En Garde developers reveal the ups and downs of starting a studio early in their career

I know a lot of you are likely interested in starting your own game studio, and are likely doing so at an earlier stage in your game dev career. Today, we’re going to look at a recent interview Fireplace Games held with GameIndustry.biz on this very matter, in hopes that some of their challenges and how they overcame them can be useful to you as you make such a large consideration. Their story is a testament to ambition, teamwork, and the unexpected twists and turns that can shape a dream.

Anaïs Simonnet, Fireplace’s CEO recalled the unexpected interest they received for their game, which, by the way, releases in just two days on August 16, 2023: “We didn’t think about doing anything more with it at first,” she says. “Actually, when we put it online (on Itch.io), we had a lot of messages from people who told us they liked it, and publishers and investors were also really interested in it. That was a surprise for us.”

En Garde! – the swashbuckler action game! Battle graceless guards and nefarious noblemen in fast-paced fights full of spectacle. Use the environment, your wit and your blade to teach them all a lesson!

Steam – Release date: August 16, 2023

Bridging the Dream and Reality

Despite this, success was never a straight line for them, and spinning up the studio itself was quite the mammoth task. Julien Fenoglio, their concept artist and writer, lays it out flat. “While there is a continuity, it’s not like we went out of school, got good feedback, and then founded Fireplace Games,” he mentions. “Each of us spent about two years either working in bigger studios or freelancing. It was this time that gave us ideas on how we wanted to run a studio, because we had a taste of how bigger studios operate and how other people were doing.”

It was this industry experience that set the foundation for their own efforts. Simonnet candidly shares her motivation too stating, “I wasn’t feeling really good in my job. I started to realize that the gaming industry was not as ideal as I thought when I was a student and I had a strong desire to one day make something else, just to try to launch my own company and try to do it differently.”

Taking the plunge into entrepreneurship was a cautious decision, but not one without risk, of course. “A condition for a lot of us was that we wouldn’t start the company if we didn’t have a finance deal ready to sign,” she explains, shedding light on the practical concerns that grounded their aspirations.

Student vs. Professional: A Reality Check

Anaïs also reflected on the stark differences between learning game development as a student and facing its challenges in the real world. “When you’re a student, you learn how to make video games, and when you start working in the industry you realise that, actually, no one really knows what they’re doing,” she reveals. Her approach? “There’s a lot of theory you can learn from books and YouTube videos.

That basic understanding allowed us to talk to more experienced people who lived through actual studio launches and game releases.” In essence, they used this realization to push for more relatable and humanized interactions with those they initially thought were higher up or out of their league. We’re all just humans trying to figure things out at the end of the day, right?

Her leadership style also deviates from conventional norms, and this may be responsible for their startup success. “I’m not the kind of CEO with a big vision that I want others to follow,” she declares. “It’s the other way around. I listen to what everyone wants to make, and then I find a compromise and make decisions that are good for all of us.” And her thoughts on teamwork are crystal clear as well: “The skill to communicate a compromise is hopefully what teamwork should be.”

In other words, don’t try to be Walt Disney. While every team needs leadership, smaller startups benefit more from helping everyone feel included and heard, and perhaps you in your finite wisdom and vision would benefit from what others bring to the table. A team is a team not just for getting the dirty work done, but also for vision casting and imagining!

Beyond that, I think it’s clear that honing your craft and focusing on what you can accomplish at the stage you’re currently at is more important. You’ll get to where you want to be faster if you take it one step at a time rather than leaping and falling on your face, and then repeating that over and over again.

Adapting and Overcoming

Similarly, each person has to wear many hats, and swap between them frequently. Smaller teams with limited resources rely on the flexibility of freelance work and adaptable individuals. Take Julien Fenoglio, for example. His journey within Fireplace Games mirrors the adaptive nature we’re speaking of. “I’ve started as an art director for the studio, then I ended up more of a writer… Because the project was very horizontal in the first year, I got an understanding of how a lot of things in games work,” he said.

But it wasn’t always smooth sailing for Anaïs and her team. Talking about their challenges, she gets candid: “Each time we had a difficult situation, we chose to take a risk… let’s try new things, let’s be brave, what’s the point otherwise.” Clearly, while proper planning takes precedence over jumping without looking, a bit of entrepreneurial spirit and a passion or fire for the unknown are equally as important in their own way!

After all, most startups were born from this very approach, and later gained more of a structure once they realized it was necessary for long-term growth and sustainability. In other words, passion and ‘panache’ only take you so far, but they’re oftentimes the very thing needed to kick the engines into gear.

A bit of panache

She concludes the interview with a philosophical reflection inspired by a play from 1897: “Cyrano de Bergerac gives panache a sort of double meaning – on one hand it means to be coy, and on the other it means the refusal to give in to tragedy, and that’s what we want to be.”

Honestly, there’s no better origin story for a swashbuckling team of developers creating En Garde than the idea of being clever and resourceful while hoping to avoid their studio’s death. So, perhaps balancing the two for yourself would be the right approach. One thing I know is that we must learn from those who have already walked the path.

Often, we can’t see the beginnings of larger studios beyond a codumentary that’s limited in the details it shares, but Fireplace Games is being very transparent and very open, and they aren’t a large studio by any means. This means there’s plenty of hope for your own studio, and it’s not entirely out of reach. Let their story be a beacon to you in your journey to release your first game and beyond. With a bit of passion, patience, and a little bit of panache, who knows where your dreams may take you!

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