PSLS Presents – Yan Marchal, CEO & Founder of Sanuk Games

April 7, 2010Written by Dan Massi

Revealed three weeks ago, Hysteria Project is looking like one of the more interesting PSP/PS3 Minis to date. Originally an award-winning iPhone game, developed by Bulkypix, is now being ported to the PlayStation platform, courtesy of the folks at Sanuk Games. PlayStation LifeStyle recently caught up with Yan Marchal, CEO and founder of Sanuk Games, to talk Hysteria Project, the PlayStation Move, the future of the company, and more.

PlayStation LifeStyle: Who are you, and what is your position at Sanuk Games?

I am a 37 years old Frenchman. I have been into game development since way back in the mid-80s, when I was a teen. Back then I was developing demos on Atari ST. After I completed software engineering studies in 1995, I joined Ubisoft in Paris, where I served as a programmer during 8 years. I worked on a number of different things, most notably the F1 Racing game series. Then I started Sanuk Games in Thailand in 2003. Over the years, Sanuk Games grew from a small company with a handful of young graduates to a mid-size studio with around 40 persons at its peak. More recently the company had to shrink due to the business slowdown – we have reduced the headcount to 25, but we’re now a much more experienced and efficient team. I tend to entrust my colleagues with design and production management, while I focus more on strategic decisions and business development.

PSLS: You worked for Ubisoft France for eight years, then in 2003, you formed your own company. What made the decision to do so?

While I had enjoyed programming very much, after 8 years I was willing to broaden my scope of action, and there was no such opportunity for me at Ubisoft. I was also attracted by entrepreneurship. In 2003, Ubisoft was downsizing its Paris studio and offering some employees to leave against a severance check. I proposed them to leave without severance if they could accept to buy a certain amount of service from my newly founded company, in order to help me startup. They accepted.

PSLS: Sanuk Games is located in Bangkok, Thailand. How is it like being based out there?

At first I relocated in a lower-cost country because it was the only way for me to make business happen when I was not carrying a very high added value. I chose Thailand because I liked the place – the quality of life here is very good. At first I had trouble finding qualified professionals to hire (and keeping them onboard!), because the employment market was very competitive, and as an anonymous newcomer I lacked credibility. But over the years we built ourselves a decent name and we’re now viewed as a serious option for people in Thailand who want to work in games.

PSLS: What is the Government of Thailand’s view on video games?

Well, there’s hot and cold.

On one hand, some conservative groups are willing to regulate or restrict the distribution of certain games – for example, there was a debate after a teenager murdered a taxi driver and said he replicated a scene of GTA IV. But such regulations would hardly be enforceable in a country where most games sold are illegal copies (as many local law enforcement authorities are accepting bribes against leniency). On the other hand, some government agencies value the game industry for its ability to create knowledge-based jobs and to generate exports. My application for the incorporation of Sanuk Games was accepted at once by the Thailand Board of Investment, and I could get subsidies at some point from the Software Industry Promotion Agency (although they have changed their policy since then).

PSLS: The team’s latest title, Hysteria Project, is coming to the PSP/PS3 Minis platform. Can you tell us about the title?

Hysteria Project is an entirely filmed adventure in which YOU are the hero. You wake up in a wooden hut with your hands and feet tied, and with no knowledge of what brought you there. It is however clear that you’re not in a safe place and you better not stay there for long. You have to keep a sharp eye on what’s going on around you and make the right decisions to make it out in one piece. This game is recommended for fans of new experiences and thrill-seekers. The original iPhone version won the “Revelation 2009” Milthon award in Paris and enjoyed a good reception in Apple’s AppStore.

PSLS: Hysteria Project is a horror game, and has said to have a Blair Witch Project feel. How scary is the title, compared to older titles such as Resident Evil and Silent Hill?

The Bulkypix team who’s behind this game are indeed fans of The Blair Witch Project and choose-your-own-adventure gamebooks. They wanted to unite both concepts into a game, and they realized that an interactive movie would be the best way to make you feel like you’re the hero. When I first played the game on my iPod touch, alone and using a headphone as recommended, the fear factor worked very well on me. I would leave it up to the player to decide whether Resident Evil and Silent Hill are more or less scary than Hysteria Project, but at least I can tell that for its first attempt, Bulkypix has hit the target.

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