to stay!
GamesBeat: How proud are you of Amplitude’s role in the resurgence of strategy games?
De Waubert: We love to think that we somehow contributed to that resurgence, together with the expansion of Steam and the democratization of Unity that gave game devs powerful tools and access to millions of players.
So in the end we can maybe say that we played a role in that, but the real heroes are digital distribution and accessible technology. Thanks to these two factors we only had to sell 63.000 copies of Endless Space to not only break even, but to finance the growth of Amplitude.
When you need such a small number of players you are able to focus on what is thought to be a niche genre, and avoid the crowd. These days, when you can break even with a few dozens of thousands of sales, anyone can find games to fit their taste. You can take risks, try to be different … and that was definitely not the case when you needed at least half a million players to break even.
GamesBeat: Why Sega?
De Waubert: Mathieu and I, the cofounders of Amplitude, have always been huge fans of their Creative Assembly and Relic games. So already we were extremely flattered that they would even consider us.
They were the right size for us and we knew that with them we could conquer new players; players who otherwise would have never heard of us and our games.
But the most important part is that we really loved the way they look at game development, and no other publisher we talked to had this kind of approach.
Basically they empower their studios, and make all the necessary services available to them so that they can deliver an awesome experience and help games find new players. They don’t tell us what to do, all they want is our success, as our success is their success!
Our understanding is that if we deliver a poor game, it will be Amplitude’s fault, not Sega’s, because they are here only to help us, not to break something that works.
GamesBeat: Do you see Sega now a strategy-gaming stalwart on par with Paradox Interactive?
De Waubert: If you combine Relic, Creative Assembly and now Amplitude, I think few companies in the strategy segment can really compare. Even the variety of what we offer together within the genre is incredible.
GamesBeat: How do your roles change now?
De Waubert: Well, Mathieu [Girard] and I are COO of Amplitude, he is still in charge of production and I am still in charge of creation. Mathieu is still our most senior GUI programmer … as we speak he is tuning our battle GUI.
GamesBeat: Will you and Mathieu continue to work on games?
De Waubert: The whole purpose of the deal was to let us focus on making games.
This is what we love to do, and the reason why we created Amplitude … well, that and creating the game we always dreamed of playing at a time when nobody cared about it!
GamesBeat: What happens to Amplitude’s approach to using fan feedback during development?
De Waubert: Well, we would not develop otherwise, so it would make no sense for Sega to partner with us and ask us to drop our ways of working with the community through games2gether … and to be honest, they specifically mentioned that they loved how we work with our community. I hope it was something which added value to Amplitude, not the other way around.
GamesBeat: So … is an Endless Sonic in the works! Sorry, I couldn’t help myself from asking!
De Waubert: OK, there are two weird guys I have never seen before watching me as I type an answer. … They look mean enough for me not to try to joke about Sonic!
GamesBeat: Do you see a chance for Amplitude to work with and learn from Relic or Creative Assembly, and vice-versa?
De Waubert: Honestly we would love to, we have so much to learn from them, but we would not want to slow them down. So let’s say we are getting closer to that dream. And of course if we can help them in anyway, we would be more than happy to!