Racine: You look at Supercell, obviously, when they release something they have a huge marketing machine thanks to their current games. If I were them I would do only original IP, no question. But for a company like Behaviour — even when we have work for hire, when a publisher or a media company comes to us and asks us to build a game, sometimes we’ll say, “Well, we’re not sure about this. What’s your audience? Four million? We’ll probably need 10 million.”
We’re doing a game for a publisher right now with a TV series that’s huge, so the risk is minimized by the fact that there’s already an audience. That core audience will download the game. They won’t necessarily pay, but they’ll download the game, and then it’s up to us to get people to spend a little money on the game and make it successful. If you have five million downloads to start with — just picking a number — then you’re reducing your risk. If you have only 500,000, say, then it’s tough.
Our golf game did two million downloads. It would have been very successful if we’d gotten to five million. It did okay at two million, but as an original, as a niche product — we didn’t spend a lot of money, but we didn’t make a lot of money either.
Gendron: A big advantage — we’ve talked about how we have about 40 percent of the staff working on mobile. At any given time we’re working on maybe four to six mobile games. That creates a lot of density of learnings, sharing tools, sharing best practices. We learn a lot fast. In that business it’s important to be humble and learn. The business is changing so fast.
Racine: Even on PC — we have a great collaboration with Starbreeze. They’re learning. We’re learning. We tell them what we find out. They tell us what’s not working out. We’re very open with each other and help each other a lot.
GamesBeat: Do you think you’ll be expanding here or opening more studios elsewhere?
Racine: Expanding here, yes. I don’t think we’re going to grow that much as far as the number of employees, though. My goal is to make better and better projects. Maybe we’ll get a little bit bigger.
GamesBeat: It seems like this project has you in a new ballgame.
Racine: It’s true. It’s our first real success as a publisher, co-publisher, whatever you call it. We’ve made big royalties on some titles doing work for hire, but still — you get paid a year later. You have no direct link to the game. This game, we influence on a daily basis. We fix something and instantly, it’s there.
GamesBeat: Have you said anything yet as far as how many units Dead by Daylight has sold?
Gendron: We’ve already announced a million units publicly. We’re well past that.
Racine: Starbreeze has to make the announcements, because they’re public. Anything we say as far as numbers, we have to be very careful. They’re a small company. Dead by Daylight is an important IP. If it were up to me I could tell you all the numbers, but because they’re public we have to be careful. But we’re past a million. And you can do a little math, because we passed a million on a certain date and we’ve kept selling steadily since then.
GamesBeat: You said you had a good sales month in October. Did your streaming followers also pick up?
Racine: We had our highest number of concurrent players in October. On streaming I don’t know if we reached our highest point. But the concurrrent users, we definitely hit our high point at the end of October.
Gendron: We won the fans’ choice award yesterday evening at the Canadian video game awards. It’s that connection with the fans. The team is doing a great job of working with the fans, working with people on Twitch and YouTube to engage with them.
Racine: We go to shows like PAX. There’s no obvious ROI to going to things like that, but we get a great feeling from the people we meet, the streamers there. That direct connection with the fans is what we get out of it.
GamesBeat: What’s your overall analysis of the Fallout Shelter experience? That started out as work for hire with Bethesda. It was a shocking success, and then they started their own mobile effort to take it over. Is that a natural kind of evolution for a work-for-hire project?
Racine: No. [laughs] Usually — we have games right now where, even if the publisher already has its own internal studios, they say, “You’re going to be on this game until it dies.” I’ll say that.
GamesBeat: I’ve talked to them about it. They acknowledge being shocked and surprised. I kind of sense that — Todd Howard told me that there was a time at one point where he felt like he had five jobs. To me it seems like they wanted to have control of all their projects. That doesn’t sound like somebody who delegates. Given that, I can understand what they’ve done now. They probably realize that mobile is something that could help finance their other ambitions.
Racine: I’m sure they’ve made $30 million or $40 million on that game so far. Maybe a little more or less. We’ve told them — we had a budget for the first year that was almost in par with what they did, when we first discussed the project way, way back. They were surprised. We weren’t that surprised. We were surprised at the very start of the game, but not at what it did over the whole run. It started much higher than we expected.
The launch was awesome. When they decided to do it that way, we were a little scared – no soft launch, no nothing. The only soft launch was internal. Both companies tested the game internally.
Gendron: It doesn’t happen very often, that a game goes into the top grossing charts in a day. Once or twice a year. In the last couple of years you have Fallout Shelter, Pokemon Go, and Clash Royale. That’s it.
GamesBeat: The element of surprise with Fallout Shelter turned out to be very useful, yeah. Pokemon Go also seemed to show — it’s difficult, with a free-to-play game, to stay on the horse once it takes off.
Racine: It’s true. I have to say, though — we were ready, with Fallout Shelter. We were ready. Obviously it was a big surprise, but we were ready. Very soon, though, they didn’t want to work with us. So they scrambled to go from us to internal. But they’re still in the top 100, right?
Gendron: No, they’re a bit below 100 now. Between 100 and 125.
GamesBeat: The updates still come slowly.
Gendron: And they’re incremental, yeah.
GamesBeat: The potential of the game — it’s kind of like Pokemon Go now, where people are saying, “Where are the things you’ve been talking about? Player-versus-player, trading, events.” We’re months after launch and they’ve only done the Halloween event. It seems like you can lose that momentum. But abstracting from that, it seems like it’s a very difficult problem.
Racine: Here’s an advantage that we have. If we have a successful game, internally or for somebody else — even with Dead by Daylight, as soon as it went out, we agreed with Starbreeze that we were going to increase the size of the team, fix the bugs, do this and that. We found 15 guys to work on it, and in a matter of weeks we had 15 more. Because of our size, we can manage things like that. We’ve expanded the team.
It’s the same on mobile. Whether the project’s internal or external, if one of our games that we’re building right now is going to release and it starts out above what we expected, we can say to our partners, or internally, “This was plan A, now we’re going to plan B.” We do this with our partners. If it goes to plan B and we need 15 or 20 more guys, they’ll agree.
Gendron: We have a flexibility in staffing because of our size. Also, as I said earlier, because we do so many games at once on mobile, we reuse technology, server tech and things like that. We’re not building everything from scratch. We’re always improving our tech stack.
Racine: One problem Pokemon Go had is the tech issue. They only ever made the one game before that. And I’ve looked at Ingress — I don’t play it, but I look at it and I think, “Another update?” Not just a fix, but a whole update. They’re putting energy into that when they have Pokemon Go. Are they doing that well with Ingress?
GamesBeat: They were at 12 million downloads before June.
Gendron: I know there was a spike after the release of Pokemon Go, because people started playing both games. But it’s not big.
GamesBeat: But it does seem like, if you’re working in this space and you have this giant IP that’s going to mobile, you have to have some kind of flexibility.
Racine: Exactly. They could have contacted us or somebody else and said, “We’re working on this. Learn the tools, learn this, learn that.” Maybe it costs them $100,000 a month to get it ready, but if it goes well, they call us and say, “We need 45 more people. It’s time to scramble.”
Gendron: It’s like insurance.
Racine: Some people do this with us. They hire 10 guys from us to help out, something like that. On PC a lot of publishers do this. We’re an extension of their team, basically. It’s what we did on Fallout 4.
Disclosure: The organizers of MIGS 2016 paid my way to Montreal. Our coverage remains objective.