Somebody needs to keep the faith by creating new jobs in the game industry in the emerging regions of the world.
Virtuos has carved out a big business since 2004 as a company that handles external game development for both developers and publishers. And this week, the company added to its staff of more than 3,500 people around the world. The firm continues to open new game studios that service other developers.
I met with Philippe Angely, managing director of the game division at Virtuos, at the Gamescom event in Cologne, Germany, this week. We talked about different tea leaves that can tell us where the industry is going amid a crushing global recession and strong opportunities within gaming itself.
In 2021, Virtuos raised $150 million from private equity firm Baring Private Equity Asia, a new kind of investor coming into the game industry.
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Despite the challenging outlook, the global co-development company based out of Singapore remains optimistic and believes it’s well-positioned to weather the storm, having expanded its global remit through the launch of multiple studios this year alone, with their latest engineering studio in Prague helmed by industry veteran and now general manager, Jan Herodes. With a deep pipeline of projects and an ever-growing global team, Angely tells VentureBeat that the industry is gradually easing into recovery.
The company has worked on more than 1,500 projects for clients including 23 of the top 25 gaming companies in the world. The company’s game development and 3D art production cover games for consoles, the PC and mobile devices.
Despite the slowdown, the company is engaged in global expansion as the largest player in Vietnam and Southeast Asia, and the company is also making original intellectual properties.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: Tell me about the latest at Virtuos.
Philippe Angely: We opened three studios this year. One in Vietnam, in Dalat. It’s a nice city in the mountains. We already have more than [30 people] there. It’s an art studio. We opened one in Warsaw, and we just announced this morning that we’re opening another one in Prague. Two new studios in Europe. Our strategy is still to expand closer to our clients. Those studios will serve our European partners, specialized in engineering and optimization. In Warsaw we have 20 people and in Prague we have [three] people. We have the ambition to bring that to around 20 in six months. We’re close to 4,000 people altogether. Soon we’ll announce that milestone.
GamesBeat: Are many of them concentrated in a particular place still? How many locations is that altogether?
Angely: We have 22 now. Of course China is still a big help there, with three studios. Vietnam is the second biggest with more than 1,000 people. Then we have 500 people in Europe and 100 people in North America.
GamesBeat: Is Asia a specialty of yours now? You can serve all the big Asian companies. Or are you still more spread out across the world as far as clients go?
Angely: We have a balanced portfolio. The majority of our clients are still in North America. Then Europe and Asia are about equal. In Asia we’re serving the big developers in China, Japan, and Korea. We do big business there. We have offices in Tokyo and Seoul. Our scale allows us to cover a lot of different styles. We’re good at the hand-painted Asian style, but also very realistic styles in China and Japan.
GamesBeat: Are there some interesting insights you’ve found, since you have relationships with so many game companies?
Angely: It’s good to cover all the different platforms. In Asia we’re working on big mobile games, as well as console and PC. This unique portfolio variety allows us to keep our staff very excited. They get to work on all the different platforms. The art part is also very exciting. Artists might work for one year with a Japanese client, and then the next year with a North American client. For retention and attracting talent it’s important for us to keep that balanced portfolio.
GamesBeat: How do you keep developers happy? How do they stay interested in working with you? You got through the pandemic, and I’m sure things aren’t the same now. I wonder how that has changed things.
Angely: We have a very good Glassdoor review average, which we’re very proud of. It’s 4.5 stars. That hasn’t changed since before the pandemic. We remain flexible around working from home. In the west, our staff are still interested in working from home. They’re very open to it. In Asia that’s never been the case. They’ve always preferred to work in the office rather than working from home. Maybe because at home many people still live near their parents, and they like having their own space in the office. But we remain flexible right now.
One of our core values is that we offer all our employees the same contract. Having a French CEO is very interesting for our employees. Whatever the local law is, everybody has extra vacation days. We try to be closer to French benefits than the rest of the world. Every year of working at the company, you add more benefits – extra holidays and so on. [In China, for example, additional vacation days are given every few years of employment/in service.] We don’t do crunch as well. We monitor that very closely. Less than five percent of our people end up doing crunch [in the game division].
We’ve become experts at estimating the scheduling of a project. Before a project starts, our directors estimate how long it will take with how many people. Since we’re working on close to 200 [titles] every year, we have people who are very good at planning and estimating. Thanks to that, we don’t need to push our staff to work late.
GamesBeat: What about things like whether they want to do service work or original work, small games or big games? I suppose developers have their own interests.
Angely: Our focus is on doing content for our partners. That’s our core business. That’s why we’re here. We want to be able to work with any developer that needs extra content or wants to cover more platforms.
For original games, it’s coming from our developers. Sometimes they have an idea and they want to be able to create a game from scratch. The way we work, we listen to them and we ask them which of our clients will be interested by this game idea. If there’s a good fit, we help them do a prototype, and then we show it to the client. If a client likes the idea we can co-finance the project. Our partners always publish it, but we co-fund it. It’s a way for us to add more value to the relationship, bring more creativity, and retain our staff who have some good ideas and want to produce different games.
GamesBeat: The business patterns that you’ve seen after the pandemic, is there anything very different going on right now?
Angely: We’re still very busy. That’s why we’re opening new studios. We need the extra capacity and extra people. We need to be able to tap into new talent pools, like in Poland. The pandemic was two crazy years for video games. After that, our partners have had to go back to a new reality. It’s true that less projects have been greenlighted after the pandemic. Nevertheless, it’s still going to be a good year for us. We’re seeing more and more projects since the beginning of the year now.
GamesBeat: Does the game industry feel like it’s in a downturn or a recovery right now? Can you tell from your perspective?
Angely: I feel like now we’re entering a full recovery mode. There are big games coming. The forecasts are very good for them. We’ve seen the amazing success of Baldur’s Gate. The numbers for our clients are looking to be much better since the beginning of the year. More and more players in territories like Southeast Asia, where we are. We have a headquarters in Singapore, 1,000 people in Vietnam, 100 people in Malaysia. We’re seeing more gamers and more spending.
We’re also looking closely at South America. We don’t have any studios there, but there’s a big talent pool. The gamer population is growing very rapidly. We still have markets that are growing. India is also growing. The recovery is looking good. Our clients are in better shape after restructuring since the beginning of the year.
GamesBeat: I do get the sense that the industry is more stable right now. One guy I recently talked to aggregates job openings from 732 game companies and puts them in a Google spreadsheet so people can look up jobs that are available. He calculated that there are about 14,000 job openings right now, and that’s been stable for the last five or six weeks. To him it means that even if some jobs end, there are jobs replacing them. It’s better when things were on a downswing.
Angely: For us, we still have 200 openings on our website. We’re still growing. We’re seeing more and more projects getting the green light. You need more and more time to create games now. Extra resources like what we offer can help to bring down that time. By using our programmers, it helps to quickly bring things to market like remakes and remasters and new versions for new platforms.
GamesBeat: Can you tell whether AI is going to make a difference as far as requiring more people or less people?
Angely: In some areas, like concept art, AI is very capable. When is it going to be able to create a complex 3D model? I don’t know. For the engineering side, it’s a big help, but I don’t see it as replacing anyone. It’s more about making better and more efficient code. We believe that technology is always at its best working together with people. AI alone, we don’t see how that can work. The combination of good people, good training, and good AI together should benefit the industry by resulting in more content and better content.
[Updated 1:11 a.m. on 8/28/23 with corrections and clarifications].
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