Paris-based game development studio Quantic Dream has repeatedly made the news in the last couple of years, between the PlayStation 4 release of the critically acclaimed Detroit: Become Human (which recently passed the remarkable milestone of five million units sold to date, making it the most successful game ever made by the team), the allegations of a hostile work environment (rejected by Quantic Dream, who also subsequently sued the French publications behind the reports) which eventually led to a court order to pay a €7K fine to a former employee, the deal with NetEase as the studio transitioned from a PlayStation partner to a multiplatform company, and the release of previous PlayStation exclusives Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls and Detroit: Become Human on PC.
Earlier this month, we were able to talk at length about what’s in store for Quantic Dream going forward with none other than founder and CEO David Cage. Keep reading for a glimpse into the future of a studio that has undoubtedly managed to carve its own niche into the hearts of gamers who love narrative-heavy adventure titles.
How has the day-to-day operation changed at Quantic Dream since the deal with NetEase? Do you have regular meetings with them?
Regarding the day-to-day operations, there is absolutely no change in the way the company is managed. NetEase is one of our shareholders, so naturally we have had conversations about the strategy of the company, the way they can support us, and potential synergies, and we try to take the best decisions for the company. They have always been very respectful of the management and the studio in general, and absolutely non-intrusive. Of course, all the editorial decisions, investments and daily operations continue to be run independently by us.
This is for us a fantastic situation, whereby we benefit from the support and advice of an industry giant but maintain our freedom as an independent studio.
Following the NetEase investment news, you said that the goal was to increase the size of Quantic Dream from around 200 to about 300 developers. How close are you to reaching that now?
Increasing the size of a studio is never a goal in itself. It can only proceed as a logical consequence of our wider strategy. We want to maintain our R&D department (approximately 70 people at this time) to keep developing proprietary tech (since Omikron in 1999, all our games have been developed with proprietary engines, tools and pipelines). We aim to keep working on very ambitious AAA titles, we currently have several projects in development at the same time, and we have installed a full publishing department to support third party release. We continue to recruit aggressively across all our departments and the studio is growing at the pace we were expecting.
We started with a team of five people in a small room 23 years ago and we have grown to 220 on Detroit, so we have experience across different team sizes. Larger teams afford us many resources to develop ambitious projects, but the organization and management must be prepared for the challenges inherent in workforces of that size.
Since we created the company, each game has doubled the size of our team, so we are familiar with the demands and opportunities of growth, although it remains a challenge for any company. One might say it is a good problem to have.
Would you say that with the increased budget and headcount, the next Quantic Dream titles will be even more ambitious in scope?
Each title we develop is always more ambitious than the previous one. This is not something that we do intentionally, we simply have new ideas that we want to experiment and we constantly aim to surpass what we have done before. The team itself is also eager to face new challenges and it is definitely a part of our studio culture. The new generation of consoles sets the bar quite high in the matter of visual quality: raytracing, physically-based shaders, and photogrammetry are getting rendering closer and closer to photorealism.
This produces a double effect whereby the games grow in scope (the amount of data in Detroit: Become Human was bigger than any other game we have made) and in complexity because of the Next-Gen features offered by consoles.
To answer your question, yes, our next titles will be more ambitious in both scope and quality. We want to compete with the best studios in the world and offer our fans the best experience we possibly can.
Back in July 2019, you mentioned that ray tracing was going to be a big deal going forward. Does that mean upcoming Quantic Dream games will take full advantage of this technology?
Certainly. To be more precise, I believe that the next battle will be about lighting more than polycount or even resolution. In the past, the polycount was considered as the most important thing to increase visual fidelity, then resolution was the next big thing, but today, most developers know that lighting is what matters the most. Many will prefer to have Ray-tracing in full HD rather than limited lighting in 4K.
Ray-Tracing, realistic lighting and reflections, advanced shaders, optical effects and advanced image treatment are the features our R&D is currently implementing in our Next-Gen engine. There are, of course, many other features made possible by the power of the new generation of consoles, like advanced AI and physics, dynamic destruction and new animation features. Rendering is just one of the many technical challenges that developers have to face.
The fact that we have our own proprietary tech is a challenge but also a significant advantage, as it allows us to develop whatever features our titles require and to tailor them to our needs.
In the same interview, you also discussed the team’s work on ‘different projects’ at once for a change, including new genres potentially. Would an open world game be something that you’re interested in making, or do you see it as essentially opposite to the cinematic narrative experience you’re used to crafting?
