Few days ago, Third Editions, a publishing company from Toulouse, France, specialized in analytic books about video games and created in 2014 by Nicolas Courcier and Medhi El Kanafi, has launched its Kickstarter. Their goal ? After a successful implantation in France, they’re now willing to conquer the ruthless american market. For now on, this campaign is going very well, since the two buddies and their partner Carta have reached more than 80℅ of the amount asked. For this turning point of their career, we went in their office to interview them to learn how they’ve made it there and mostly, how they see their future.
Ken: Hi Nicolas and Mehdi. First of all, as a gamer, I’d like to know how video games came to you, what were your first consoles, your first loves as gamers ?
Nicolas: I think my first console was a NES, I was around 6. That’s how I became a Nintendo fanboy, I had all their consoles then. Besides that I play all kinds of games, but I’m not a PC gamer.
Mehdi: I love RPGs, way more japanese ones than westerns’. My first console, to show off a bit, was a Vectrex (laughs) ! My uncle gave me one back then. Then I had a Mega Drive (= SEGA Genesis), so I’m more a #TeamSEGA boy. I also had a neighbour, a bit older than me, who imported games from abroad, that’s how I discovered some dark japanese RPGs on SNES or Sega Saturn, I was around 10.
Ken: And how did you know each other ?
Nicolas: We were around 10, we’ve known each other for 20 years. Back then, we were nearly neighbours, each in rival neighbourhoods (laughs) so we’ve seen each other several times before really bounding.
Mehdi: Yeah, to be more precise, I think we were 8, we talked a bit, said “Hi” but nothing more.
Nicolas: We really started hanging out together from our summer holidays, between the 9th and 10th grade, then by chance, we were in the same class in 10th. First it’s basketball which gathered us, then video games. At PlayStation era, we began to play together, starting to understand what types of games we loved. We experienced this time with a third pal named Nicolas too, and this was the time we launched Console Syndrome (Note: Their “homemade” magazine, published only in Toulouse, France).
K: How old were you at this time ?
N: Around twenty, I guess…
M: Yeah 20 years old, we decided to launch the magazine during the other Nicolas’ birthday. A magazine was out every three months.
N: We put ourselves under pressure from the start of the project, trying to have a regular rhythm despite the fact we were on college. Thinking about it, I guess it’s from this time we’ve became rigorous with ourselves, that we’ve learned from our mistakes.
K: You had to spend some sleepless nights to keep such a rhythm…
N: Definitely, but we liked it. Furthermore the team was growing so it was easier for us to meet deadlines. Around ten people worked with us during these two years. We’ve stayed pals with some of them, some other write for us in Third Editions !
K: How many copies were out ?
M: The first one had sixteen copies, the last ones around a hundred or two.
N: We went into stores from Toulouse that sold anime/video games stuff and proposed them some advertising inserts ! Some of these stores sell our books nowadays, we’ve stayed in touch with them. A magazine cost us around ten euros to product, we sold them around five… yeah we were trade geniuses ! (laughs). So we were barely profitable, sometimes we were losing money. It was an amateur stuff and cost us money (laughs) ! Then we went on the Internet, keeping our editorial slant but with less news/reviews/previews stuff than the first issues. Our articles were more developed, analytical. We’ve then been bought by Alapage (a french e-commerce website) and during six months we were paid by them.
M: We were so happy ! We made about an article a day, weekends included. We were around seven people so we had about ten euros each by article.
N: With hindsight, we were really motivated… It was sometimes hard but we did it with pleasure ! Then Alapage was sold to RueDuCommerce (another french e-commerce website) and overnight they shut the website down, without even prevent us, we lost all our articles. After that we launched our first publishing company: Console Syndrome Editions. We published our first books, like the Assassin’s Creed or the The Legend of Zelda ones, at the beginning we wanted to make a magazine again, but french video games’ press was in pain. Then we’ve met Marc Pétronille from Pix N’Love (a big french publisher) and from here, we started to work with his company. A year after, we unite each other and they bought Console Syndrome Editions.
K: Why did you decide to leave Pix N’Love then ? I guess it should be easier to work with them.
N: It was cool, but Mehdi and I realized we didn’t share their philosophy. Pix N’Love is into retrospectives, retrogaming, it’s not something that we like to write about.
