Reply Game Studios is a small part of one of Italy's biggest corporations.
Reply Group provides all sorts of B2B digital services for all sorts of industries, from energy to banking and telecoms to healthcare. It generates billions of euros in revenue and boasts over 10,000 employees.
The group's clients were looking to develop B2B experiences, particularly around VR and AR, and so Reply hired game developers to make some. Over time, this group split into two. One group – Infinity Reply – still creates those sorts of B2B experiences for clients. And the other became Reply Game Studios, a consumer-facing developer behind the 2022 action game Soulstice.
"Soulstice was a pretty big endeavour for us," says Samuele Perseo, product manager at Reply Game Studios.
"It took four years and nine months in total. We launched in September 2022, then we did multiple patches until the end of the year, tuning, quality of life and stuff like that. Then a couple of weeks ago we released the game on PS4. Originally it was PS5, PC and Xbox Series X and S, but we wanted to reach the PlayStation 4 audience."
The PS4 release coincided with the game going into the PlayStation Plus subscription service (namely the Extra and Premium tiers). And this has helped the game find a much larger audience on all platforms.
"The launch was hard because it's a very classic business model," Perseo tells us.
"Your product does not exist and then suddenly it's day one and you have to accrue your sales in that first window. But when we released on PS4, we were added into PlayStation Plus, which was nine months after the original launch, and it was a nice bump that also helped things on other platforms. We noticed on PC that there was renewed interest because obviously when these games are added to subscription, everyone talks about them.
"For us, this was important because it was not only about developing and releasing one single product; it's also about growing the team and building our reputation and position in the market."
"PlatinumGames have their signature style, they do things in-house, they do collaborations, and you can always see their style in there"
The core Reply Game team is around 30 people, but with contractors and outsource partners, more than 70 worked on Soulstice. Perseo describes the title as AA, and – as you can tell from the trailer – it was heavily inspired by Japanese action games like Bayonetta.
"Our role model is [Bayonetta developer] PlatinumGames because they have their signature style, they do things in-house, they do important collaborations, but every time they release something there's always a lot of interest, and you can always see their style in there," Perseo says. "We, humbly and crossing fingers and such, hope to be able to undertake the same journey in the long run."
We were speaking to Reply Game Studios at First Playable, an event for Italian game developers that took place in Florence. One of the recurring themes from the developers we spoke to was around trying to make games that were distinctly Italian, but with international appeal. Soulstice, on the surface at least, looks distinctly Japanese. Yet Perseo says that's actually a reflection of what Italian kids grew up watching 30 and 40 years ago.
"In Italy and France, especially in the '80s, but also in the '90s, we consumed a lot of Japanese entertainment. We consumed a lot of products that came from abroad. Not so much public TV, but private networks brought a lot of anime and cartoons here. So actually we feel that it is part of our own heritage. We grew up with those things as much as we grew up with our culture and heritage as Europeans and Italians.
"Soulstice is a tribute to that fantasy and imagery but it's also curious. Yes, the game has been inspired by character action masterpieces like Bayonetta or Devil May Cry, but in terms of narrative and tone and art direction… we looked more towards dark fantasy classics like Berserk or Claymore. It's curious because those anime are the most European ones in Japanese fantasy because the authors were looking at the European Middle Ages to create their worlds. It's all come full circle. We are bringing back what was taken."
Yet it wasn't all about riffing on the Japanese games and anime that the team grew up with.
"We wanted our own style, too," Perseo insists. "For example, especially for environments and lighting, we used a certain degree of realism that Japanese games do not tend to have. Also in the anatomy and the looks of the characters… it was meant to be a tribute, not a copy. We were also trying to find our own voice."
Perseo says that 'the dream' is for Reply Game Studios to become Italy's answer to PlatinumGames. It's quite a lofty goal. Platinum boasts over 350 employees, and alongside its own self-published titles, produces major games for the likes of Nintendo and Square Enix.
Perseo admits that the ambition is very much a long-term one, and that it can't expect to build a business with that kind of reputation by rushing.
"In some ways, we are already in the top tier [for Italian developers], just looking at the numbers and investment and the people involved," Perseo concludes.
"But we want to make sure we can maintain the quality level and that we are not growing too much or too fast. There is the human factor, which is very important. We want to make sure we preserve who we are and how we do things collaboratively and make it sustainable, not only in terms of the numbers, but in terms of people who are involved in making these games."