2011: A Space Odyssey

2011: A Space Odyssey, by Laurent & Tatiana Sachs

Laurent is an angel investor and executive coach. He is the founder of L.T. Sachs and was a member of the board of directors of Amplitude Studios from 2011 until the sale of the company to SEGA in 2016.

Tatiana is a consultant. She is a co-founder of MAD – Lifestyle, Art & Design.

Views expressed here are their own.

 

It is the story of Amplitude Studios, co-founded in 2011 by Mathieu Girard and Romain de Waubert, a small office in the 12th arrondissement of Paris, a niche genre, a dream of a strategy game, and a new form of co-creation and collective intelligence.

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Amplitude Studios’ goal was to create AAA quality strategy video games at a much lower cost and in record time. Bringing costs down is key for any new business, and Girard and de Waubert found ways to design, develop and distribute their games with limited resources.

Since the early 2000s, digital distribution has become prominent as a method of selling in the video game industry. The new possibilities of digital distribution stimulated independent video game developers, no longer required to rely on conventional boxed sales, allowing them to sell and distribute their games without having to negotiate deals with publishers.

Amplitude Studios was the first indie for which Steam – the world leading internet-based digital distribution, digital rights management, multiplayer, and social networking platform developed by Valve Corporation – agreed to put the alpha version of a game up for sale. In a way, our first game Endless Space served as a beta version of the process which is now known as Early Access. Steam trusting them with the release of an unfinished game was a decisive moment in the young life of the Company.

Endless Space

As decisive was Amplitude’s decision to give access to the design and development process to the members of the community, as well as providing them with a two-way communication channel to express their views through an online forum, thus lowering the fence between the dev team and the community in a process they named Games2Gether, or G2G.

The forum is an art of cross-pollinating ideas while keeping the community interested, a way to optimise human networks, a place to exchange expertise, knowledge and skills. It can act as an ideas hive, an informal place of exchange of knowledge, like an online and unofficial context of interaction around the coffee machine.

Girard and de Waubert couldn’t see the point of starting to communicate with the community only after the official release of the game. The Internet sets the expectation that a game studio, like any other business, should be open to customer input and guidance. Hence, Amplitude Studios’ starting point was that game development had to be done in close cooperation and coordination with the community. The G2G effort was so successful that 13,000 people registered on the forum within two weeks of Endless Space alpha release.

With Endless Space we set out to create a game that was, for a start-up, very big. When you develop a game like that, it is important – and kind of a no-brainer – that you need to have as little fence as possible between the community and the developers. After all, they will play the game for millions of hours more than we will and discover subtleties that we would never have thought of. In order to understand what the community wants and integrate that as early as possible into the dev cycle, we created G2G which is a fundamentally different way of organizing how a community works with a developer. What we wanted was for the community to become an extension of our team.

“G2G: Expanding the Dev Team” – Romain de Waubert, Gamasutra, October 24, 2013

The cofounders knew that a new indie underdog had little chance to make the headlines. With G2G, they managed to draw the attention of like-minded gamers they knew, a few dozens of friends first, then a community of tens of thousands who managed to spread the word.

Over the past decade, the rise of the Internet has enabled the emergence of surprising new forms of collective intelligence. Games2Gether is one those new forms. Participants enjoy themselves, socialize and feel like they are contributing to a greater cause.

Our age of permanent connection provides us with means to strengthen direct relationships between individuals and businesses, and allows content producers to meet their consumers. It enables networking and the creation of communities of customers who will collaborate on the development and enhancement of such content. It facilitates the transition from innovation to market.

This is what co-design is about: strengthening the relationship between the creators and the consumers with a joint cognitive work. The company could benefit from a more accurate view of its customers’ expectations. To involve its customers, the company must open co-creation platforms, forums, centres for sharing and exchanging knowledge.

This is what Amplitude has been doing with Early Access, by revealing their game as soon as possible. The imperfect product served as a hook to create synergy with its users. It was also a way for a young company with limited financial ressources such as Amplitude Studios to outsource part of its marketing department, customers carrying a positive image of the company through word-of-mouth. With G2G, Amplitude has created a platform where members of the tribe can gather. The desire to associate with like-minded people is fundamental to human nature.

Consumers tend to become advocates when their consumption experiences are meaningful. Companies with higher levels of advocacy grow faster than their competitors, while generating greater sales. If advocacy drives growth, what drives advocacy? The answer is designing a meaningful, caring, interaction with the consumer.

