In news that will be officially announced Friday, Arkane Studios boss and founder Raphael Colantonio (pictured, right) confirmed to GameSpot News that he has opened an Austin, Texas studio "to leverage the strength of both locations: Lyon and Austin."
Arkane is based in Lyon, France.
Saying that he fell in love with Austin some 10 years ago on a trip to EA-owned Origin Systems, Inc. (Colantonio was formerly an Electronic Arts employee), the decision to open a sister studio in Austin has long been on his mind. "I never really recovered" from the trip to Austin, Colantonio told GameSpot today.
Arkane, a 40-person studio best known for the medieval-fantasy role-playing game Arx Fatalis, is in the final stages of development on Dark Messiah of Might and Magic. While Colantonio already has a follow-up project in mind, the focus of the new studio will be to close the loop and deliver that close-to-finished title to publisher Ubisoft.
While stating one of the reasons he picked Austin for Arkane's expansion was due to that city's talent in the area of online gaming, when pressed if he and the team might soon focus on a massively multiplayer online title, all he would say was "we're interested in the online market, and we believe that the online component will be in many next-gen games." Adding to the mystery, Colantonio said, "There are other forms of online gaming we want to explore that haven't been done yet..."
(Longtime Austin-based game designer Warren Spector--now in charge of his own shop, Junction Point Studios--commented on the news, saying, "It's great to have another quality developer in Austin, especially one that makes the kind of games I like to play.")
Colantonio was in Austin finalizing the announcement on the new studio when GameSpot News caught up with him.
GameSpot: Why pick Austin to expand to? And why the US to begin with?
Raphael Colantonio: We picked the US because this is where a big part of our market is--and we have the desire to improve our international sales. Also, we believe in collaboration between the US and Europe in order to make the most compelling games, games that appeal to a majority of gamers.
GS: Why Austin?
RC: For many reasons: its strong developer community, online expertise, most of our favorite games were made here (so there is a rich ground of game design here that really appeals to us), the cost of labor is competitive when compared to other states in North America, and that fact that I fell in love with Austin about 10 years ago while visiting a friend who was working at Origin. I never really recovered.
GS: What are you plans with the new studio?
RC: Mainly to codevelop with the French studio on our future games. There are some complementary talent [in both locations].
GS: Will new studio staff be working on a new title?
RC: We're working on Dark Messiah for now.
GS: How many staffers do you intend to hire?
RC: Arkane Studios in France has about 40 Arkanites. We want to stay as small as possible, that's the way we like to work, so we tend to work with partners and externalize as much as possible. As for the Austin office, we plan on hiring about 15 people during the first year.
GS: What will Austin staffers work on after Dark Messiah ships?
RC: Well, first [they'll get] a good, well-deserved vacation, then we'll move on to the next project.
GS: Do you have any ongoing arrangement to use the Source engine in any upcoming games?
RC: We really like Valve, they've been very supportive to say the least. That's all I can say as of today. Our current focus is to ship Dark Messiah of Might and Magic.
GS: Who will be in charge of the studio? Do you have someone picked?
RC: For an initial "incubation" period, I will [be in charge].
GS: Thanks Rafael. Good luck in Austin.