It was only a matter of time before Square Enix got rid of its Western studios.
So says Stephane D’Astous, founder of Eidos-Montréal, who spoke to GamesIndustry.biz in a new interview and talked about all of the Deus Ex and Tomb Raider studio’s alleged problems. According to D’Astous, who left the company in 2013, Eidos-Montréal is fully capable of making great games, as proven by acclaimed titles such as Deus Ex: Human Revolution, but the studio isn’t very good at marketing its products.
“It was a trajectory that could be predicted,”D’Astous said. “I left because things were missing at head office. [Pre-Square Enix] Eidos has a great tradition of development teams, but they don’t have superior knowledge of how to sell their games. And that was quite clear.”
D’Astous had hoped that Square Enix’s purchase of Eidos in 2009 “would change things,” but that apparently didn’t happen based on the sales performance of some of the company’s biggest projects, which he sees as disappointments.
“You could look at all the great games that Eidos did, and — apart from Tomb Raider back then, that was a whole different era — the Hitmans and all those could have been a six, seven, eight-million unit projects. Deus Ex could have been that also,” he said. “We hit good numbers, don’t get me wrong, but I always felt that the way to sell games that Eidos used were so traditional and conventional. That it wasn’t innovative. And it was always underselling the quality of the games.”
D’Astous goes on to call Eidos-Montréal “a train wreck in slow motion,” a description partially prompted by how Embracer Group managed to purchase Square Enix’s Western studios for only $300 million—a surprising bargain based on some of Embracer’s previous purchases. As noted by D’Astous, Embracer had paid $1.3 billion for Gearbox, a studio with the same amount of staff and significantly less IPs.
The toxic relationship between Square Enix and Eidos-Montréal was also touched upon, as expected, with GameIndustry.biz pointing out what could have been one of the key reasons behind Square Enix’s decision to cut ties with the studio.
Square Enix has become notorious for declaring multi-million-selling games to be disappointments, and D’Astous reports this extended behind the scenes as well. He recalls a meeting regarding the company’s financial performance for 2012, where the Eidos group of studios was expected to generate $65 million in profit. Instead, he was told the developers had lost $65 million that year.
Embracer Group confirmed that it had “entered into an agreement to acquire the development studios Crystal Dynamics, Eidos-Montréal, Square Enix Montréal, and a catalogue of IPs including Tomb Raider, Deus Ex, Thief, Legacy of Kain and more than 50 back-catalogue games from Square Enix” in May 2022.
D’Astous isn’t sure how effective the new ownership might be, however.
“[CEO Lars] Wingefors, I don’t know how he’s managing it up to now,” he said. “I mean, yes, leave autonomy [to the studios] to a certain point, but you leave autonomy when there’s a strong vision. IO knew what they wanted to do. I think they weren’t able to do it when they were within the group of Eidos because of head office, so that changed their lives for them. But I would leave certain groups autonomous when they have demonstrated that they have a clear vision, knowhow, and leadership. And again, I’ve mentioned all the heads of studios that left the three studios of Eidos. There’s a reason why I wasn’t the only one who left.”
“I hope that Lars really evaluated, spoke in deep conversation to see what they have as a plan, because the plan has not been successful in the last decade. I don’t know why it would be successful for the next ten years, because they’re the same people, the same actors are there. The same players are there.”
“If no changes are done, the train will continue to slow down.”