There has been much debate among media theorists as to whether video gaming is an inherently social or anti-social activity. However, games with an organised community of fans show high levels of corroboration and collective intelligence. Core gamers who gather together on a collective platform possess a shared language, engage in collective rituals and are often interested in cultural artefacts such as gaming paraphernalia.

Those communities exist as self-defining sub-units within mainstream culture. There seems to be a symbiosis between consumption-oriented subcultures and marketing institutions that cater to their specialized needs. A marketer who has gained a good understanding of its target subculture of consumption can achieve a symbiotic relationship with it.

Social media tools are familiar to most web users and easy to access. Open communication platforms and simple user interfaces make collaboration easy. Amplitude has provided its community with a platform and allowed its members to participate in designing their own consumers’ experience.

When Amplitude Studios was sold to SEGA in 2016, it was just the end of the beginning. With their fourth game Endless Space 2 presently in Early Access on Steam, a collective space odyssey is still being written as we speak.

 

 

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Amplitude Studios: chapeau les artistes!

Si vos amis n’ont jamais entendu parler d’Endless Space 2 (le génial jeu de stratégie 4X qui sortira fin septembre), voici la vidéo qu’il faut leur montrer:

Chapeau les artistes!

PS: on notera le logo de SEGA en intro :o)

L.T. Sachs a été un fier administrateur d’Amplitude Studios jusqu’au 1er juillet 2016. Et reste un administrateur.

Sur l’intelligence collective

J’interviendrai le 15 septembre dans le cadre d’une conférence intitulée « Intelligence collective et PNL: un souffle nouveau ». Je ne suis pas un praticien de la programmation neuro-linguistique, mais j’aide les entrepreneurs à créer de la richesse, et c’est dans ce contexte d’une pratique un peu originale que les organisateurs de la conférence m’ont demandé d’intervenir sur un concept de PNL.

J’ai choisi celui de la Quatrième Position.

Il y a près de trente ans, Robert Dilts développait le concept de « Quatrième Position », par laquelle le membre d’un système pouvait se percevoir associé à l’ensemble, en intelligence collective.

Ce Je-Nous, cet alignement profond entre l’ego, l’âme et le système est pour Dilts essentiel « à l’exercice d’un leadership authentique » et «  constitue une capacité-clé du leadership visionnaire »: « Les leaders efficaces », écrivait-il, « sont capables de s’identifier avec l’ensemble du système qu’ils influencent ».

Pour lui, « la Quatrième Position est une composante essentielle de la sagesse et de l’écologie ».

Trente ans plus tard, à l’âge du web, le concept n’a pas pris une ride. Il tient même pour moi une place centrale, tant dans l’approche systémique de ma pratique de coach que dans celle de business angel. De mon point de vue, jamais sans doute le battement d’ailes d’un papillon (dans la Silicon Valley ou ailleurs) n’a-t-il pu si rapidement provoquer une tornade économique sur nos rivages.

Si nous acceptons l’idée de l’importance de cultiver le champ relationnel de cette Quatrième Position, qu’est-ce qui change à l’âge des réseaux et de la connection permanente?

Des entreprises agiles, habilement connectées à leur écosystème, sont capables en quelques années de redessiner l’environnement concurrentiel d’industries dont les positions semblaient pourtant fermement établies. Personne, ni entrepreneur, ni dirigeant, ni salarié, ne peut plus croire être protégé de cette nouvelle révolution industrielle: la connection change la nature d’un objet, les réseaux changent la nature d’un système.

Ils ne mourraient pas tous, mais tous étaient frappés.

Dans son livre récent Dans la disruption sous-titré Comment ne pas devenir fou?, Bernard Stiegler condamne ces « nouveaux barbares » pour qui « il s’agit d’aller plus vite que les sociétés pour leur imposer des modèles qui détruisent les structures sociales et rendent la puissance publique impuissante ». Pour lui, « le monde court à sa perte, et ce à brève échéance ».

J’entends sa critique écologique, mais ne partage ni son pessimisme ni sa vision des entrepreneurs. Même s’il est probable que quelques uns d’entre eux soient portés par une ambition politique libertarienne d’une destruction créatrice anti-étatique, pour la plupart l’essentiel est ailleurs et plus trivial: les entrepreneurs font ce qu’ils peuvent, et ce qu’ils savent.

Ce qu’il peuvent, c’est profiter d’un accès facilité à un capital abondant, dans un environnement entrepreneurial où l’on peut désormais faire beaucoup avec peu. Ce qu’ils savent, pour les meilleurs d’entre eux, c’est accéder au champ relationnel que leur offre la Quatrième Position.

