Arkane’s founder on why he’s ready to leave Prey devs

Raphael Colantonio, president and founder of Arkane Studios, announced that he was leaving the company earlier this week. Colantonio started Arkane in 1999 and was most recently the creative director on Prey [official site]. Today, at Gamelab Barcelona, he reflected on his time at Arkane and what prompted his departure.

“It’s one of those things you don’t realise until it starts to hurt,” he told Eurogamer’s Robert Purchese, who was interviewing him on stage. “I’m someone with a lot of drive; driven by adventure and I like what I do a lot. Probably about a year or two ago, I started to feel a slow need for focusing on things that are not work-related.”

He’s now looking forward to spending more time with his son while working on personal projects and playing music, but he was also clear that he didn’t plan to leave the industry forever.

“What I need now is a vacation. Imagine not taking a vacation for 18 years. When you own a company, vacations aren’t real vacations because you never stop working. I just want to go through a phase of figuring out what I do next. I don’t think I’m done with games forever. I love games. But I don’t feel like working on a new big game right now. I’ve done it so many times, I just want to think about other things.”

Although he’s ready for something new, Colantonio talked about his love for both Arkane and its owner Bethesda.

“I love Arkane, I love Bethesda and it’s been 18 years of very fascinating adventures, and some super-hard times. As you know we were independent for a while and had a lot of struggles as independent developers know. Leaving this is a hard, hard choice.

“The studio had almost collapsed for the third time and I did an interview with, I think, Gamesindustry.biz where I was talking about how dire our situation was,” he said. “The VP of Bethesda was a big fan of our work since Arx Fatalis, and we’d met him when we were pitching Arx Fatalis 2 [which became Dark Messiah under Ubisoft] but I hadn’t realised how much he’d been waiting to work with us. He loved those first-person immersive games and wanted Bethesda to be making those games.”

Their collaboration led to Dishonored, the studio’s first-person stealth game and first major hit. “Dishonored was the first time we could finally make a game that was both true to all the values we have and at the same time understood by the publisher, marketed right, and with the right financial backing. For us, that was the moment when we felt successful. It was exactly the game we had wanted to make.”

Colantonio is confident, however, that both Lyon and Austin studios will be fine without him. “Both Arkane studios have games coming so I’m not worried about the quality of the games. I’ll handle the handover of the Lyon studio and Harvey [Smith] will remain.”

Our Adam was in the audience for the talk, and we’ll have more coverage from Gamelab Barcelona next week.

40 Comments

  1. Ghostwise says:

    That Raphaël could keep Arkane alive through the lean, bad years is remarkable. Not too many French studios did.

    Pity he’s burning out just as Arkane is becoming a #brand at last (with the success of Prey compensating for the launch issues of D2).

    • Sardonic says:

      Prey seems like it’s flopped on release, sadly. Steamspy puts it at only 300k or so. I expect it will be a game with a very long tail though because it’s that damn good, and I’m sure word of mouth will spread as more people play it.

      • causticnl says:

        sold 2 million on ps4 alone, flopped you said?

        • Sardonic says:

          Console gamers arn’t people.

          Just kidding, but that is heartening, I had assumed its poor performance on steam indicated it had flopped hard.

        • aepervius says:

          Depending on dev/maintenance (dev cost do not stop with the game being out) and marketing cost yes 2 millions copy sold might be a flop.

      • po says:

        I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me it’s over that ~£30 price where I’m not going to buy it until it’s on sale. If others have the same mentality (willing to wait for the sake of keeping our game spending at least partially under control), then that could delay quite a few sales until well after release.

        I feel the games market is being absolutely flooded with better and better quality small games, to the point the big games, with their higher costs are actually having to compete in the market, in more ways than just graphics and franchise names.

        Sure you’ve got your CoD and Battlefield gamers, who won’t touch anything that doesn’t have advertising plastered all over the mainstream media, but I’d say there’s a growing number of gamers who’re sick of microtransactions, day-1 DLC, bought reviews, and all the hype and disappointment that AAA has been churning out for years, and now they’re more willing to give the little guys a chance, and less willing to pay full whack on release for a AAA.

        Better to wait for the reviews then a sale, and pay a price closer to what it’s worth, rather than what the hype would have you believe.

        It’s a good game, just not a 90%+ game.

        • RaoulDuke says:

          You can get Prey + the Pre-Order DLC here for £25.99 – link to cdkeys.com

          I’m waiting for it to go <£20 even though I'm sure I'd love it, based on what I've heard, I just have too many games right now.

