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Laurent Bernier / Breaking Walls

Laurent Bernier

Creative Director at Breaking Walls

What differentiate your company from others?

At Breaking Walls, we differentiate ourselves through our focus on immersive, visually stunning experiences. We are always looking to come at ideas with a creative perspective to give our projects a unique twist.

Why did you start a company?

We wanted to work on our own game ideas and have the creative freedom to take them in our own direction. Coming from a AAA environment where games are designed to maximize profit above anything else, we wanted our north star to be making games we’re completely in love with, even if that sometimes means sacrificing profit to follow our creative direction and tell the story the way we want it to be told.

What motivates you to wake up every morning?

This company is a real passion project. To be able to see our game go from an idea in our heads to a full-fledged game is amazing, and every day I feel like it’s a dream come true to get to work on this.

What are the qualities to be a good owner?

The most important thing is to create an environment of respect where everyone has a voice. I believe teams should operate more democratically rather than top-down, empowering everyone to have a say.

" WE WANTED TO SHED MORE LIGHT ON THESE ISSUES THROUGH THE LENS OF VIDEO GAMES "
You’re working on your own IP. How did it start and where did you get the inspiration for your idea?

Our original inspiration with AWAY: The Survival Series came from nature documentaries. We are huge fans of nature documentaries and what they have done for environmental preservation and climate awareness, and we wanted to shed more light on these issues through the lens of video games.

Talk to me about your installations.

Currently our whole team is working remotely as we navigate this pandemic. But once the pandemic is over we are looking forward to returning to our studio in Montréal’s Old Port to work together in the same space again.

What’s the biggest challenge when working with your partners?

Our biggest challenge is striking the right balance between working on our game and managing the company. Our passion is obviously making games, but as business owners it’s our responsibility to make sure the company stays afloat. So we need to strike the right balance between the two so that we can keep doing what we love.

How did you get funded? How did you find your business partners?

Our founding team goes way back to the early days of Ubisoft, back when we worked together on Prince of Persia. We’ve known each other for a long time, and one day we thought it would be great to start something together and make our own games. As for funding, we got the majority of our investment through the Canada Media Fund, which has been an amazing contributor to the gaming industry here in Montréal.

How many hours do you work per week?

As a founder, I usually end up working 50+ hours per week. Starting a company and a family at the same time has definitely been challenging, which is why it’s important to find the right work-life balance.

What’s the hardest decision you’ve had to take as a company owner?

Taking the leap of faith of leaving a full time job while having a young family to start my own company without any guarantees that it would work.

``OUR BEST INVESTMENT HAS BEEN HIRING THE PEOPLE OUR TEAM ``
How many years did it take you to build a solid foundation?

We technically incorporated the studio back in 2015, but we didn’t start officially working on our first game until mid-2016, when we hired our first team members. It always takes a while to build the foundation of a new project with a new team, so I would say things really started taking shape around mid-2017, about a year into the game’s development.

What’s your best investment so far?

Hands down, our best investment has been hiring the people on our team. A company is nothing but the people that make it up, and we wouldn’t be where we are today if it weren’t for our exceptional group of colleagues.

Where do you see your company in 5 years from now?

Over the next 5 years, we would like to go deeper into new, emerging technologies such as VR and AR. Of course, we also hope to be working on sequels for our debut game AWAY: The Survival Series alongside some new IP.

What would be a viable business model?

In games there are traditionally two main business models: premium and freemium. From the very beginning we knew we wanted to make and sell premium games, as we wanted to avoid watering down the experience with ads, pop-ups, and microtransactions. Instead, we make our money when people buy our games, which encourages us to make the very best games possible.

What’s your best advice for someone who wants to start their own company?

Persevere. Don’t be afraid of failing. Failing is part of the process. Over the past 20 years I’ve worked on a bunch of different side projects, and it took 20 years to finally stumble on an idea that turned into a full fledged company. Stick to it, learn from your mistakes, and eventually it will work out

How do you promote your company?

Since we’re still working on our first game, our main focus is to make the game as good as it can be. We believe a great game speaks for itself. If you look at the best independent game studios in the world, it’s the ones that make the best games, and we hope to one day have the privilege to stand alongside them with Breaking Walls.

How do you deal with problematic employees?

I always take an empathetic approach and try to understand why there’s an issue so we can help solve it together. The biggest thing is to treat everyone as equals and give everyone the respect they deserve.

What do you think is lacking in this field in general?

Needs more cowbell.

What would be your suggestion to artists who want to work for your company?

As a small independent studio, every person on the team wears many hats. Whether you’re an artist, designer, or developer, you will inevitably end up working on many different parts of the game, so we always look for people who are curious, versatile, and eager to learn.

How do you deal with difficult clients?

Gamers tend to have very strong opinions, and this is something we witnessed firsthand when sharing demos and prototypes of our game. Some developers find this difficult to deal with, but we’ve found that people with strong opinions also tend to have really valuable feedback. So throughout our game’s development, we have made it a habit to listen to our most vocal critics and understand where their feedback is coming from. This has helped us shape AWAY: The Survival Series into the game it is today and build an amazing community along the way.

What do you think is the most complicated when setting up a company?

Paperwork. So much paperwork.

`` WE EMPOWER EVERYONE ON OUR TEAM TO HAVE A VOICE ``
What’s your suggestions to students who want to break up in the industry?

Work on cool side projects and participate in game jams. It’s a great way to improve your skills, build your portfolio, and meet new people in the industry. Plus it’s a ton of fun!

What inspires you the most?

What inspires me is seeing people fight for causes they believe in, fighting for the good of humanity. With our first game, we wanted to contribute in our own way by shedding light on the global environmental crisis and making a statement on the devastating impact climate change can have on our planet if left unchecked.

How would you describe your management style?

As I mentioned, Breaking Walls is a small studio and we do not work with a top-down philosophy. Instead, we empower everyone on our team to have a voice. There’s always a little chaos, but we embrace it and it helps bond us closer together.

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Marieve Pilon
marieve [at] 3dqub.ca

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