Back in 2012, Red Barrel emerged onto the gaming scene as a completely anonymous team of video game creators. Precious little was known about them. All we knew is that they had a FPS survival-horror game in the works and that it was called Outlast. Come 2013, the game was ready.
Even though it entered the scene via a relatively small door, Outlast stepped through that door with a blast. It was initially released for Windows PC, and then it quickly made it to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One platforms. Gamers loved it, mainly because it contained all you’d expect from a great survival-horror game. Above all else, they really nailed the ambiance.
So, how did Outlast become so successful? Red Barrel co-founders David Chateauneuf, Hugo Dallaire, and Philippe Morin (all of whom previously worked at Ubisoft Montreal and EA Montreal) recently commented just how tough things were at the beginning.
“We couldn’t find anybody to invest,” Morin recalled. “We searched for 18 months. We were 18 months without a salary, except for little contracts here and there. On the VC side, it was still the mobile bubble. The thing we were hearing the most was that they’d rather invest $50,000 in ten projects than $500,000 in us. Maybe on that side there was a lack of knowledge or understanding in terms of the [console] industry.”
Red Barrels’ CEO, Morin, said that establishing their own studio was the only way to create that kind of game “without having to worry about all of the stuff that big studios have to worry about.” Eventually, they did find an investor, which allowed the game to have a budget of $1 million.
Another curious thing is that Outlast reached a huge number of players when it joined the library of “free through PS Plus” games. After that, it didn’t take too long for Outlast to be noticed by the streamer community, which was thriving at the time as well. Outlast 2 was released not too long after that. It wasn’t as praised as the original, but it was still a great horror experience.
“Our plan was to start a franchise, and we knew we needed as many people as possible to be aware of that franchise,” Morin added. “We also knew we had DLC in the pipeline, so it would increase the number of potential buyers for the DLC. It was a gamble. We’ll never know what the first month sales would have been without PS Plus, but I personally think it was the right move. We didn’t have a marketing budget, so it was our way to do marketing without having to spend money.”
In the end, Outlast went from a $1 million budget garnering $64 million in revenue from sales ($45 million CAD after a portion was given to distributors). That’s truly impressive by any standards.