I think you can create an emotional experience with any gameplay, including an open world. Many games demonstrated this before. It requires the use of different techniques in narrative design, but storytelling is a very flexible device that can be used under different forms with almost any type of gameplay. I try not to have any definitive dogma, except to keep the player’s emotional experience
paramount. There are many ways to achieve an emotional impact in games and this is what makes the format so exciting.
Detroit: Become Human originally launched in Spring 2018. Given that it’s been over two years, fans are already eager to see what Quantic Dream is working on next. Do you reckon it’ll be long before we see anything about it?
Quantic Dream has never subscribed to the logic of releasing a new game every year, although we have a lot of respect for those who do it successfully. We see ourselves like a workshop driven by passion and craft. Writing takes time, we always develop new tech and engines and we always seek to challenge ourselves and try new ideas. We know that our fans have high expectations regarding our titles: they want high visual quality, immersive and branching stories and strong emotions – things that are difficult to industrialize.
The most important thing for the team is to create something we are proud of, something that will keep us excited throughout development, something that will surprise our fans and ourselves, and something that has a chance to become a special experience players will remember. Taking more time is no guarantee of success, but rushing is usually a promise of failure.
Are you still keen on avoiding sequels? What about doing games that are not sequels but exist in the same universe, at least?
I do not have any issue with sequels, as long as there is something more to say about the world or the characters. Doing sequels simply because it will be profitable has never been our mindset. We totally understand that having an established brand will save a lot of marketing expenses and will raise awareness about the title faster because there are already set expectations and that the promise is clear. However, for me, the only valuable reason to work on a project that will take four years of my life is to find an idea that I feel I have to do at any price. It may sound naïve from a CEO with 20 years in the industry, but I continue to think that any project should be heart-felt.
So far, I did not have anything else to say about the franchises that we created, so it was better to leave them and to move to something new, but this is not a rule or a dogma. I may revisit one of our franchises one day, but only if I feel I have something new to say about it.
Can we still expect Quantic Dream projects to deliver cutting edge technology and visuals? Will you keep using your own tailor-made engine?
Developing our own technology and engines has been a major part of the studio’s culture for 23 years. We always used proprietary technologies for all our titles, initially because there was no off-the-shelf middleware available. Today, we continue to create our own tech because we feel it contributes to making our games visually unique. We also have specific needs regarding cinematography and pipelines, and we want to keep control of the most advanced features.
The team really likes this control over the tech: we can have an idea about a new feature and decide to implement it without needing anyone else’s support. So yes, all our next titles will feature our tailor-made and completely new engine.
Over the last year or so, Quantic Dream games opened up to a brand new audience on PC through the Epic Games store and Steam. What was the reaction to Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls, and Detroit: Become Human?
It was a real pleasure to see new players discovering our work. In the past, we often heard audiences say that they would love to play our games, but that they did not own the system required to play them. By becoming platform agnostic, we ensure that everyone will have the opportunity to play our titles, even if they do not own a console.
Reactions to the games themselves have been very positive so far. I was delighted to see the second life of Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls in particular, which was rediscovered by new players who seem to really enjoy the game. Beyond: Two Souls has always been a very special game to me, so I am glad! We also see the wonderful community around Detroit: Become Human expanding, which is very inspiring for us. The success of Detroit: Become Human is absolutely fantastic, and the entire team is thrilled to see gamers around the world talking about their experience, creating fan art, or participating in cosplay. We put a lot of ourselves in these titles, so seeing the positive reactions of people on PC is really pleasing.
In a couple of months, Microsoft and Sony are releasing their next-generation consoles. First of all, do you plan to enhance Detroit: Become Human (and possibly your older titles, too) for the PlayStation 5?
The studio is fully focused on the future and our current projects in development. Enhancing our titles for PlayStation 5 is a possibility that we currently consider.
As developers, what do you think about the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X? Which unique aspects of each platform excite you the most?
It is always challenging to compare hardware, as they always have advantages and disadvantages. It is not just a matter of CPU or frequency; it is more about the consistency of the components and the possibilities of advanced features.
The CPU of the two consoles uses the same processor (slightly faster on Xbox Series X), the GPU of the Xbox also seems more powerful, as it is 16% faster than the PS5 GPU, with a bandwidth that is 25% faster. The transfer speed from the SSD is twice as fast on PS5.
