Best known for its online games in Asia, the Chinese giant NetEase is not associated with a large narrative video game. This is the ambition of its new Bad Brain studio announced on Tuesday, whose Montreal and Toronto branches will be dedicated to an original franchise, an open world steeped in horror and adventure, inspired by cult films from the 1960s. 1980.
This great production, a “AAA” in the jargon, is intended to be in line with works with strong scripts a la God of War, The Last of Us and The Legend of Zelda. A somewhat irreverent launch video posted on YouTube gives a glimpse into the spirit of the new Bad Brain studio. A CEO betting on the paid trends of the hour – metaverses, non-fungible tokens and aggressive monetization – sees the brains of his collaborators explode and break free.
“We wanted to do something out of the ordinary, to have fun with industry trends, to have fun with ourselves,” says Guillaume Apesteguy, creative director at Bad Brain Game Studios. For us, it’s a real passion project, we had the chance with NetEase to meet a partner who allows us to be creatively free, without having immediate pressure. »
With some 31,000 employees and revenues approaching 14 billion US in 2022, NetEase is considered the number two in video games in China behind Tencent. Its catalog of 24 active games, out of a hundred produced since its founding in 1997, mainly includes mobile and PC games that are very popular in Asia. Knives Out, Naraka: Bladepoint and Identity V are the best known. However, the Chinese giant does not hide its intention to dabble in the more prestigious but riskier market for large-scale narrative games, having notably acquired Quantic Dream, developer of the narrative jewels Detroit: Become Human and Beyond: Two Souls, in August 2022.
Led by Sean Crooks, a producer at Ubisoft Montreal, Toronto and Britain for 12 years on games like Watch Dogs and Just Dance, the group of veterans recruited for Bad Brain were won over by NetEase’s approach, says Apesteguy . “Their first question was, ‘What game do you want to make?’ For them, it is an opportunity to let Canadian creators express themselves freely. We are convinced that this is the best way to have quality games, motivated teams who work passionately on what they want to create. »
About twenty people are part of the starting team of Bad Brain, which will be divided equally between Montreal and Toronto without specialization. The final team size and launch date are yet to be determined. “It’s still relatively early in the creative process,” replies the creative director. Making an open-world game takes time. Being 100% owned by NetEase brings “some financial security while […] giving creative autonomy,” he says.
The first Bad Brain game is “a meeting between Steven Spielberg and Stephen King”, he summarizes, in the same spirit of the 1980s as the series Stranger Things, with its music and its cult films. “It’s something we all grew up with on the team. If we want to touch the players, it has to touch us. »
This game will not be of the “persistent universe” type, he specifies, the one that has the studios salivating with its promise of regular income. “We are more focused on delivering quality than quantity. We prefer that the player live a memorable experience rather than absolutely trying to get more of his time. »