Game developers usually go through an evolution, growing from a tiny amoeba to a complex organism. That’s the case with Behaviour Interactive, a 24-year-old game studio in Montreal that had its first huge original game this year with Dead by Daylight.
The PC title is a multiplayer horror game where a killer played by a real human hunts down four victims (also played by real humans). Starbreeze published the game in June, and it has been growing every month, peaking in October thanks to an update that included killer Michael Myers of the Halloween movies.
The success is a heady moment for Behaviour, which has spent most of its existence as an outsourcing company, making parts of games for other developers or publishers. One of its big successes was Fallout Shelter, the mobile title published by Bethesda Softworks.
But Behaviour now has hundreds of employees and multiple divisions. The company can now make multiple games at the same time even as it does traditional outsourcing.
“Our company has reached a new level of success with Dead by Daylight,” said Remi Racine, CEO of Behaviour, in an interview.
During the Montreal International Game Summit (MIGS 2016) event, I visited Behaviour and caught up with the executive team. That included a joint interview with David Osborne and Stephen Mulrooney, chief technology officer and vice president of Behaviour Digital. They talked about how they prototype new gameplay ideas and turn them into full-fledged games like Dead by Daylight.
And I also met with Racine and Jimmy Gendron, head of mobile publishing at Behaviour. Here’s an edited transcript of our interview about moving up the food chain in the game industry.
GamesBeat: Dead by Daylight seems like a solid new franchise for you guys. How important is it relative to the whole company?
Remi Racine: We’ve created some IP over the years that weren’t really successful. Or they weren’t unsuccessful, but they weren’t very successful. Wet sold a million units, but to be successful at that time, with that budget, we needed at least twice that. Dead by Daylight is already very successful, and we still have years to go. We’re ecstatic about it. It did better in October than it did in all the previous months. It’s growing. We started very high in June, slowed down in July-August-September, then jumped up in October.
GamesBeat: The Halloween update probably had something to do with that.
Racine: Right. We have a plan to release DLC through the end of June, a very strong plan. It’s a mix of internal and external IP. Some of the DLC will be original and some will be licensed.
GamesBeat: Has the team size gone up since launch?
Racine: Yes. It launched at 25 and we’re probably around 40 now. We started this three years ago, when Dead by Daylight was a prototype from Hugo. It created a buzz as soon as we had the first demo. We even had a board game concept to test it out. We do demos in about a month to six weeks, so they’re pretty rough. But they’re playable. Even at that point, we understood we had something very good.
For us, it’s the gameplay first. Then we put in the backstory and the environments afterward. The fact that it’s a horror game — at first it was just a game of hide and seek. That was it. Then we felt that, to put some emotion in the game, horror was the right theme for the gameplay.
GamesBeat: It’s more interesting than something like Evolve, which had a similarly asymmetric concept, but it didn’t last like I thought it would. It was very difficult to play, trying to master what you had to do. Here, my first games, it wasn’t hard to pick up.
Racine: Most people can play it, yeah. If you’re not afraid — some people get too scared — you’re going to have fun. What I like about it, some games you can learn. You master the levels. This one is difficult to learn that way. How many rounds did you play?
GamesBeat: Just once on each side.
Racine: If you try it more and more, you’ll see that it’s never the same. People’s reactions aren’t the same. The environment isn’t the same. The tactics aren’t the same. We saw that even when we were playing the board game.
We went through about 10 prototypes. Seven of them were throwaways. How we do this, the creatives sit down and there’s a spark of some idea. Then a team of two does a prototype. We play that prototype and if it’s not fun, it goes into the archives, although we might go back to it later. Sometimes you’re inspired by events in the world or something and you think, “That’d be a great game,” but when you do the prototype it’s not.
One idea we had — you know how in the news you hear about brawls at European soccer games? Fans fighting each other. We had a game about that. As much as it seemed like a good idea in concept….
Jimmy Gendron: Fighting in a pub, yeah. It was almost like Clash of Clans with people in a bar.
Racine: But it wasn’t fun. You try stuff and you see if it’s good or not, and eventually you come up with something. Now we have two ideas that have made it to a point where we’ve presented them to partners. We want to co-finance those projects, so we’re talking with several partners. We’ll co-finance and keep the IP. We want to make them like Dead by Daylight, PC first and console after.
GamesBeat: How does Dead by Daylight’s success advance your plans along, as far as doing more original and independent projects? Is it going to help you in that direction?
Racine: I think so. Our next game — anybody we approach, they’re interested in hearing about it, just because of Dead by Daylight. When we present our next title, some of them will say they don’t like one thing or another about it, but most of them understand where we’re going because — you could call it the next level of Dead by Daylight.
Gendron: An evolution of Dead by Daylight.
Racine: It’s not by the same team, but yeah, you could call it an evolution of the gameplay.
GamesBeat: This was PC first. How are you spread out among the different platforms — mobile, PC, console?
Racine: We’re about 40 percent mobile and 60 percent PC and console. Including our work for hire. We’re still more focused on PC and console than on mobile. The studio in Santiago does only mobile, though, at the moment. In Montreal there are probably two or three projects. The bigger project is in Montreal.
GamesBeat: Do you have any concern that mobile is changing, or it’s gotten too hard to break into? Kongregate just decided to expand into Steam games after having a big focus on mobile. I see a bit more of that happening, with mobile companies going toward VR or going toward Steam or selling to larger companies.
Racine: In mobile you need something huge in terms of marketing to reduce the risk of failure. Our strategy on mobile is to partner with big licenses, both on work for hire and our own mobile publishing strategy. We need a great concept, but also, there needs to be an IP or some kind of marketing that helps you get recognition in the app stores. For us, building Dead by Daylight — if it gets big enough on PC and console, it might be a mobile opportunity, because then it will reduce our risk. But going original on mobile right now — you need a concept that’s so strong and so different that the risk is very high.
Gendron: The vast majority of recent mobile games that have made it into the top-grossing spots and stayed there have been either license-based, or they’re coming from top publishers with the financial capability to push those games to the top.
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.