Bigben Interactive moved under the Nacon name around a year ago. Despite that change it’s still a familiar force in publishing, with a broad lineup of racing titles (including WRC 9 and Test Drive), sports games (Pro Cycling manager and Tennis World Tour) and fantasy adventures (Warhammer and Vampire IPs stand out). Although, of course, it’s the Frogware developed The Sinking City that has grabbed the headlines of late, for all the wrong reasons.
Putting that aside for now, the company has also made a handful of simulation titles (including Fishing, hunting and even a Bee simulator). And it’s this segment of its business that it’s expanding with a series of first-person simulator titles, allowing us all to escape the home office to go and do something refreshing different for a change.
Grouped under a new ‘Life’ label, the publisher is announcing five games today: Train Life, Hotel Life, Chef Life, Surgeon Life and Architect Life. Allowing players to really get into the shoes of another profession. It’s an eclectic selection and one that could attract those beyond the usual core gaming crowd. The five titles are being developed by four different developers: Cyanide Studio (Chef Life), SimFabric (Architect Life), Simteract (Train Life) and two games from RingZero Game Studio (Hotel Life and Surgeon Life).
We took the opportunity to ask Nacon’s head of publishing Benoit Clerc about the idea behind the new games, how the brand merger with Nacon has benefited the company, and how things are progressing with some of most anticipated titles, as well as if he had anything further to comment on the Frogware situation.
THE LIFE LABEL
Why this genre and these types of game?
With this new LIFE games range, we wish to expand our Simulation pillar and nurture it with ‘live my life’ game experiences. We believe that today, core and casual gamers alike are accustomed to third- and first-person gameplay in a 3D environment, and there’s a growing demand for simulation games, where Nacon already has extensive expertise. We want to address those players with several projects, each with its own themes, gameplay proposition, and writing. They all have their unique challenges, and we firmly believe that they’ll appeal to not only casual gamers who want a relaxing experience, but also expert players who are yearning for deep gameplay experiences with well-rounded and sophisticated game mechanics.
Why is now the right time to expand the scale of the company’s releases?
We’re still aiming to publish 12 to 15 games a year, spread across our five pillars. What we’re really going for is expanding the quality of our productions to satisfy a wider range of players, whether they are interested in a particular niche or looking for ambitious games with high production-values, like The Lord of the Rings: Gollum or Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown for example. Ideally, we want all players to find the type of games they are looking for in one or several of our pillars.
Are these titles being developed internally, externally, or both?
Definitely both. We wish to have around 70% of our titles developed internally, but we’re always looking for publishing games with external partners, as long as their project fits with our quality and editorial standards.
Are technology/tools being shared between these titles? Some look like they could have crossover mechanics?
We want to make this happen where it makes sense. For example, the KT Engine, created by KT Racing and used for high-quality racing games, is now co-developed by Raceward and also used by Neopica. It helps create formidable synergy between studios under the Nacon brand and boosts the potential of our in-house technologies for better and more efficient results. For the 5 new LIFE titles, we don’t want to impose the use of specific tools to the studios, but of course, we provide them with a range of technologies they are free to use.
How do you think about each pillar? Presumably each one has its own audience, so do you market the titles within them as a group?
Defining pillars allow us to build bridges between games. For example, in our Racing pillar, Rally fans (WRC) may not necessarily be fond of motorcycle racing. Our first goal is satisfying the savviest of our players for each game, who act as are our “quality compass”. Once these expert fans show their support, it’s easier to get fans with a broader point of view on board.
Looking back, why did you consolidate all your gaming under Nacon brand?
The Nacon brand was created several years ago, dedicated to premium console accessories like the Revolution pro and Unlimited controllers or the Daija Arcade Stick. We choose to leverage this “seal of quality” and bolster it with our game publishing activity, thus consolidating our position in the video game industry as a pure player. Our message is the same for games and accessories: expert products for savvy gamers.
Did last year’s IPO/restructure succeed in terms of funding your strategy going forward? (And is the fifth pillar a prime example of that?)
Indeed, last year’s IPO was a huge success! It definitely helps us establishing a wider range of games – some with a really high production-value – but also accelerating Nacon’s external growth with more and more studios joining our ranks. Each of them brings their unique expertise, like Neopica and Big Ants Studios recently.
You have eight studios, correct? Expansion by acquisition seems a key strategy at present, are you looking to acquire more studios?
We have currently 10 in-house studios, and we’re still looking for new partners with a proven track-record, bringing a strong savoir-faire in a particular segment. We like the idea of having teams passionate about developing one or two type of games, and then giving them all the support they’d need to create the games they want to make. When we acquire a studio, we wish to keep a healthy and respectful relationship, giving them the autonomy and space needed to express their creativity. There would be no point in pushing a tennis-dedicated studio in creating an open-world / action-adventure game! We support the continued development of our studios, which each have their own specific needs, and enable them in developing the type of games they love.
