EGX Rezzed 2017: Interview with Phil Elliott, Project Lead for the Square Enix Collective
Most people reading this will already be familiar with Square Enix, developers of the phenomenal Final Fantasy series and Kingdom Hearts but did you know that they also help indie developers? This is done through the Square Enix Collective initiative.
At this year's EGX Rezzed, the Collective were showcasing eight indie titles ranging from a Communist dystopian puzzle game to a capture-the-flag inspired couch multiplayer. There were also debuting the latest title by the same team that developed The Turing Test in a World Exclusive session.
During the event, I sat down with the creator and project lead of the Collective, Phil Elliott, to talk about what the Collective does and how it helps indie developers.
Forgotten Anne debuted at EGX 2016
ESpalding: Welcome, Phil. Many thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk to you. To start with, please could you explain the Square Enix Collective to our readers.
Phil Elliott: Collective is, essentially, a service provider for indie developers. We work with teams in a range of ways – building community (via pitches on the Collective website), we’ve helped support teams through crowdfunding in the past few years (raising over $1.2m in the process), and last year we started publishing games to help developers get the most from their releases.
It’s always with developer choice as priority – so there’s no ‘lock-in’ to have to work with us; and developers always retain full IP rights and ownership of their games. So our intention is to build relationships, help find and support new talent, understand the market better (and understand more fully the kinds of games that people want to play), and help to build sustainable business in what is a challenging and ‘noisy’ industry.
Screenshot from Goetia, first game released through Square Enix Collective
ES: The Square Enix Collective isn't your normal indie publisher as you focus, predominantly focus on community. Why was it decided to go that route rather than just being an indie publisher?
PE: Well, as a business, Square Enix has been looking for ways to bring the community into what we do more and more. You may have seen the Just Cause 2 multiplayer mod for PC a few years ago; normally that kind of thing might not have been allowed to continue, but we saw so many people having fun with it, so we spent time to find a way to legitimise it, and support it.
Another example is the way that the Final Fantasy XV team were so keen to get feedback on the ongoing development of the game, to enable that community a voice, that they released a demo very early -- and then updated it based on feedback. I think that kind of approach was unprecedented.
So as a business... although inevitably it may not always seem like it... we’re constantly listening to what the community is saying, and that feedback does lead to change. Maybe not overnight, but Collective’s community focus is another part of that.
The Turing Test. Released through the Collective in 2016
ES: So, what criteria do you have for developers who want to get involved with the Collective?
PE: That really depends on what kind of support they’re looking for. If it’s the community and awareness building bit, we open submissions to the Collective website on the 20th of each month for a couple of days, and then promote one new pitch every week to the Square Enix community.
For publishing options, it’s very broad, but currently we’re looking for teams who need marketing and release support – although at other times of the year we will be able to support with some production funding too. Ultimately, we’re interested in cool games that show a glimpse of the developers’ talent, and has some element that’s better or different to games that are already out there. But there are no specific genre requirements.
Oh My Godheads is currently on Early Access
ES: At this year's Rezzed, Collective were showing 8 games plus Bulkhead Interactive's new game Battalion 1944 which is an increase from last year so does this mean that "the word is out" and the Collective is growing?
PE: I hope so! But I also think it’s partly down to our steady growth since we first launched the website in 2014. We were always very clear that we needed to experiment and find the best route before expanding to new areas – so we’re on track compared to where we planned to be initially.
We believe we have capacity to publish up to 10 games per year – but we also have to be flexible, so if a team needs more time, occasionally that will mean schedule changes. Originally we probably expected a couple more to be released in 2016, but the games will be all the better for the extra polish.
Of course, we still plan to evolve and grow based on feedback and results, and I expect us to keep learning the whole time.
Battalion 1944 debuted at Rezzed 2017
ES: Battalion 1944 had its first public showing at this year's Rezzed. How has been the reception been?
PE: Really great! It was a bit nerve-wracking ahead of the event, because the build is still in such an early state, but I can happily say we were blown away by the positive feedback from people who played the game. We’re really happy to be working with the Bulkhead Interactive team once more, and also in a genre that Square Enix isn’t known for -- we have so much planned for the game, and I can’t wait to see it all build out.
ES: So, what are the Collective's plan going forward between now and next years event?
PE: The key ambition for us in 2017 is to just do the best possible job on the games we’re releasing. That’s really what we’re focused on, so at this point I’m not anticipating another jump in the same way we saw in the past 12 months. I’m looking forward to signing new teams to the label, and if we’re back in 2018 with eight new games, that will be an exciting prospect for us!
ES: Well, I'm very much looking forward to seeing what comes next for you! Thank you for giving me a moment of your time and for giving our readers a little insight into what the Square Enix Collective does. I'm sure it has come as a surprise to those who thought that you are just a normal game publisher. We wish you all the best for the future!
For anyone who wants to go and check what games are currently looking for votes, you can head to the Square Enix Collective website and vote for the ones you like the look of.