The shader cores of the Xbox are also more suitable to machine learning, which could be an advantage if Microsoft succeeds in implementing an equivalent to Nvidia’s DLSS (an advanced neural network solution for AI).
Overall, I think that the pure analysis of the hardware shows an advantage for Microsoft, but experience tells us that hardware is only part of the equation: Sony showed in the past that their consoles could deliver the best-looking games because their architecture and software were usually very consistent and efficient.
In the final analysis, what will spell the success of one console over the other (more than the hardware) are the exclusive titles. Having worked with Sony for 12 years, I know they have some of the best studios in the world, from Naughty Dog to Santa Monica Studios or Guerilla, just to name a few, and they have very strong exclusive franchises, as well as a strong legacy from the past cycles. They will be very hard to challenge, although Microsoft did a lot recently to put more studios at the heart of the battle. They also seem to have a very aggressive commercial strategy with their Game Pass, which may make their platform more attractive. Their All Access offer, which bundles the console and games based on a monthly subscription, is also a very smart move. The battle for the
supremacy may also be on streaming services in a near future.
As you can see, there are many parameters to predict a winner in this new cycle. Hardware is only one of them, and probably not the most decisive one.
Some of your colleagues are hailing the built-in SSD technology as potentially game-changing for development. Do you agree with that assessment?
Absolutely. You cannot imagine how much some developers struggle to offer invisible
loading in their games. On Detroit: Become Human, at Quantic Dream we were using the last cinematic of a given scene to unload the current data in memory and preload the next set of data, so by the time the player watches the cinematic and goes to the interscene chart, the next scene is loaded and ready to start.
We all know that loading screens can be extremely frustrating and that players do not like to wait. The SSD is a wonderful answer to this issue: you can load the full memory of a PS5 in less than 2 seconds. It will make the experience of playing all games more intense and with no waiting time. This is a major step forward for gamers.
Microsoft is also releasing the Xbox Series S, which some developers reckon might have problems mainly due to its lower RAM. Do you think this lower ‘min-spec’ could hamper multiplatform next-generation games?
Many developers prefer consoles to PC because on consoles you only have to deal with one hardware, whereas on PC there are so many configurations, graphic cards, drivers, controllers etc. that makes the development much more complex.
When a manufacturer offers two consoles with different specs, there is a strong chance that most developers will focus on the lower-end version to avoid doing two different versions. I must confess that I am really not a big fan of this situation. I think it is confusing for developers, but also for players, and although I can understand the commercial reasons behind this choice (a difference of €200 on the street price) I think the situation is questionable. Regarding Quantic Dream, as we develop our own technology and engines, we are determined to optimize our titles for each platform. Being now a PC developer, we are implementing scalable features based on the platform, which is very helpful to highlight what the hardware has best to offer.
As the VR platform improves and grows, are you interested in exploring its possibilities for storytelling at some point?
VR is a very exciting platform, and I think that the Oculus Quest is a good example of how it can (finally) be user-friendly and easy to use. VR is a very particular market that, after the initial excitement, would benefit from having a larger catalogue of titles to support its growth.
Developing for VR requires a full dedication because games need to be designed for it. The hope that we could simply port existing games quickly vanished, and I think the dev community agrees that a VR title is very different in nature from other games.
I always thought there was a great potential for narrative games in VR because of the quality of immersion it offers. They can also offer a slower and more comfortable experience without motion sickness. I am definitely interested in VR, and I cannot wait to see how the platform evolves in the future.
Is it a goal for Quantic Dream to support the Nintendo Switch platform, particularly for the older titles that could run on it?
Now that Quantic Dream is independent, we plan to support all existing platforms with our future titles. Our past titles are still tied to Sony, so I doubt they will be available on other platforms than PC.
What do you think about cloud gaming platforms like Google Stadia? How strong is your interest in putting Quantic Dream games on those?
Our strategy is to make our titles available on all platforms where gamers may look for them. We also want to do our best to make these platforms shine, as this is what we did with PlayStation for 12 years. I am convinced that cloud gaming will become very popular in the coming years. It is an
entirely new platform with amazing potential, but also new challenges to overcome. I initially thought that things would go faster, but it looks like it will take more years before the industry is fully ready to make this offer available to customers all around the world. I continue to believe that this is the future, but it is hard to predict when it will move into the mainstream.
Thank you for your time.