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.
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.
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.