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Last Updated: Sunday, 2 November, 2003, 11:32 GMT
French gamers get a helping hand
By David Reid
BBC Click Online

France's independent video games industry is slowly coming back to life, thanks to financial help from the French Government.

Screenshot of Eden's Kya
It's a big battle for small developers
The dot.com bubble burst and the dominance of big name producers and publishers has created a difficult climate for struggling independent developers with good ideas.

In July, the French Government announced its plan to offer four million euros (2.9m) to help aspiring game developers turn their ideas into reality.

The country is home to three of the world's top 10 video games publishers already, making it a leader in the games industry.

But many publishers are still feeling cautious, betting on developers who are designing for lucrative markets abroad.

Big players

Companies like Infogrames, the parent company of Atari, has done well to ride the wave of the video game boom.

It has published some of the world's best-selling titles, and it has the development budgets to prove it.

There have been very few European developers who have been able to deliver great international success... which is why publishers are now more focused on US developers, because it is a safer success
Raphael Colantonio, Arkane Studios

One of the games it is working on at Eden Studios is Kya: Dark Lineage for PlayStation 2, due to launch in November.

It vividly illustrates that as games have become more sophisticated, budgets have shot through the roof.

Ten years ago games cost about $200,000 to produce, but now they cost between $3m and $7m.

"It is expensive because you have about 24 months of production and the production team is about 20 and it can go up to about 40 in the peak," Stephane Baudet, head of Eden Studios, told ClickOnline.

"So it requires a lot of time and a lot of people."

With budgets mounting, production money is targeted rather than spread around, which is great if you have a proven track record as a developer and a winning formula.

It is not so good if you are a struggling independent looking to make your mark, explains Mr Baudet.

"The big players are winning and the smaller players are losing and it is going to be very difficult to reverse the trend right now."


With the French Government's intervention however, the smaller outfits are fighting back.

Arkane is one of 21 small studios awarded a state grant to get their video game project from drawing board to the console.

But with so much being invested in individual games, publishers are still cautious.

Screenshot of Eden's Kya
Publishers need to take a leap of faith in smaller outfits

Many are opting for developers which are more intimate with the industry's most lucrative mass market, the USA, says head of Arkane Studios Raphael Colantonio.

"There have been very few European developers who have been able to deliver great international success," he says.

"I think that's the reason why publishers such as Infogrames or Atari are now more focused on American developers, because for them it is a safer success.

"That is not necessarily true, but the situation is the market is difficult and the money is lower than it used to be, so people tend to make safer choices."

Touch of France

There is nothing new in France's government lending a hand to creative industries, such as cinema, which they invented.

France has long considered artistic products as "exceptions", unique to their cultural heritage, and so worthy of financial support or protection from the ruthless market.

But with the government wading in on behalf of small video game studios, the question is whether the joystick and the console will enjoy the protection of the "cultural exception francaise".

"I don't think that video games could fit within the 'exception francaise' because it is very difficult for us to convince the government that what we do is culture," says Mr Baudet.

"It is easier for them to finance and to help the cinema or the book industry, but the video industry is seen as a leisure something, and not very cultural."

That said, French video game designers do glory in the term the "French touch".

It describes the distinctive look of Gallic games, which is partly down to France's addiction to comic strips.

The young designers of video games are picking up a style where the country's cartoonists have left off.

With powerful video game publishers veering towards safe bets of games with an American look, perhaps, for the sake of diversity, a little state intervention is not such a bad idea.

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