Building a new AAA game studio from scratch

In today's gaming industry, where AAA studios layoff staff left and right, is it even possible for a relatively unknown developer to rise up and challenge the status quo?

As a gamer, I love playing all kinds of games; from the AAA blockbusters to the tiny independent games spanning many genres. I've played and equally enjoyed over 100 hours of both the Witcher 3 and Darkest Dungeon. On one hand, you have an 800-developer strong, multi-site studio with CD Projekt making their 3rd game in the Witcher franchise and on the other, there's a 2-person independent startup - Red Hook Studios - releasing Darkest Dungeon. It's amazing to me to see such a wide competitive landscape with developers of all sizes and backgrounds competing equally for the attention of gamers.

While independent developers like Red Hook Studios are outstanding role models for other independent startups, what kind of role models do aspiring AAA developers have?

AAA Studio Role Models

I founded Tuque Games with the goal of building a AAA independent studio from scratch. I’ve been making games in Montreal for over 20 years and in 2012 - a few months before the demise of THQ - my last “job” in the industry - I felt like the time was right for me to take on the challenge. Earlier in my career, I had learned the ropes of making quality games at Ubisoft Montreal. While at Ubi, I was in company of some of the greatest developers in the world. Indeed, we built a AAA studio from scratch back then. We went from basic licensed games with Batman, Playmobil and Disney games to Far Cry, Splinter Cell, Prince of Persia, Assassin’s Creed and Rainbow Six. I was lucky to start at Ubi when it was relatively small. Today, Ubisoft Montreal employs over 3000 talented developers and is a shining example of a AAA studio who consistently produces critically and commercially successful games. Ubisoft Montreal became a AAA quality studio when it came out of hiding with the games mentioned above. But that was over 15 years ago! The 2000s were a time that saw many amazing studios emerge into AAA status as well. There are many more but some of the studios that I looked up to then were Bioware, CD Projekt Red, Infinity Ward, Rockstar, From Software, Gearbox, Epic Games, Sony Santa Monica and Naughty Dog.

More recently, the 2010s have also seen the emergence of other outstanding AAA studios. Rocksteady, Arkane Studios and Respawn Entertainment.

Getting the training wheels off

Coming back to Tuque Games, our approach is to build a AAA studio one step at a time. We need to earn the right to take each step, one victory at a time. We’re proud of our first studio title: Livelock. I personally think the hardest step for any business to take is the first one. With Livelock we managed to ship a game and have it not be a complete disaster! The game is fun to play, has an interesting twist on the twin-stick genre and it showcases some technical expertise uncommon in most games today. Livelock was definitely a production that allowed us to get our training wheels off and set us up for the next step towards building our own AAA studio from scratch.

Building a Dungeons and Dragons Game

In June of last year, we employed 12 developers and were deep in pre-production on our next title. Today we are 45 strong and growing. We’re happy to say that we’re working on a Dungeons and Dragons game with Wizards of the Coast. We can’t reveal anything specifically about the game just yet but we can’t wait to show more, even though it likely won’t be a while until we’re ready to.

by Jeff Hattem - Founder Tuque Games, follow me on Twitter @jeffhattem