Last week we had the opportunity to speak to Stéphane Baudet, founder of the Lyon-based studio The Tiny Digital Factory. From the V rally to the GT Manager, including the legendary Test Drive Unlimited, Stéphane Baudet has made the Lyon area an important hub in the development of car simulation games. He also decided to set up his own studio there. Stéphane agreed to give us a few minutes to answer our questions, introduce us to The Tiny Digital Factory, tell us about his background and give us his perspective on the Lyon region and its importance.
Lemon Squeezer: Let’s start with a little presentation. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to start The Tiny Digital Factory?
Stéphane Baudet: I started at Infogrames in Lyon in the late 1980s, which had great success in the 1990s and early 2000s. In the beginning I was a game programmer, before I developed my career as a game designer programmer, project manager, then producer until he managed several productions and studios. I founded the Eden Games Studio, still in Lyon. With this studio we were able to achieve several successes in motorsport with V-Rally as well as another great success with the name Test Drive Unlimited. I then left that studio to join Ubisoft where I was able to run the Annecy studio.
I was able to devote myself to the online multiplayer part of Ubisoft games, especially Splinter Cell and Assassin’s Creed. I was co-creative director at Patrice Desilets for the Assassin’s Creed part. During that time, I reached out to Montreal to join Behavior Interactive Studio, a very large independent developer that we could use to create games for many companies. At that time it was the beginning of mobile games and free-to-play, so I specialized in that area. So we’ve had quite a few accomplishments including Fallout Shelter, which we did on behalf of Bethesda. Because of this success, I made the decision to start a new company, similar to what I had done at Eden Games in the late 1990s. So The Tiny Digital Factory is born a small studio of about eight to ten people. We developed Rollercoaster Tycoon Touch, our first mobile game. This was a small success that allowed us to validate our expertise in free mobile games.
After a few years I decided to return to France with a second studio, of course to Lyon. We’ve reduced the workforce in Montreal to increase the workforce in Lyon and we’re now around 20. I’m from France and I’m still a big car enthusiast. So I suggested to the English publisher Codemasters to adapt their Formula 1 license to a mobile game, as they didn’t yet have one that still corresponds to the Free.-To-Play model. So we produced this adaptation with my former studio, Eden Games. Before we do GT Manager, this is our new game. This is our first fully produced production that we have fully funded, developed and edited.
PC: F1 Mobile Racing is an incredible success with over 15 million downloads. What is the goal for GT managers in the coming months?
SB: We always check our goals based on when the game starts. It’s a game that remains more discreet as there is no such thing as an F1 brand. At F1 Mobile Racing we have 80% of the players who are referred to as “organic” players. That is, these are the users who are looking for the “F1” key word game in the various stores. Economically, it is very interesting as it is possible to attract a good number of players without having to pay for large advertising campaigns. We don’t have this advantage with GT Manager. We have numerous partnerships with manufacturers (Porsche, Mercedes, McLaren, etc.). We have the main brands investing in GT, but this discipline is still less important than Formula 1.
Therefore, the main goal today is to achieve a third of our activities with F1 Mobile Racing. The interesting point is that we have a lot of players in our F1 game, but the financial return is not necessarily optimal. The more you have a smaller community of players, the more you have a community that invests and pays. With this we are targeting a third of the F1 Mobile Racing audience, on the other hand we are aiming for a much higher profitability with GT Manager. And for now, about a month after the game was released, if we look at a third of the F1 Mobile Racing audience, we are on that curve where we should be earning more income. We have learned a lot from our work so far and have found that people who are enthusiastic about motorsport do not necessarily want to have a driving game on their mobile phones because it is less convenient. The two things that are essential to me in developing a mobile game, and that we have learned over the years, are to really take into account that you are not playing a mobile game, like a console game or a PC. These are games that we play several times a day and several times a week.
