26 Sep Elliot Grassiano, founder of Microids, looks back at 37 years of history
Hello, we’re delighted to see you back at Microids Backstage, the blog where we delve into the secrets behind the making of your favorite video games! Today, we have the chance to welcome Elliot Grassiano – founder and COO of Microids.
We will be asking him about the Group’s beginnings, back when games were developed on 16-color screens. What was Elliot’s ambition when it all began, in April 1985, and how did the first few years play out? How did a one-man operation grow over the years to become a global company producing games based on major licenses like Agatha Christie and The Adventures of Tintin?
We will be putting all of these questions and more to Elliot Grassiano, the creator of one of the oldest French studios still in business.
Hi Elliot and thank you for agreeing to this interview! To begin, could you tell us a little about your background before founding Microids?
I studied general engineering. After graduating from the French engineering school ENSAM, I began my career in aeronautics, working on guidance systems.
Computing was a hobby for me back then. I built myself a microcomputer right at the beginning of the 1980s and started developing games for fun in my free time. I got my first title published in 1984, by a fledgling company named Loriciels. The game was called Space Shuttle Simulator, and it was released on microcomputers available at the time (mainly the Thomson MO5 and TO7).
What made you want to get into creating and marketing video games?
My passion for computing and development. I created a first game at home, outside my work hours, which I had published by Loriciels. It was a big commercial success at the time; it kindled a desire to create my own publishing company and develop my own titles.
Were you inspired by any games or machines in particular?
Back then, there weren’t that many machines available. There was the Apple II, which had a hefty price tag. But also, in France particularly, there were the Thomson TO7/70 and MO5 microcomputers, which were subsidized by a government plan called “Informatique pour tous” (IT for all). This laid the foundations for initial developments on the Thomson MO5, which was followed soon after by the Amstrad CPC, then the Amiga and so on.
Why the name ‘Microids’?
Originally, as well as video games, I wanted to develop consumer robotics, particularly small personal robots. So, Microids was a portmanteau of ‘microcomputing’ and ‘androids’ (as in ‘robots’). The video games side took off in 1985… but the robotics side never got off the ground! (laughs)
It’s 1985 and you’re founding the company. What are your ambitions and ideals?
The aim was to create a lasting company, my own company; to develop games and run a business. At that time, I’d already been working as an engineer in aeronautics for around four or five years.
Which people did you work with to help achieve your aims?
At the beginning, I developed the first games myself. So it was just me, but then very soon the workforce doubled! (laughs) I linked up with people I knew, who were engineers like me, and we got busy developing. Very rapidly came the question of sales and marketing; so I invited the bosses of Loriciels to buy a stake, who brought with them expertise in distribution that I didn’t possess.
Did you focus on any particular genres and did you have a set strategy?
Initially, Microids was mainly focused on simulation games, given my educational background and technical knowledge. Simulators of spaceships, air combat, and so on…
But we very rapidly moved into the adventure genre, with the game Oceania. So, these were the two main dimensions, almost from the company’s outset. But that wasn’t all, as one of the first major successes was the split-screen motorcycle racer Grand Prix 500cc, in 1986, which was a fairly novel concept. The game was published in the United States under the name Superbike Challenge by Broderbund Software. It was really the first major success for Microids.
In the space of just a few years, Microids achieved global success, becoming a publisher and distributor in addition to a developer. Could you tell us about this period of expansion?
The publishing side of it really happened later; I’d say from around 1992-1993. We did a lot of development in the first few years, and we sold our games under license to publishers like Broderbund and Activision. We really became a publisher from 1994-1995, with relatively few resources.
Nearly 40 years after its beginnings, Microids remains a major player in the video games industry. In your opinion, what enabled the brand to remain relevant in the face of new trends and advances in technology?
I think we’ve stuck fairly closely to a clear strategy, focused on adventure games (even though we now explore various genres). Also, we’ve always deliberately sought to make games that appeal to the general public.
Another characteristic feature of Microids, both before and now, is our work with authors; for a few of our major titles in any case. They include Benoît Sokal for Amerzone and Syberia, and Bernard Werber for Empire of the Ants and our current projects.
What would the 1980s version of yourself think if he could see what Microids has become?
I’d be proud that the company and brand I created nearly 40 years ago are still around, even though they have changed a lot.
What are you most pleased about in your history with Microids? A game, a license, an initiative…
There are several things, but among the most memorable is, of course, the collaboration with Benoît Sokal, which led to the whole line of products that we now know. I would also add the collaboration with Bernard Werber, who has become a friend of more than 20 years.
To conclude, what would your main advice be for young talents looking to get into video games?
The difficulty now is that getting into video games is a vast area. You can work in development, graphic design, scriptwriting, production… Nearly 40 years ago, a single person or a small team could develop a game. This is still possible today, but it’s more about working in a team (usually a large team).
To get into video games, I’d say that you need to work with the right people. Put together a real team that combines talents in art, technology and graphics. Also, you need to make sure you have sound financing right from the start.
Thank you again Elliot for talking with us! Dear readers, please share this article if you enjoyed it and we look forward to seeing you again on Microids Backstage, for further behind-the-scenes explorations.