How Square Enix Montreal acts like an indie to make its mobile games

According to Square Enix Montreal employees, de-emphasizing specialized roles and increasing collaboration has improved its ability to make mobile games like Deus Ex Go.

"And then I had to [learn to] do everything. We can’t have experts anymore. We can’t have people who are experts in something and work in silos. Because we’re so small we need people who have one or two [areas of expertise], and wide breadths of interests and skills."

—Square Enix Montreal Programmer Antoine Routon

Square Enix Montreal has been widely praised for its work on the Go series of games, which have adapted the AAA machinations of Hitman, Tomb Raider, and now Deus Ex into a set of mobile puzzlers. 

According to a new profile from The Verge’s Andrew Webster, that praise was very needed, as when Square Enix Montreal pivoted from working on big Hitman games to exclusively mobile titles, morale dropped as employees left to keep working in AAA games. 

But in that exodus, Webster writes that Square Enix found an advantage by reforming itself to work more like an indie team. In their profile on the studio, programmers like Antoine Routon say the success of Hitman Go was because people like him had to exit their various silos. 

Before, Routon was an animation programmer. On Hitman Go, he had to become a general programmer. Routon says this way of making games was a better process for the Go series, and argues that it’s a better way to make smaller games with studio polish. 

“The only reason why we can act this way is because we’re small,” says Routon. “Our way of working wouldn’t work if we were massive.”

Webster also talks to former Hyper Light Drifter programmer Teddy Dief and producer Dominic Allaire about their experiences at the studio, and their testimonies further explain how Square Enix Montreal’s structure, (which includes a mostly empty office on account of the team gathering around one window), helps them make innovative games. 

Allaire, in particular, highlights the fact that this process also opened the door for Hitman: Sniper, which apparently is the studio’s highest-earning game. But more importantly, it allowed Allaire and Routon’s teams to come together to collaborate on Deus Ex Go’s new live features. 

For more insights on the studio behind Square Enix’s Go series, be sure to read the full piece over on The Verge.

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