You’ve said you’ll concentrate on “AA games, budgets between €1 million and €20 million, sales of between 200,000 and 3 million units.” How does that model fit with the increasing importance of subscription services?
We think that these two models can coexist; there are more opportunities and is a larger audience than ever before. Additionally to our stand-alone games, we also have in our line-up several games which will be dedicated to players who wants to be engaged in a long-term gaming experience, with a strong and positive community built around it.
You did Nacon Connect last year, what’s your outlook for this year regarding events, both your own and the big tentpoles (E3, Gamescom etc)
As many other publishers, we miss the physical events, of course. We’re watching closely what’s happening on the digital front, but the Covid situation leaves us little hope of seeing physical events this summer. For the past year, we’ve showcased our games in several third-party digital event – the latest was Roguebook at the Media Indie Exchange – and we will follow this trend. We were really happy with last year’s Nacon Connect and we strongly consider doing it this year too, in order to showcase our line-up in the best possible way.
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is a big license, arguably the biggest for you apart from sports titles. Why did you decide to take this on?
As said before, we want to expand the quality of our games, as well as our audience, and The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is a perfect example of this. It’s a well-known license, and we’re thrilled to work with Daedalic Entertainment, an almost fifteen-year-old studio and publisher. They have an impressive track-record with numerous high-quality games, and we were instantly seduced by our relation with them and their creativity. The Lord of the Rings: Gollum brings a brand-new vision to the license, as well as an original gameplay experience, fitting perfectly with our editorial standards.
How is development proceeding on Vampire Swansong? It’s a somewhat crowded license with two big titles from competitors, so why also choose Epic Games Store for this game?
We’re happy with how Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong is progressing right now, and we can’t wait to show more of this ambitious title to both press and fans. We’re confident that there’s more than enough space for our game, especially for fans of the pen-and-paper game who want more games related to the World of Darkness.
Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong is developed by Big Bad Wolf studio, the creative team behind The Council which was critically acclaimed upon release. Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong is a narrative RPG, using unique game mechanics mixing branching narrative elements and character sheet / skill tree, which will appeal to both core-gamers and a wider net of fans. Epic Games was immediately convinced by the potential of the project, and we’re happy to have an exclusivity partnership with them. The Epic Games Store will definitely help us boost the visibility of Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong, which is a good thing in our day and age with more and more game releases.
Do you have any further comment on the Frogwares situation?
Most of what we have to say (and also what we are allowed to say) is in our previous statements. There are several cases with Frogwares which are now taken to the court, the latest being NACON unfairly accused by Frogwares of exploiting the PlayStation 5 version of The Sinking City because the console enable[s] backward compatibility with PS4 games.
Indeed, we signed an agreement with Frogwares a few years ago to finance the production, marketing and publishing of The Sinking City. Nacon paid all its share and even more to have the game produced. Frogwares then tried to break the agreement to grab 100% of the revenues. Moreover, as the only publisher and distributor, Nacon was pursuant to the contract entitled to distribute the game on Steam, but Frogwares never made this possible. Frogwares tried to “make its own justice” by bringing the case in front of the media and social networks by voicing its one-way truth, but so far, all justice courts decisions are in Nacon’s favour.
And finally here’s some more details on those newly-announced titles.
- Train Life – A Railway Simulator (Simteract) – As well as an ultra-realistic train driving experience, for the first time in a railway simulator you also manage the development of your company: hire conductors, buy locomotives, choose contracts to take on and roll out your network across Europe.
- Hotel Life – A Resort Simulator (RingZero Game Studio) – Hotel Life is a hotel simulator that takes you behind the scenes of an idyllic holiday destination. Players manage the day-to-day running of the hotel, increase its reputation and support guests as expertly as possible from check-in to checkout, while ensuring they are kept entertained through a variety of daily activities.
- Chef Life – A Restaurant Simulator (Cyanide Studio) – Chef Life puts you in total control of all aspects of a restaurant. From buying ingredients to plating dishes, you must serve the best food while supervising your teams, designing the decor and managing the service.
- Surgeon Life – A Hospital Simulator (RingZero Game Studio) – Players become managers of a private clinic. In addition to performing surgical procedures, you must also manage the care teams and attract new patients.
- Architect Life – A Building Simulator (SimFabric) – In Architect Life, you work on all stages of the construction and design of your dream home (and those of your clients). This includes drawing up plans, budgeting and hiring labourers, among other tasks. More than a simple design game, you must ensure the smooth running of the site to meet the contractual specifications.