The name may have changed but Canada’s largest independent studio isn’t eager to lock away the past.
Behaviour Interactive – hitherto known as Artificial Mind and Movement – is, according to its founder, very proud of past projects and the great risk it took with the Bethesda-published Wet. It is also, of course, working on sequels to past works.
The makeover comes as Behaviour looks to bring its brand forward with a new focus on the digital arena. Markets like the App Store, XBLA and Facebook – where developers can make a fortune in self-publishing – offer more opportunities for studios to get their brand noticed.
Develop talks to Behaviour CEO Remi Racine to discuss the group’s new ethos, as well as past challenges from the past.
Why change your studio’s name?
As we create more online product our name will be more important, and we felt ‘Artificial Mind and Movement’ was too long a name, people don’t remember it, it isn’t very interesting.
We didn’t do focus tests or anything, we just had a gut feeling that we should change our name. Every time we had discussions about what our name would be, ‘Behaviour’ always kept coming back into the discussion. That was also, in fact, our old name.
Is there more to this than a name change? Is there a change of philosophy here? A fresh start?
We’re not going to change our business again. We changed it three years ago to go more into the online world, into places like PSN, iPhone, Facebook and so on.
We don’t want to be seen as a new company – we want to be seen as a forward-thinking one. Changing our brand is part of that.
We’re proud of our past – we’ve made mistakes obviously – but we’re proud of what we’re doing. But a name change will obviously help.
Internally as well, everyone is behind it. It was their idea as well, so they feel closer to the company.
You’re talking about digital avenues, as opposed to triple-A projects. Is this so you can make more profit for yourself?
Yeah I think the triple-A market has become very difficult for independents. I’m not saying we’re avoiding it – of course we’re making a triple-A game with Wet 2. But it is a very difficult market. It’s very difficult to be successful with those kinds of games.
We have a great team that can do triple-A games, and we have concepts that we want to pursue – we will keep developing them, it’s just that we won’t go berserk and instead pick our battles carefully.
Your studio has completed many work-for-hire projects, which for a lot of the time has been your bread earner. I’m curious about what you think will bring you the most money in the future; new digital initiatives or traditional triple-A productions?
I think the work-for-hire business is very competitive but still profitable. Yet I think the digital world offers a better chance for to make more profit. Five years ago I think work-for-hire was the key, but in today’s world it’s tougher. It’s still important, and I think a lot of fun. We’re currently working with the likes of Activision and THQ, and I still think that’s a good business.
Perhaps it’s inevitable, but the cost for success on digital platforms is rising. Now it costs more to make the games that stand out, and to promote those games. How long can indie game developers thrive in this space?
Ah yes, more and more these digital games need marketing. If you look at the top 25 games on iPhone, I think that those games are well marketed. What’s different is that the big publishers aren’t controlling the space, but still, these games need investment.
It’s true that you can’t just put your games out on the App Store. I have friends that made their own games on iPhone, and they sold just 2,000 copies, which is nothing. At $2 for the game, they only made $4,000, which wasn’t enough to break even.
So I saw from that that if you don’t have your marketing budget bigger than your development budget, you’re in trouble. You need a very good [marketing] campaign, and not only that, you need a marketing campaign that isn’t traditional.
They way games are marketed on consoles is, quite rightly, marketed differently on digital platforms.
There is of course in these digital arenas more opportunity to make your own IP. I’m sure some of your team, being creative people, are delighted about building on their own ideas – not merely another sequel.
Yeah absolutely, and the barrier for entry for those ideas are a lot easier than with consoles. We have many ideas being thrown around.
How eager are you to build your own IP?
We want to build a business of course, but we want to build it with financial prudence. We want to be smart about this, and choose carefully about which ideas we can invest in.
We’re not building original IP just for the sake of it. I still think we have a great concept in games like Naughty Bear and Wet, but going forward our ideas need to be more provocative. Angry Birds is a good example of our objectives.
Where’s the money coming from? Are you investor-funded, cash-rich, in debt?
We are cash-rich from our projects. We haven’t raised money for the last eight years.
Are you looking to be acquired? Do you want to stay independent?
No. I want us to stay independent.
Have you turned down offers?
Yes. I turned down an offer, and at the time the price wasn’t right.
So it was a question of price.
No it wasn’t a question of price, it all depends on why someone wants to buy a company. There’s been a lot of studio buyouts over the last ten years, and sometimes it’s to grow workforce capacity, sometimes for IP, sometimes for know-how. We were approached for our know-how and staff capacity and I wasn’t interested in just joining a publisher.
The first time we got an offer we were quite small. I’m glad I turned it down, because we made money after that and became a large studio.
How did you manage to continue the Wet project after it was dropped by Activision?
Basically, we had to use our own money.
That must have been quite a risk.
Huge risk. Huge. We believed in it though, and we thought it would give us [a brand] that we didn’t have in the company, so we believed in the project and the team and went for it.
Going back, financially it didn’t make a profit but we didn’t lose a lot. We just about broke even, so it wasn’t bad. That was our risk but now of course we have a second one going, there’s more brand awareness now, it helped with our technology, it helped us gain a lot of potential with publishers. So in the end I think it turned out to be good business.
How would you rate Bethesda as a publisher?
Oh they’re very good. Smart people. Creative types with good business heads.
You have a long history with game development in Montreal. Why has it become such a global success?
Well I’d say Montreal has a history of a very good entertainment companies – from film to television to even animation a few years back. So what you get is a lot of people in the entertainment industries, and eventually Montreal became the place to make video games. It has become a sort of mini-Hollywood.
Also as well, Autodesk is based out here. These are the guys that made Maya and 3DMax. Again I would say that is part of how the Montreal game industry found its roots.
The Montreal game scene began in the late eighties and has steadily grown and grown and grown and now we have several thousand developers.
Also, especially for Ubisoft coming in here, I think the tax breaks on offer has attracted publishers to come here.
Behaviour is Canada’s largest independent studio. How helpful have tax breaks been for your company?
Pretty helpful, we calculate tax breaks in our price structure when pitching projects, and explain that around 15-18 per cent of production costs will go back to them.
Tax breaks have of course help build the Montreal industry. We’ve had huge investments from Ubisoft, THQ, Warner and Eidos around here, the workforce is growing fast.
So you tell publishers that they can save around 18 per cent on costs if they choose your studio for a project – that’s with tax breaks. From your point of view, how much has that helped you secure deal?
Oh no, never. Never. When you think about it, that’s a 15 per cent saving on production costs, but it doesn’t make better games, which is what publishers ultimately want.
Tax breaks help, of course, but there are some very clever people in the UK who have beaten our studio at signing a deal with a publisher. It’s not, clearly, all about savings that tax breaks can give.
It’s all down to the pitch. There’s always a price a publisher has in mind for a project, so a saving isn’t as crucial as the pitch itself.
So, from your experience, do you not think tax breaks are particularly important?
Well, in the UK you have something that we don’t. You have a history and pioneers. We don’t. UK developers have a lot more experience than our Montreal staff.
In fact we have hired a lot of British developers, and at around director level – of which we have fifty staff – we have about six people, so twelve per cent. My studio creative in Montreal is British-born, and my studio creative in our Chile studio is British-born. Our lead director of portables is British-born.
But tax breaks are not essential. Some of the biggest successes in the industry, like Grand Theft Auto, are still created in the UK. There’s many more; Lionhead for example.
Canadian studios are losing as many pitches as UK ones. I have competitors in the UK, and I lose business to them. Never have I won a pitch on price. We win on how we pitch.