Behind the Scenes with Frictional Games
Hopefully most readers are aware of the masterpiece that is Amnesia; a tension packed horror title that already stands out as one of the classics of the genre – if not then you should read our Amnesia review
for more info. Suffice it to say though that the game received an astonishingly high level of coverage throughout the gaming media, with high review scores to match. ‘We were hoping for pretty high scores, but still got more than we thought we would,’ said Grip.
To put a little perspective on that success however Grip divulged a few sales figures, claiming that Amnesia has ‘currently sold 36,000 units (not including Russian retail), about 40 per cent of which have been sold on discounted pre-order.’ The sales are definitely a step up compared to previous titles, but compared to most modern releases, which will often sell a multiple of that in one day on just one console platform, it doesn’t seem that much. It’s enough to make us question what’s wrong with the world, though Frictional have a more optimistic outlook.
‘We’ve earned enough to recoup the expenses and have funding to make another game, so that feels ace,’ says Grip. Writing on the official blog, Frictional revealed they only hoped to sell 24,000 units, meaning Amnesia has far exceeded company expectations.
Review copies that had been leaked to pirates were a problem for Frictional
Yet even the release of Amnesia suffered a set back close to release, with a reviewers version of the game making its way onto file sharing networks just prior to launch – a potentially catastrophic setback for such a small studio.
‘We have no idea who it was that spread it, so we can’t do much. Whoever it was removed the tracking info we had added to the file,” said Grip. ‘It will mean we probably have to spend more time on review protection for our next game though, which is kind of annoying as we would rather develop a game than spend time on unrelated things like that.’
It’s a kick in the balls, really. Frictional is a small and very talented team that now has to spend time attempting to protect the review copies of games they send out free of charge to writers. Time they should be using creating some new experience for us all to enjoy. Frictional has explained via the company blog that in the future review copies may not make it to as many outlets, which wounds them as it means less column inches and potentially fewer sales…
Talking about future plans though, the team at Frictional seem well grounded, with little desire to become one of the gaming heavyweights in terms of size. ‘We don’t want to grow into a big company. We enjoy being a tight, small group that can focus on more niche and experimental games. I’m hoping we can keep doing this for a long time and help push the boundaries of the video game medium,’ says Grip.
The original Penumbra tech demo is where it all started
What’s really striking about the team though is how committed they are to the industry; Grip told us that the studio has been on the brink of closure on at least four occasions, only managing to keep going through sheer determination and luck. We reckon many others would have traded in their autonomy in favour of a steady paycheque from one of the bigger, safer publishers or developers.
Grip is unsurprisingly not overly eager to confess all about the future for Frictional, simply stating that ‘for our next game we aim to take our ideas a lot further than what we have done so far’ – which is an easy, evasive answer. All he will admit to is that work on HPL3 has already started, indicating that whatever direction those ideas head in then it’ll be another physics driven title.
‘Now that we’ve been doing this for some time, and we really are making games as a full time job, our goal has shifted towards being able to not be worrying about money so much,’ says Grip. ‘There have been so many times during the last three years that we thought we would have to quit and do something else instead. Constantly not knowing what will happen next month is quite demanding and takes its toll.’
The optimism is still there however. ‘After the release of Amnesia, things are definitely going the right way and, while we haven’t yet really reached the kind of financial security we would like, we are slowly getting there.’