Why Amplitude gave up its independence and joined Sega

The team behind the Endless franchise discusses its decision to join the PC giant

Amplitude was a studio created out of necessity.

Ubisoft producers Romain de Waubert de Genlis and Mathieu Girard were big fans of 4X strategy games, a genre headlined by the massively successful Civilization series. They were both eager to make one, but Ubisoft wasn't interested, in fact nobody was. 4X games, they were told, are just not worth the investment.

So the duo set up on their own in Paris, and created the Endless series, which has already clocked up more than 2.7m sales across three games.

"When we created Amplitude nobody really cared about 4X," de Genlis recalls. "We tried to get people interested, but nobody was, and we ended up having to ask all our friends to pitch in some money to create Amplitude. At the time, people believed only Civilization could sell in the 4X genre, and that only really hardcore people were interested in these games.

"But a combination of cheap powerful technology like Unity, with the accessibility of Steam, meant that people could create niche games that could find a bigger audience. We found out that people could be interested in 4X, if you made it accessible enough. We tried to make 4X games more appealing, better looking... our goal was to try and keep the depth of 4X games, but also use what we learnt from the triple-A industry to make it more accessible, with nice art and a storyline - even a story is a rare thing to find in a 4X game."

Its first title, Endless Space (2012), went on to sell 1.1m units on Steam. Its successor was Endless Legend in 2014, which has just topped 1m sales, while the spin-off game Dungeon of the Endless even managed 600,000 copies.

It was enough to attract the attention of some big name suitors, including Sega, which after almost a year of talks, bought the business in July.

"We didn't set Amplitude up because we didn't want to work with a big publisher, on the contrary, we love being with big publishers."

Romain de Waubert de Genlis, Amplitude

"When Mathieu and I created Amplitude, independence was not the reason why we did it," explains de Genlis. "We didn't set it up because we didn't want to work with a big publisher, on the contrary, we love being with big publishers, because they can put your games more in the spotlight and you can also work with big brands. When you work on games for a big publisher, what usually happens is that people really care about the games you do. Some people really hate them, some people really love them, but no matter how they feel, they do care about what you do. Publishers make people know about you.

"The reason we set up the studio is because we wanted to make 4X strategy games. It wasn't a trendy genre four or five years ago, so we had to be independent to make the games we wanted. Today - and hopefully we have helped change this perception - people do care about 4X games. So now we can go back and work with bigger structures again."

He continues: "We are games developers, and if you want to survive in this industry - with so many games out there - you need to be more than just a developer. You need to be good at selling the game, promoting it, finding new audiences. So we had to decide whether to become a publisher, or we stay a developer and find a friendly company to help us."

Working with Sega can also help Amplitude reach its personal goals of competing more aggressively with the big names in the strategy sphere, says de Genlis. The firm is currently 60 people strong, and the aim is to increase that number to 100 over the next three or four years.

"We always wanted to make amazing 4X games that would be on par with the games being made by Wargaming, Paradox and 2K," he continues. "To make that happen, you need more investment, you need more people, you need to be top notch on every aspect of your game. It's not all about game design, it is also about art, music and bigger production values. Sega can make this happen."

Amplitude wasn't short of companies interested in working with the firm, but Sega stood out because of the other studios in its stable. Sega has become a significant player in the PC space thanks to its three big Western studios of Sports Interactive, Relic and Creative Assembly, and it was the latter two that most excited de Genlis and Girard

"Myself and Mathieu are both fans of two games - Mathieu is a big, big fan of Company of Heroes [Relic]. And I have been a big, big fan of Total War [Creative Assembly] from the very beginning. I can't even begin to think how many hours I have spent in those games.

"Just the idea that we could join Creative Assembly and Relic as peers... that makes us dream."

Romain de Waubert de Genlis, Amplitude

"Just the idea that we could join Creative Assembly and Relic as peers... that's extremely flattering and it makes us dream. Maybe Sega wouldn't want us to do anything with them, but we'd love to at least be close to them, because they are just amazing guys to us. I hope we will learn a lot from them about strategy games, about reaching bigger numbers, about balancing, about community. There is just so much we can learn from them."

It's interesting to hear de Genlis become star struck at the thought of working with Relic and Creative Assembly, particularly when you consider Amplitude's rapid rise and impressive turnaround speed (they've just released their fourth game in five years on Steam Early Access).

What's more, there's at least one thing that the likes of Relic and Creative Assembly might want to learn from Amplitude, in particularly its Games2Gether programme.

The programme involves the developer sharing the very initial design document for its next project with its community, and getting feedback right from the very dawn of development.

Endless Space 2 was made with the Games2Gether programme

Endless Space 2 was made with the Games2Gether programme

"The concept of it is so that people can help us reach a bigger audience," de Genlis explans.

"We start off with a small group of people who are very active and been with us for a long time. We share the document with these guys, and it's the same document that we will eventually use to sell the game to our team who will go on to work on it.

"We see how our fans react to our design document before our programmers and artists start to work on it."

Romain de Waubert de Genlis, Amplitude

"We will see how these fans react to it and we can make changes even before our programmers and artists start to work on it. In a way, it's a time saver, because you fix issues before they even become issues. You work on that, you polish that, and then you share it with the whole community to see if it's balanced, to see if you made any mistakes, and then once we've worked on it some more, we move towards Early Access, and it is here where people can check what happened and help us to fill in the gaps.

This is how the firm released its new game, Endless Space 2, which is currently available on Steam Early Access. Fans are even able to vote on DLC, they can pick the art they prefer and the designs. They can even suggest changes that the team will implement. It's a collaborative experience that seems to go one step further than what currently happens via the likes of Early Access.

"The good thing is that the game you release in the end will be the game that players want, and not just what you thought they'd want," de Genlis says. "This is how we work with all our games. It is reactive, very lively, and it gives a strong sense of ownership with our community.

"People from all around the world are helping us come up with amazing new things we would never have thought of ourselves."

He concludes: "It's a unique way of working with your community, and I think it's one of the things that may have made us appealing to Sega."

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