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The former Ubisoft dev who wants to bring back the golden age of JRPGs

We talk to CEO Emma Delage about the community's hunger for JRPGs, and why Kickstarter could be a viable path for Studio Camelia's debut project

New developer Studio Camelia is launching its Kickstarter campaign today for Alzara Radiant Echoes, a Mediterranean-inspired JRPG that features work from renowned Dark Souls composer Motoi Sakuraba and Genshin Impact artist Yoshiro Ambe.

It's the French studio's debut title, after the developer was set up back in 2021 by CEO and creative director Emma Delage, who previously worked at Ubisoft on the likes of the Ghost Recon franchise, Watch Dogs Legion, Beyond Good & Evil 2, and more.

Delage has been in the industry for over 12 years, with a background in marketing, business strategy, and production. A lifelong JRPG fan, she had been dreaming of starting her own studio since childhood and says she's gone through her entire career with that one goal in mind. She started at indie studios in 2012 before moving on to Square Enix briefly, and then Ubisoft.

"When COVID hit, I was in Paris at the time, and I didn't really like the city. So I moved to the south of France, where I'm from, and I found a home in Montpellier. There, I joined an independent publisher called Plug In Digital. I stayed there for six months because every day I was talking with independent developers and I had this feeling [of]: when is it my turn? When am I gonna start my own studio?

"COVID brought a lot of interest in gaming, but with expectations that are not realistic with what most game [developers] can do"Emma Delage

"It was too much for me and I was like: no, I'm doing it right now. This was in summer 2021. I just took this big leap of faith, saying, okay, I'm fed up with waiting to find the right people to start the studio with, I'm gonna do it, whatever happens."

She found companions along the way, she says, growing the studio from four people who worked with her on the initial Alzara prototype, to a team of 14 now.

"We really are driven by modern values, because having worked in the industry for more than ten years, and especially in AAA studios, I was faced with crunch, overwork, burnout, toxic management practices," Delage says. "And when came the time to start the studio, I was like: there is absolutely no way that I'm going to reproduce that. You have this moment when you realise that [you're] actually going to have an impact on the life of some people. And I don't want this impact to be negative.

"The values of the studios are also my values and I make sure that the people that are in the team really share those values. Empathy and kindness is really central for us. We are kind people and that's not a bad thing. Putting people first, making sure that the team is feeling safe, feeling well when they are working… And diversity and inclusion [as well]: being a woman in this industry, I'm super proud that we are a 50% female team."

Studio Camelia's values are only half of its DNA, the other part being its desire to operate in the successful JRPG niche exclusively, with Delage saying it was a "call from the heart" as she didn't see herself working on any other genre.

"We really want to specialise and build an expertise in JRPGs," she says. "I am convinced that, as a company, the best way to succeed is to be the best at what you do and by specialising in a specific genre, you build this expertise, you build a community, you build people who come back to your project.

"And also, there is the market approach, being convinced that there are not enough JRPGs on the market, and [that] the JRPGs that are on the market do not really answer the needs of the players. Being myself a member of the community, I understand what's missing and what we could do."

Alzara Radiant Echoes is expected to release in 2026on PC and consoles

Delage says her network has been an asset in building up Studio Camelia, and her passion and involvement in various JRPG communities also helped propel the project and get it to where it is today. For instance, she did a market study among the JRPG community to better understand their needs, which snowballed into multiple business wins. She expected a couple hundred answers and ended up getting thousands. Through this survey, she met a serial entrepreneur working in biotechnologies based in Australia.

"He was like, 'Hey, you know what, I used to work with a guy who used to be in the video game industry and I think he went back to [games]. Do you want me to put you in touch with him?' And this person was actually Johannes Mang from Remedy," she laughs. "And so this is how everything started, and started to snowball actually."

Following a call with Mang (who's now at Rovio), Delage connected with some business angels ("Incredible people who want to see more women making games," she smiles) who poured an initial €100,000 into the project, and she found several other forms of support that have sustained the studio since.

Alzara's main character designs are the work of Yoshiro Ambe (Genshin Impact, Fire Emblem Heroes, Trials of Mana)

For instance, the studio went through world-renowned incubator BIC, got a €200,000 grant from the FAJV (a French government-backed games-specific fund), and got the support of bank BPI France, which provided coaching.