J’ai souvent raconté ma rencontre au printemps 2011 avec les fondateurs d’Amplitude Studios. Ce qu’était leur vision, cette ambition collective que nous avons réalisée, cette réussite qui se poursuit, sont les meilleurs exemples de mise en oeuvre de ces concepts dont je reparlerai dans mon intervention du 15 septembre, et dans un prochain papier.

 

L.T. Sachs a été investisseur au capital et administrateur d’Amplitude Studios de juin 2011 à juillet 2016, date de la vente de l’entreprise à SEGA.

 

SEGA acquires Amplitude Studios

We have just announced the sale of Amplitude Studios to SEGA.

SEGA Europe’s president/COO Jurgen Post commented:

To have the opportunity to add a studio with the growing reputation of Amplitude’s, to the SEGA family, is an exciting one and reinforces SEGA Europe’s position as a market leader in publishing high quality PC games.

Culturally, Amplitude are a fantastic fit for the business as they not only produce great games, but also have a proven track record in listening to their fans and directly involving them in the ongoing development of their games through their GAMES2GETHER system.

Our co-founder and CEO Mathieu Girard said:

Joining the SEGA family represents the culmination of five years of hard work from myself and Romain and everyone here at Amplitude Studios. For the Endless series to be alongside PC franchises with such heritage as Total War and Dawn of War in the SEGA Europe stable puts our games where we feel they deserve to be. We look forward to leveraging SEGA Europe’s expertise in the PC market to take the Endless series to the next level.

Amplitude Studios co-founder Romain de Waubert added:

Of course you could wonder, “Why Sega?” If you were to ask just Mathieu and I, we could easily answer with the words “Creative Assembly and Relic!” because we are HUGE fans of their games. The opportunity to join them is incredible for us, a real dream come true.

But the bigger reason why we wanted to join SEGA was how they treat their internal studios. Often, studios are controlled by a central department that dictates what games they should do, and how and when. But SEGA is a company that offers its support to the creators, positioning itself as a service provider, helping studios to reach their goals with only one objective in mind: Quality!

Now is the time to look back at the Amplitude story.

What began for me as a ten minutes pitch at Telecom ParisTech in the spring of 2011 has grown into a formidable fifty-four-person video game studio, one of the most interesting European developers.

Mathieu Girard and Romain de Waubert, it has been an honor and a privilege working with you. As we look toward our next endless adventures, I raise my glass to you, dear friends.

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Amplitude Studios Board of Directors 2011-2016. Standing: Romain de Waubert, Jeff Spock, Laurent Sachs. Sitting: Mathieu Girard.

Endless Legend

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Endless Space

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L.T. Sachs has been a proud member of Amplitude Studios Board of Directors (2011-2016)

 

 

Amplitude Studios just released the Shifters

Amplitude Studios has just released its new Endless Legend expansion: Shifters. Here is the trailer:

My friend and fellow board member Jeff Spock is presenting the Shifters expansion and its new faction the Allayi in these Focus Videos:

My personal bet is we’ll sell over a million copies of our game Endless Legend at some point. As a great magazine put it:

It’s a game constantly in the process of interrogating its own structures and as well as being a superb creation in its own right, it solidifies Amplitude’s place as one of PC gaming’s most exciting new studios.

They also ranked Endless Legend the 8th Best Strategy Games On PC ever made:

Along with unusual and inventive worldbuilding, blending fantasy with sci-fi and delivered through beautiful art, Endless Legend takes a novel approach to 4X traditions. As well as rethinking the basic rules of expansion, upgrading and exploration, there’s a built-in apocalypse timer in every game, as the planet’s climate changes, plunging every faction into crisis.

Amplitude Studios is thing of beauty, an outstanding team of good people. I love them.

Shifters

L.T. Sachs is a member of the Board of Amplitude Studios.

 

Governance 101: Board meetings

One of the best VC out there once said :

Board meetings should be discussions. They should be interactive. They should have some structure. But they should not have too much structure.

Best practice: Amplitude Studios.

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Amplitude Studios Board of Directors. Standing: Romain de Waubert, Jeff Spock, Laurent Sachs. Sitting: Mathieu Girard

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Amplitude Studios’ Board of Directors was in a festive mood yesterday night during our Christmas party. Happy holidays everyone!

L.T. Sachs is a member of the festive Board of Amplitude Studios.

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