    • Sin Vega says:

      To be fair, it doesn’t sound like burnout to me, just time for a break, and perhaps to move on. He’s obviously worked very hard but I don’t discern any disillusionment or bitterness or sheer numbness towards the industry or the craft.

      • Ghostwise says:

        Your definition of “burn out” seems grimmer than mine.

        But then I suspect that usage has indeed evolved in that direction. Leaving me a sad relic of the past with my horse, my sextant and my glaive-guisarme.

  2. jellydonut says:

    In 2-3 years he’ll be back, pitching some amazing nostalgia on Kickstarter.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Martell says:

    What hurts me is that brilliant games like Prey and Dishonored 2 didn’t do well, and stuff like, I dunno, Tropico keeps churning out sequels every couple years, regular as clockwork.

    I mean I really enjoy Tropico’s music, but they aren’t revolutionary, are barely evolutionary, and yet somehow they have a nice healthy profit margin.

    • yogibbear says:

      It’s probably not much of a stretch to figure that Prey has to compete with the likes of AssCreed and FarCrack whereas what exactly is competing with Tropico? Sim City 5?

      • TychoCelchuuu says:

        Cities: Buttlines, Civilasszation, Buttished, Prison Asschitect, Transport Tycoon Buttluxe, Asshole 2205, The Guild II: Renassance, etc.

        • FredSaberhagen says:

          ^ sounds like Robert yang has been releasing more games I need to check out

        • Stingy McDuck says:

          Dude, you are killing me. Why do I have to read this when I’m at work? I look so stupid when holding my laugh.

    • davethejuggler says:

      I’d imagine that the cost of developing something like tropico is a fraction of dishonored or prey so it doesn’t have to sell anywhere near as many to constitute a success. Also as yogi said, tropico lives in a far less populous genre filled with mostly mediocre games, none of which are really any more revolutionary than tropico.

      I still listen to the soundtrack from tropico 2: pirate cove. Brilliant!

    • Archonsod says:

      Tropico is a completely different game though. I enjoy that, got bored of Dishonoured shortly after the tutorial and have zero interest in either it’s sequel or Prey. To be fair it’s not entirely Arkane’s fault; having sat through the early noughties period where everyone and their dog thought arbitrary stealth sections were a good idea I’m still firmly of the mind that any developer who even thinks about some kind of stealth mechanic needs to be taken somewhere and shot for the good of humanity.

      • Blake Casimir says:

        It seems odd that as someone that openly dislikes stealth in games would attempt to play two of the greatest immersive sims ever – a type of game that practically encourages the player to choose how to play the game because no particular play style is overtly enforced – in a way that you don’t like.

        • Premium User Badge

          subdog says:

          Ehhh. Ignoring stealth in Prey is doable, especially on lower difficulties, but Dishonored is a straight-up stealth game. That would be like playing DOOM (2016) without using the glory kills.

          • Stingy McDuck says:

            “Ignoring stealth in Prey is doable” What? I thought non-stealth was the only choice? I massacred every typhon I found in my way.

            As for Dishonored, the real choice isn’t about being stealthy or not. It’s about killing nobody, killing everyone professionally or making a big bloody mess.

      • poliovaccine says:

        As someone for whom the FPS genre seemed a barren, machismo wasteland until the advent of the stealth game, methinks you’re just playing games which were never meant for you.

        Personally, I see Dishonored and Prey as slowly yet dilligently working to carve out a space in modern gaming creepy freaks like me can call our niche again. There was nothing to interest me in the world of gaming for *years upon years* – coincidentally spanning that mid-00’s period you mention – and so it makes perfect sense to me if the audience for these games remains small – nuanced, simulation-heavy gaming was nearly murdered, its immune response will naturally be weaker whilst still in a coma. Dishonored 2 is not a failure, it’s a second round of anticonvulsants to treat the patient’s increasing temporal lobe epilepsy. The effects wont be evident til the medicine has had a chance to take its course.

        But for real, those devs who built those painfully obligatory mid-00’s “stealth” sections you’re thinking of? They were *never* thinking about stealth – they put it in their game, sure, but they were never *thinking* about it. If that’s what springs to mind when you see the words “stealth game,” that’s not because that’s what stealth games actually are – no no not at all, goodness me – what you were witnessing there was a moment when the patient made some indistinct but, crucially, *independent* vocal utterances, and for one fragile, nitroglycerine moment, we all quietly hoped this meant we were at the cusp of awakening and recovery… but alas those vocalizations signaled only that the patient had quite dramatically shat himself, before suffering a complete remission.

        Prey wasnt a flop, it was promising test results. In a case such as this, the loved ones must accept there are no guarantees, but the Prey results lend cause to hope, dammit, and when that’s all you have that’s all you need!

