Interview with Sabotage studio, winners of the Ubisoft indie Series 2018

The Ubisoft Indie series presented by Banque Nationale ended in March. The top Indie studios in the province competed against one another in this friendly competition which encourages the leadership of independent video games. During the celebratory gala on March 13, Studio Manavoid made off with the first prize that included a whopping $50,000, a mentor scheme with Ubisoft experts, a complete financial diagnostic offered by Banque Nationale, as well as a host of support activities to launch their game, Steamboat Billy: The Curse of the Leviathan.

The friendly founders of Studio Sabotage, who won the previous edition, had the pleasure of awarding the first prize to this year’s winners. We used this opportunity to talk to them about The Messenger’s phenomenal success and to find out more about what this dynamic duo – made up of Martin Brouard and Thierry Boulanger – have planned for the future. The timing could not be more relevant, they are launching Picnic Panic, a free DLC, today.

You could say that 2018 was a record year for you! What were the key moments in the launch of The Messenger?

Martin Brouard: There were a bunch of great and amazing moments! Straight after we presented our application for the Ubisoft Indie series, we officially revealed The Messenger with a teaser, and went to PAX. An article published in Polygon at the time generated plenty of interest and curiosity. During PAX South, we had our first contact with Devolver, and then announced a partnership right before the GDC. At the same time, we revealed that the game would be launched on Nintendo Switch.

Thierry Boulanger: Obviously, when we won the Ubisoft Indie series in March, that gave us another boost!

MB: In April, our presence in the Indie Megabooth at Pax East didn’t go unnoticed. Being there added a lot of prestige to the game. Then, there was the announcement of the partnership with Devolver and that continued to fuel the buzz around the game.

TB: That’s when we got the chance to make the most of the test lab equipment at Ubisoft Quebec.

MB: Then in June, there was the E3. I gave 29 interviews in 3 days! We traveled a lot to promote the game.

TB: In July, we worked really hard to finish the game. In August, Martin was at GamesCom and covered the European press, while I covered the West Coast. We were really busy!

MB: But it was all worth it! One of the best moments of 2018 was when we launched the game with the entire team in Seattle, on August 30. At the time, there was a big buzz around the game: lots of journalists had already tried it out and had shared the story of passion that underpins Sabotage.

Just over a year ago, you won the Ubisoft Indie series presented by Banque Nationale. How did this financial support and the expertise provided by Ubisoft help you with The Messenger?

TB: Thanks to the Indie series, we were able, among other things, to make the most of the playtest laboratory at Ubisoft Quebec. This resource turned up just at the right time in our development. We were really impressed when we got there: the moderators were already familiar with the game, the passwords and all the character names!

MB: We got lots of attention and plenty of expertise, and this enabled us to resolve certain issues we’d been having. This is partly why the game managed to achieve such a high level of quality. By observing the players, we were able to draw conclusions and make decisions that allowed us to adjust and fine-tune certain features of the game.

TB: We really took on board all the advice given to us by the Ubisoft Quebec team at every stage of the process! Since experiencing the user laboratory, I now watch people testing out the game in a different way. It was very informative, and the fit between ourselves and the team was excellent.

MB: It was truly a key resource. When the ratings began to come out, we had a lot of 10/10. The same was true for the players. There isn’t a day that goes by without us receiving messages or tweets to compliment us on the game. When the nominations for the main video game prizes began to come out and we were among them, it was such a great feeling! Bringing a game to life is always very stressful. You never know how it’s going to be received.

TB: We make adults cry!

MB: When you see that people have been touched by the game, it gives you such a high, because you realize all the hard work was worthwhile.

The numerous industry accolades must have helped! Also, your game caught the attention of the creators of Ninja Gaiden, the game that inspired The Messenger. What was it like to spend time with them and introduce them to your creation?

MB: We met them at BitSummit in Japan in May 2018 and they really liked the game.

TB: The director of the game and the composer were really flattered by the tribute, they thanked us! In fact, they were the ones who asked to have their picture taken with us. It was a really moving experience for us.

MB: Thierry was crying! Also, we have a video of the creators of Ninja Gaiden playing The Messenger and commenting on their experience; the composer even created some music inspired by our game! These parts are available on Steam.

In your opinion, what are the key elements in guaranteeing the success of an Indie game?

MB: Having a great understanding of the world of video games. Understanding what works, and why it does. You also need to know how to lead a team.

TB: A well-made game, created with passion, will work well. Is there enough wow factor? People need to be so blown away by it that they start spreading the word. In an Indie context, there is no huge marketing machine, and so word of mouth is vital. Today, you also need to consider streamers who love nothing more than experiences that will make them react, as it’s good content for them. Watching content creators who finish the game and shed a tear, that’s fun.

MB: You have to deliver on your promise and make sure it’s cool, flashy and fun to watch. There is a large community of retro speed-runner game followers, who are all mad about the genre. The game was conceived with that particular category of player in mind, and we’re always keen to get their feedback.

TB: We have players who still play every day! We would not have managed to get a 10/10 rating on Destructoid without the support and advice of Ubisoft.

MB: The response was so good that we were able to offer a free DLC!

Have you got any advice to give Manavoid, who won the Ubisoft Indie series presented by Banque Nationale this year?

TB: A very simple piece of advice: just ask! What seemed to us, with the resources of an Indie, like a mountain to climb was more easily (and rapidly) achievable for a studio the size of Ubisoft. I think that with the Indie Series, Ubisoft likes to see itself as a “big sister” company, as well as being a pillar in the community of video game creators here. Their desire to give back is genuine, and so too is their wish to help. They’re not simply there to look good and hand over a cheque. We felt this in all our interactions with the studio.

What does the future hold for Sabotage?

TB: In addition to the free DLC? More games!


To download The Messenger ot the Picnic Panic DLC: