We Happy Few Devs: It's "Not As Hard As People Think" To Maintain Creativity Inside Microsoft
"We have been told to keep making really weird, just different things."
Compulsion Games isn't too worried about operating under Microsoft's banner as part of the company's growing collection of Xbox Game Studios. The development team behind We Happy Few actually asserts that the Microsoft acquisition has afforded them the chance to more easily create unique experiences.
"That's actually removed a lot of the focus from finding where we're going to find the next paycheck to actually concentrating on what is it that we need to make great games," founder and creative director Guillaume Provost said in The Cost of Joy, a documentary recounting the history of Compulsion Games. "I can be more forward-looking to what we actually need in order to actually succeed. And [there's] a huge difference from having a big backer like Microsoft that's allowing us our creative space and our creative freedom, from being an independent developer that's starving all the time and looking for money. Build the team not just for the next game, but for the next series of games."
"Trying to maintain creativity inside an organization like Microsoft is not as hard as people think it is," producer Sam Abbott said. "It's really just about having a leadership group inside Microsoft that understands the value of creativity and creative games." Community developer Naila Hadjas added, "We have been told to keep making really weird, just different things. So, on the creative standpoint, it's just been all positive."
Microsoft's decision to acquire Compulsion Games as a first-party studio was one the We Happy Few developers did not anticipate. "I don't think that ever crossed our mind," Abbot said. "We're spending a lot of time figuring out, do we think that we can raise the standards of quality of the games we're building--can we become a real first-party studio?" Hadjas thinks they are up to the task, citing the team's history with Gearbox as an example of Compulsion Games efficiently working with a larger studio. "Working with Gearbox prepared us to work with Microsoft in a lot of ways because we let them into our world and we learned to be very concise and precise with our feedback back and forth," she said.
With the recent release of the We All Fall Down expansion, Compulsion Games has officially wrapped up We Happy Few. The game launched to mixed reviews--including ours here on GameSpot, where Alessandro Barbosa wrote, "[We Happy Few's] entire gameplay loop is underpinned by boring quests and long stretches of inaction. And even when it forces you to interact with its world beyond just walking to waypoints, combat, stealth, and otherwise fascinating societies fail to impose the right balance of challenge and tension."
Despite the rough start, Compulsion Games' continued support for We Happy Few is commendable, and the bug fixes, updates, and DLC expansions have created a much better, more cohesive experience overall. With the game now complete, Compulsion Games is probably hard at work on an upcoming Xbox first-party title--which, based on the timing, is likely to release for Microsoft's next-gen console, Xbox Series X, which is scheduled to launch during the holiday season in 2020.
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