        *glares out 5th floor hospital window at rain-slicked night below, female lead onlooking with weary concern in background*

      • Premium User Badge

        Martell says:

        The genius of System Shock 2 and its best clones wasn’t the stealth/assault dualism, it’s exploration. The sheer joy of finding two boxes of caviar above a roof panel, or a password for a safe under a pillow, or realizing that you can jump to a ledge, break a window, and open a locked door from the inside, those things made Prey awesome for me.

        The Dishonoreds have it to a lesser extent, and the Bioshocks lack that, despite their excellent atmosphere.

    • ancipital says:

      Dishonored 2 is probably doing badly on Steam due to onerous third-party DRM. Luckily, Steam warns you about that sort of thing, so when you see it you can google about the extent of the problem.

      I loved Dishonored, despite some weird bugs (unconscious policemen falling though the bottom of a boat after a couple of mins and drowning, ruining a no-kills playthrough was my favourite). I was looking forward to the sequel. However, having seen the general pain levels out there regarding the DRM, I’m going to skip it.

      I’d imagine that this scares a lot of Steam customers away, and of course isn’t an issue for console players.

  4. Premium User Badge

    subdog says:

    Arx, Messiah, Prey, and Dishonored have earned Colantonio a spot in the PC gaming pantheon of elite devs. I hope he enjoys the time off, and I look forward to his return.

  5. draglikepull says:

    Seems like I’m in the minority around these parts, but I thought Dishonored 2 was fanastic and I quickly became bored with Prey.

    I think Dishonored 2 has a fascinating setting, some exceptional level design, and a lot of cool ideas about how you can interact with the world. Prey, on the other hand, felt like Bioshock with a bunch of RPG-ish busy-work and none of Bioshock’s amazing art or world design.

    • Blake Casimir says:

      Bioshock may have had a great art style and good world-building, but the level design was ultimately quite linear and came no-where close the fantastic open world of Talos 1. I would suggest you go back and try the game again, Prey really is one of the greatest immersive sims in existence, just with not the most exciting combat.

      As it happens, I came away feeling that Dishonored 2 was the weaker experience. Still a brilliant immersive sim but with one weak spot: unengaging plot / poor character development. Made up for by the incredible world building and level design though.

    • Whelp says:

      Have you even played Prey? It’s amazing and a true spiritual successor to System Shock 2.

    • Zenicetus says:

      Well, you’re not alone. I enjoyed Dishonored 2, with only a few mild complaints about re-use of enemy types (got really tired of sneaking past/killing the same guards). The level design was excellent, and the powers were fun to use.

      I had trouble getting into Prey. It’s on the shelf for now, about halfway through the game and I’m not sure I’ll go back. It took the only thing I didn’t like about Dishonored 2 — the repetitive enemies — and made the enemies even more repetitive and basic. The environment design started out looking interesting, but didn’t have that much variety either.

      I think I’m also getting tired of game setups where you’re alone (mostly), and wandering through an environment where everything is trying to kill you. I know… System Shock, Bioshock, yada yada. But I’ve seen that too many times now. I’m getting to the point where at least a semi-populated environment like the Dishonored series holds more potential, and is more fun to wander through.

    • Stingy McDuck says:

      Prey it’s a little boring at first, but when you familiarize yourself with it’s mechanics, it’s a joy to play.

    • mavrik says:

      I actually thought Prey was a poor less polished copy of Dishonored 2 for a long while. Which didn’t bother me too much (I love the genre and we can’t have too many immersive sims), but after Arburetum things just “clicked” for me and I started hugely enjoying it in a significantly different way than Dishonored.

      They’re both excellent games.

      • Jenuall says:

        Interesting, it was around about the arboretum / crew quarters area that the game started to dip for me.

        The game as a whole was wonderful, easily one of my favourites of recent years, but I found the interesting design and layouts of the opening few decks slowly dried up into some less interesting (play-wise) spaces later on.

  6. haldolium says:

    Pretty much what I assumed in the other news about it. Really common departure for a high level person after so many years.

  7. SaintAn says:

    The Beth/Zeni boycott forced him out and now he’s trying to do damage control about it. Too bad, paid mods and those who support them will not be allowed.

    • Seyda Neen says:

      You know regular free mods aren’t going away, right?

    • Captain Yesterday says:

      I just bought a copy of Dishonored 2, but whatever. Go boycott!

    • Nevard says:

      I’ve not even heard of a beth/zenimax boycott and I doubt it impinged even slightly onto his decision making.

    • 4Valhal says:

      Boycott? o.0 Lol.