"That helped a lot, having the support of people who know how to coach startups. And actually I'm mentioning startups, because we are a startup. We need some time before having our game launching and reaching the market. And we are fragile, that's for sure. Up until we launch the game, we need to make sure that everything we're making is scoped, is really square, and we don't do anything stupid with the project."

Alzara is not meant to launch until 2026 so there's a way to go until the title is ready. And Delage mentions that there are not many investors in France who are willing to bet on games.

"When I was talking with VCs, it was mostly people in the UK, in the Nordics, or in the US. I don't know, it's hard to find investment capital in France," she notes.

Sources of funding has dried up a lot in recent years so, ultimately, the state of the industry being what it is, Kickstarter felt like the safest bet for the studio as Delage mentions several obstacles that have led to a difficulty finding VC funding or a publisher: "We're a new studio, there's a woman at the top of it, even if we work in the industry we are not rock stars with 20 years of experience, and we're making a JRPG…"

She continues: "[VCs] were really looking for a game like Genshin Impact. But before making a Genshin Impact-type game, you need to make smaller games. Even Mihoyo actually released smaller games before getting to where they are. And I think COVID brought a lot of this interest in gaming, but with expectations that are not realistic with what most game [developers] can do."

Studio Camelia founder, CEO, and creative director Emma Delage

Delage believes Kickstarter will work well for the project because the JRPG community is "hungry for more games" so it's a genre that fits that approach. The studio's initial target for its month-long campaign is €100,000, but Delage expects and hopes to raise more.

"There is this strategy about setting your Kickstarter goal. It can't be too low because people are going to think you're not gonna be able to fund your game with that, [but] it can't be too high otherwise people think it's unattainable. I think that starting with €100,000 is a good number, and then we hope of course that the community is really going to be here to show that, yes, [they] do want this game to launch on the market. And actually it's also a test for us, we're gonna see: does this concept attract players?"

The fact that Alzara features a soundtrack from Dark Souls and Golden Sun composer Motoi Sakuraba, and main character designs by Yoshiro Ambe (Genshin Impact, Fire Emblem Heroes, Trials of Mana) is undoubtedly a big selling point for fans of the genre, too.

But Delage also sees the Kickstarter campaign as a potential way to attract further investors, too, to prove to them that the project and the studio have legs.

"This is something I understood last year: VCs [and] publishers want to see traction.

So the Kickstarter is here to show that, to prove that. We have over 2,000 followers [on the Kickstarter campaign]. And so I think things are going to be quite successful. We hope so."

Concluding our chat, Delage says she has found peace since founding her own studio, and wants to encourage more people to make that decision if they can, especially women. But she also acknowledges the privilege of the then-strong unemployment benefits provided by the French government, which allowed her to do that in the first place.

"We had this chance in France of having, at the time, two years of unemployment compensation. And without that, it would have been really very scary to start the studio. And when the French government said that they were gonna reduce the length of [the support], I was like, well, it's going to [lead] to fewer people starting their own business.

"[VCs] were really looking for a game like Genshin Impact. But before making a Genshin Impact-type game, you need to make smaller games"Emma Delage

"I started this adventure in July 2021, I was able to leave thanks to this unemployment compensation, [which] ended in July 2023. And I've just started paying myself last month. Because I had savings and I had this, otherwise I wouldn't have done it. It's a very lucky thing, some other countries don't have that."

Delage says she has dreams beyond Alzara, and is hoping Studio Camelia will be able to make JRPGs for a long time.

"It's really a 'fan-professional project', if I can say that; we're really trying to pay tribute to this golden age of JRPGs. We know that there are people who grew up with those kinds of games who love that and who want to see more of that. And we really are benefiting from that.

"I'm 35, so I have maybe five or six games to make until I retire… If I have enough money to retire," she laughs. "So, I want to make these five or six games count. And I have lots of things to tell the world. Alzara is a game about sharing, which is really a core value for me. And I have many other messages that I want to share with the world, and so those future games are going to be able to transmit those messages."

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Marie Dealessandri avatar
Marie Dealessandri: Marie joined GamesIndustry.biz in 2019 to head its Academy section. A journalist since 2012, she started in games in 2016. She can be found (rarely) tweeting @mariedeal, usually on a loop about Baldur’s Gate and the Dead Cells soundtrack. GI resident Moomins expert.
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