2020 in video games: Spiders’ Jehanne Rousseau on open-world RPGs, indie and AA scene, and dialog with players

Joining us today for a quick but thoughtful recap of 2020 is Jehanne Rousseau, founder and CEO of French indie studio Spiders.

Jehanne Rousseau

Jehanne Rousseau, Spiders founder and CEO

How did 2020 treat Spiders?

It has been a strange year, but it’s difficult to complain compared to other fields of activity. Even if we had a lockdown and the whole team had to work remotely, our workflows and the moment of the development allowed us to continue the production with only small delays. We even managed to recruit more people. The main problem is probably to keep the team’s morale and creativity high.

Of course, it’s easier to work remotely on some production tasks than on some real creative tasks. We were lucky enough to have nearly finished the preproduction when the lockdown was announced, so… I mean we would all love, like anyone else, to go back to “normal” but in many aspects we were lucky, and it also probably improved our management of the remote work, which has seduced many employees at our company.

What new trends in your niche would you say deserve attention?

If we’re talking about the video game industry, I would say that what happened globally will probably change the way many teams work. With more work from home, more communication tools to allow remote meetings etc. I really think that even if the whole situation is solved in the coming month, the video game industry will probably continue to use at least part of what it has learned during this past year.

If we’re talking more about RPGs… well I think that even if open worlds are still a very attractive idea for many players, more of them understand how difficult it is to handle them properly. Which will be a relief for us small teams! You can’t imagine the number of times I was asked: why are you not developing real open worlds? I always had to explain how difficult and time-consuming it is, and I’m not sure that the journalists I was talking to were really convinced. Now they will probably understand that better. But RPGs really have an audience, many very engaged players that are really interested in deep stories and characters, beautifully crafted universes, and of course strong progression and combat mechanics. There’s still we can improve in that kind of games. Some titles are definitely showing a way I would love to experiment with (Disco Elysium for example, even if it’s an open world, it’s definitely a different kind of game).

GreedFall (2019)

Any general trends across the video games industry that stand out to you?

To be honest, the year that just happened made it difficult to make projections, but I think the indie and AA scene will continue to grow. The bigger titles will continue to exist and to be very important on the market of course, but during the lockdown, when a lot of people were looking for more games to play or to discover, the small titles managed to find an audience that will not abandon them now. At least I hope for it because it’s very good news. Indies mostly can bring ideas that big titles can’t try. The indie scene is like a laboratory for new kinds of gameplay, and knowing that they will probably find their audience more easily is really exciting.

I also think the “feel good games” will also continue to grow. It was really a niche, and the difficulties of the last months made them more trending.

And of course, I think the reputation of video games as a media is now definitely settled. For years gamers were treated like weirdos by many, but with the nearly worldwide lockdown, a lot of people played games, probably more than ever. There was a lot of interest for a great variety of games, from Animal Crossing to Cyberpunk… It will have a massive impact on how the general public perceive video games and gamers.

As a studio, what are you going to strategically focus on in 2021?

As you may have seen, we are developing an enhanced edition with some additional content for Greedfall on next gen. We’re very proud of the success of our game. For a team like ours, it’s really an accomplishment. We love that world and of course we are really happy to be able to bring a little more lore to it. It’s also a good way to explore the next-gen consoles. Through Greedfall we were able to create a connection to our players that will be really important to us in the future, and we hope they won’t be disappointed by this next-gen edition.

Because we still have a lot of work on Steelrising, even if it’s a different kind of game, more “brutal” than Greedfall, the most important thing for us will be to maintain this strong connection with our players, to let them participate in some ways in the development. It’s been difficult sometimes to work alone at home, sometimes you feel “disconnected,” so I really hope establishing a dialog with our players will allow us to improve our games, and the experience we will be able to bring them through our creations. It’s also very important for our own involvement into what we are creating.

Steelrising trailer

Which third-party titles were you personally excited about as a gamer?

Well, my main excitement this year was definitely the anticipated access to Baldur’s Gate 3, and even if the actual release still needs a lot of work (and more content, I’ve seen this Underdark too much already!) I’m confident that this game will be huge. I already love it dearly. 

Like many, I was also waiting to see what Cyberpunk would bring us, to be perfectly honest, I didn’t have time for now to immerse myself into the game so I won’t give feedback on it just yet, it wouldn’t be fair.

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