Last July, Eidos Montreal general manager Stephane D'Astous resigned from the studio citing irreconcilable differences and a lack of leadership. In a recent interview with GamesIndustry International, however, D'Astous stressed that people misinterpreted his leaving Eidos as a sign of ill will between the two parties.
"I am really proud of what was built in Montreal. People think there was some bad blood [but] it was really blown out of proportion... I was talking to a former colleague, it is all good, it is business, and we are all colleagues at the end of the day. It is a small industry... Since late summer, I took some time off because I never had the occasion to take some really unplugged time," he said.
D'Astous used his time off to gain new perspective and think about where his career should take him next. Clearly, the industry has gone through some big changes even in just the last few years. At the same time, D'Astous admitted that he'd gotten a bit burnt out on the AAA space after so many years of hard work on big budget console titles.
"In the last 14 years in the gaming industry I like to consider myself working in a Ferrari garage. We were doing Ferraris, very proud of the high quality product, and you get embedded in that type of thinking. Once you are not exactly in that position you have the freedom to look at what is happening more than what you are doing," he said. "There are a lot of trends, and everybody knows the video game industry is like no other. There are fast paced trends and mega trends. I was trying to look at the mega trends and obviously mobile is having great traction... For me personally as a consumer of entertainment goods, the tablet has really changed things. It is a game changer and a lot of people have realized that."
"I have a better chance to be happy in a healthy industry sub-sector in five years if I choose mobile"
While D'Astous revealed that he had some offers to start a new console-based studio in Montreal, and others tried to convince him to become a consultant, it was the allure of the tablet that kept him motivated to try a new path. "On the tablet, I played over 50 games in the last 3 months and I really saw a great quality leap [compared to] games that I played on the first generation of tablet, maybe 2 years ago," he noted. "I was really impressed by the great quality level of games and I said to myself, 'If I do not do the move now, I will never do it'."
His mind was made up, but there was one other important condition: the job needed to remain in Montreal. During a chance meeting with Hibernum CEO Frederick Faubert while eating lunch at the Montreal International Game Summit (MIGS), D'Astous found what he was looking for. Hibernum, a developer that specialized mostly in contract-based outsourcing projects and had done work for Deus Ex: Human Revolution, hired D'Astous as its new COO. In the last two years, Hibernum has been changing its business model, to create its own IP and IP for partners (for example, Calling All Mixels and Globlins for Cartoon Network); the studio has gone on a hiring spree as well, adding 100 people last year alone.
"Hibernum is the best kept secret in Canada in the gaming industry," D'Astous enthused. "In the future months and years the products will speak for themselves and people will get noticed but for now when people got news I was going to mobile in a company that they did not necessarily know of I said, 'I did my due diligence and for me it is the best kept secret.' I love to be there in the early stages and I am there to really support and to bring my expertise. It is a great team and we can not wait to show future products."
While D'Astous truly believes in the future of mobile and tablet gaming, he also felt that now was the right time to get out of the console space, which he believes is facing a tumultuous future. The old guard is trying to adapt to new platforms and new models, and it hasn't gone well for some companies.
"In the console industry it is very difficult to de-risk, because you need to go all in almost every single time. Not a lot of people have the nerves and the guts to do that, and sometimes you do not have the choice, you need to do it. That is why when I said to myself, 'Where do I see myself in five years? I want to be in a place where there are more possibilities, more growth in all senses, in creativity and innovation and business, and... I would rather be in mobile now and see myself [happy] in five years than be in console and wish that I would [have been in mobile]. I have a better chance to be happy in a healthy industry sub-sector in five years if I choose mobile," he explained.
"If it were two years down the road I think we would not have a disc reader for a console and that changes a lot of things... The next console I think will be quite different, streaming seems to be the obvious choice"
"I think [publishers] know there is a shift. The direction of the wind you cannot change, for now anyways... You need to adjust and you need to partner up. Again, [looking at ] my example of doing Ferraris, you say, 'Okay, let's keep the shop, let's keep the people that are doing the Ferraris, but let's do the Fiats, the Fiats 500, the small micro-car.' Obviously you will have good labor to do that, good expertise, but it is not in their DNA, it is not what they are used to," D'Astous continued.
Companies that have taken a console mindset into other game industry sectors have gotten themselves into heaps of trouble. "I saw a lot of publishers trying to duplicate their success and expertise on one type of product onto another one... and obviously people in the early stages realize that it does not necessarily work like that. Working in a small [studio], just the environment, the tissue, the people that are doing mobile are quite different," D'Astous said.
"I am seeing this now recently with Hibernum... they think differently, they are closer to the consumer... They listen, they are more considerate if I may say so. When you are doing a AAA game it is like you are doing a movie and you have the movie in your head and you need to realize it. When you are doing a mobile game, you have a tendency to think, 'Let's really think about what they need,' because they know if there is no match, there is no success," he added. "The publishers that tried to cookie cut their different types of studios to go from console to mobile, I wish them luck. I do not think it works really well like that; that is where partnerships with existing studios, indies or whatever [really helps]."
While D'Astous is now laser focused on mobile and tablet, the console veteran also weighed in on the state of the current console industry, which is "between a rock and a hard place." He believes that Sony and Microsoft were essentially forced by market realities to release new consoles that still read physical discs, but it would have been a different scenario altogether just a couple years later. "If it were two years down the road I think we would not have a disc reader for a console and that changes a lot of things. They needed to get out new hardware, we needed that injection in the industry but the timing was hard... The next console I think will be quite different, streaming seems to be the obvious choice," he said.
So now that D'Astous is at Hibernum, what's next? Well, in a sense, he can't ever escape making Ferraris. "The maturity of consumers, the expectation level of the consumers for these types of game is growing at great speed. They will not settle now for just a fun game, but [they desire] a beautifully crafted game. You see games now being crafted. Crafted normally was associated with AAA and those types of games but I see great games on the tablet and I say, 'Wow, this is the Ferrari of tablet.' This is something that will continue to grow... Quality will separate men from boys and that will always be the choice of Hibernum to bet on quality because people have higher expectations out of these games and quality will always win," he said.