The other thing is the free building and trying to look for what people would be willing to spend their money on. We have to find something that isn’t a barrier, that isn’t mandatory, but that can be a plus for players who enjoy the game. We have integrated advertising, but it is not mandatory. We’re trying to find a compromise between a game that is very suitable for the mobile platform and a good balance in terms of free-to-play. One of the limitations we had in F1 was that we only delivered ten cars in one season and ten in one season. So if the players had their Ferraris, Mercedes or Red Bulls, why would they buy more cars? In GT Manager, we anticipated that right away and wanted to create vehicle categories right away and set up this collection page with special tests that are only open to certain vehicle types and some brands.
PC: If ever the goals are met with GT Manager, do you plan to develop other licensed games like NASCAR, WRC etc?
SB: It is possible that we always work on several projects in parallel. For the record, GT Manager started before F1 Mobile Racing, but when the project was officially at Codemasters we put our first idea aside before going back to it. Likewise, our teams are starting to work on other projects and we actually have variations on our concept that depend on the success of GT Manager. Things are off to a good start at the moment, but it’s too early to confirm. However, there is a good chance our concept will be applied to other disciplines. We have constant discussions as to whether it is with the organizers, whether it is also about the WRC, Formula E and F1. Today we are fortunate to work with many partners who would like to take part in the next games themselves. So there will be a sequel to GT Manager and there will no doubt be another project that will be more in the spirit of Test Drive Unlimited (but not TDU) that will try to innovate like Test Drive did on the Console with this open world. We want to take risks to do innovative, different things that may not work, but we will be proud to have tried. One thing that I really like about France is we have a lot of help that allows us to come up with innovative research tax credit systems that allow us to invest and when that doesn’t work thanks to the support of them Aids. that doesn’t put the company at risk. So I would say that it is even an obligation to innovate.
PC: You told us about your career, first at Infogrames, then at Eden Games, Ubisoft or Behavior Interactive. Studios that specialize in developing games for consoles and personal computers. The goal for later is it to stay mobile or to guide you to consoles and PC?
SB: So it’s the eternal debate and sometimes even internal with a lot of discussions and debates. Two years ago we had Rollercoaster Tycoon Touch and I suggested the idea of making a Switch version from the mobile version. The game wasn’t very well received as it really kept that aspect of mobile gaming. So we are now a little more cautious in this area. I think we didn’t give each other the means. If we want to redesign games on PCs or consoles today, we have to give ourselves the means. But I don’t want to be opportunistic and just wear our games. We don’t consider large consoles as the budget will never be within our reach. But on PC and switch it is possible if we find the right adaptation. However, it is by no means our aim to develop games specifically and only for consoles or PCs.
PC: You had the opportunity to work with other studios, be it Codemasters or Eden Games. Are you planning further collaborations in the future?
SB: Not right away. We did it because we had an affinity with the studios, but it’s always a little complicated. I think we’re going to focus on our own games today to have continuity and not give up our games any longer and keep developing them and moving the company forward.
PC: After your trip we saw that the starting point was the Lyon region and that you have returned there. Since the 1990s, the Lyon Basin has become a very important pole for the development of automobile games. Between Infogrames and Eden Games we now have KT Racing, Ivory Tower, just to name a few, how can one explain that this region in Lyon has become a driving force. Place this automobile simulation?
SB: Everything comes from the same games and the same teams, first with the V-Rally at Infogrames with David Nadal and Jean Yves Geffroy, who are now running Eden Games. Ivory Tower was the Test Drive Unlimited team. KT Racing is also the Test Drive Unlimited 2 team. These are the games that we were able to make either at the end of Inforgrames or at the time of Eden Games that made it possible for us to start these new companies and lead them to be very proud of them. This is also one of the reasons we returned to Lyon because there is know-how in the region that makes it possible to create careers that can evolve in Eden, Ivory and from one structure to another. One of the reasons why we are not planning new collaborations today is that we are a bit competitive even when we love each other, we remain competitors in recruiting, development and even if we exchange a lot, it is more complicated to work together. We are still colleagues, we all come from the same house, but we also stay competitive and I am very happy that there are four studios in Lyon in the same field and I tell myself that in a way I was born am of everything.
The Press Citron team would like to thank Stéphane Baudet for giving us a moment for this discussion. Don’t hesitate to find The Tiny Digital Factory games on the Apple Store and Google Store right now.
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