Q&A: Dontnod

With French independent Dontnod preparing to announce a new title, we spoke to Oskar Guilbert, the studioâ??s managing director, producer and technical director.
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Guilbert had plenty of interesting insights into the encouraging attitude of the French authorities on supporting game development, surviving the economic downturn, and Dontnot’s debut release, Adrift.

Develop: What’s the story behind Dontnod Entertainment?

DONTNOD started with Hervé Bonin (Dontnod’s production director) and I, and our will to create a game development studio. I think we realised that, after more than 10 years in the industry, it was time for us to do so.

We were soon joined by Jean-Maxime Moris (creative director, ex-Ubisoft), Aleksi Briclot (10 year-experienced games art director) and Alain Damasio (award-winning sci-fi writer and narrative director).

The five of us partnered in the company creation and managed to gather experienced and talented game professionals around this core team.

Develop: The studio’s founders come from not just games but art and literature – that’s a diverse management team. What advantages does having such a mix provide to the studio?

It seems to us that, having creative profiles in our core management team is necessary when creating video games. We’re delivering entertainment after all. We believe that business decisions should take market analysis into consideration, but should also come from a strong artistic vision and a very good understanding of the product’s constraints.

Also, having such a mix of people creates synergies. Managers benefit from ‘out of the box’ inputs from the creative team members in the decision making, and creative people stay connected to business imperatives.

Develop: What kind of projects do you plan to work on?

We aim at delivering innovative and high-quality games.

Our first project as a studio is an action-adventure game for HD consoles code-named Adrift. The game is innovative and ambitious in terms of gameplay and technology and fits triple-A games quality standards.

It’s our first project as a studio, but not as a team. Aleski, Jean-Maxime and I have already worked together at Ubisoft.

We will start the conception of a second title this summer.
Obviously, with the profiles we have in-house, we strongly consider creating licensed products (laughs).

Develop: You said innovative and new concepts – does that mean new IP?

Yes, that’s’ correct, we are creating a brand new IP. Yet, we are not reinventing from scratch. We had rather try to find a good balance between gameplay innovations and proved features.

Develop: Are you looking for publishers to sign your game?

Yes. We will present our game at GDC this month.

Though the preproduction is independently financed, we believe that the creative visions of the developer and the publisher have to meet up as soon as possible, preferably in preproduction.

Our experience is that the sooner the publisher is involved, the safer the development process is. Having the publisher on board from the beginning also facilitates building a strong marketing strategy.

Develop: What can you tell us about the game that you will be showing off at GDC this year?

I’m afraid at this point I cannot tell you more than ‘an action-adventure game set in the near future, extremely fun to play with a well-balanced gameplay and a breathtaking innovative technology.’ (laughs).

The rest is confidential for the moment.

Develop: French games development has shrunk over the past decade, but there are now new independents starting up. Why is this? And do you see a renaissance for games development in France?

Yes, a lot is happening in France at the moment.

French authorities have put together a strong support – governmental and regional – for the video game industry. Game studios now benefit from an array of subsidies, infrastructures and clusters, which not only allows start-ups to grow secured, but also encourages technological and creative innovation. The CNC repayable advance for preproduction is a good illustration of that.

It facilitates company creation and investment.

Furthermore, the set-up in the past decade of several high-quality games schools and training services has allowed placing well-trained professionals on the market. This facilitates the current shift.

I think France is definitely back to being a strong actor in the game creation field.

Develop: At the same time, a number of independent teams have had to cut staff, suggesting it is a tough climate for solo studios – what’s your strategy for survival?

Indeed, the global economic climate is not the most advantageous.

We are lucky to be strongly supported by our investors. They believe in us and in our capacity to deliver innovative games that fit triple-A quality standards.

Also, we are confident that there never is a bad time for innovative entertainment forms and for quality. Even in situations of recession.

In our development strategy, we constantly look at diminishing risks. We integrated quality assurance in our development pipeline from the very beginning for instance, including frequent reviews, focus tests and playtests.

Our ambition is not to grow beyond reasonable limits. We believe that it is really important to focus on what’s essential, on what makes the difference.

We apply this principle to our production processes; we have chosen to invest in proven technologies and support what they don’t cover with in-house development. Same goes with asset production; we will outsource.

The feedback we have received from our partners until now strengthen us in that direction.




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