M: Pix N’Love is a big publisher, we were a dozen of employees, including editors, an international director, etc. And the fact is that Nicolas and I have always worked in pairs, we struggled to work in a big team. The process wasn’t fast enough.
N: However, it was an exciting experience to work with so many people !
K: Yeah, and it also brought you many contacts, didn’t it?
N: Sure ! We’ve got experience too ! During Console Syndrome’s years we were editors but also authors. With Pix we became full-time editors, we barely wrote. We had to manage several projects so we’ve increased our productivity. We’ve also travelled, met authors… we’ve learned so many things.
K: And correct me if I’m wrong, Pix N’Love kept publishing you when you had left, didn’t they ?
N: Yes indeed, during the first six months of Third Editions, it was kind of a transition. We’ve recovered the copyrights of the books we had published at Pix N’Love.
M: Mainly publications in black and white about the great sagas. We started a collection with a Console Syndrome-touch, then when we quit Pix N’ Love we asked for this precise collection, the most important for us. As we started a third company on our own, we wanted to continue what we started.
K: Let’s talk about the conception. First of all you don’t insert pictures in your books. Is that because it makes you copyrights free ?
N: Initially, we wanted to make pictured books, then we discovered that we needed an authorization. For our first book on Assassin’s Creed we did the necessary for that, and Ubisoft gave us a free agreement and we kept our liberty. But after that it got more complicated, especially with the japaneses, because of the barrier language… And finally that “pictureless thing” became our trademark. And yes we were unencumbered, we don’t have the editors telling us : “yeah I’m gonna check everything you wrote”.
K: You must have to justify yourselves a bit, don’t you ?
N: No, just for the cover it may be contentious, since it’s the only spot where there is a visual. But we are always trying to simplify that, using an artist who creates his own vision of the game for example.
K: Your books are divided into three parts : the creation of the game, its universe and its analysis. In the section “universe” of the game, you relate all the events of a game or a saga. They don’t even check that part ?
M: Not at all, it could be seen as a novelisation but we also bring an intellectual work there, I mean we might bring back the events in chronological order, adding a second-level reading retranscription. This is not just a textual transposition of what’s happening in the game. We put ourselves in a total immersion for several months, we are playing all the games back and forth all along while taking a hundred notes.
K: How long is the process, from taking notes time to the completion phase of the book ?
M: It depends on the creation process we are in. We took about 4 to 6 months working just on the book. When we are mandating an author it gets more variable, it depends on profiles, on the work the author have besides… It could take a year or even more.
N: Yeah it was like that for the book on Half Life which took a year and a half to came up. Same thing for the FFXII book because of the tons of informations linked to the Ivalice universe. It took 2 years to finish it. Edition is a huge process anyway, sometimes authors might even forgot that they wrote books for us (laughs).
K: So you are in charge of mandating your authors ?
N: Yes. We both are old and new school magazines readers so we know the profiles we are looking for. We know which guy will fit for this or that… After that it’s about everyone’s calendar. Level Up and The Year Of Video Game 199X are both our “caprice” projects, we want the Dream Team, the best authors. These are books that needs more work between coordination and illustration. But it’s very cool, with a “press” feeling, like our first loves…
K: When it comes to marketing, we are in a “cult of the item” consuming mode. For example, I buy Data Discs records while my turntable is down. I have the feeling that you play on that cord, is that a way for you to distinguish yourself ?
N: It wasn’t our goal. For example the Zelda book, we wanted to make a “grimoire” kind of thing, with the gildings and stuff. It became a gorgeous item, and people were attached to that design. But we didn’t make it on purpose. And yeah, sometimes people tell us “yeah I bought your book for the cover, but I won’t read it”, for us it’s so surreal !
So, no we didn’t think “let’s make beautiful books so people buy it”, it’s an indirect consequence. But yes, for the Kickstarter we’ve insisted on covers, the First Print. But besides, at Pix N’Love, we were making crazy collectors, huge, with a lot of bonuses. With Third Editions, we wanted something more simple, and consequently cheaper special editions.
M: We wanted to rehabilitate the definition of a collector, its value. We call it the “First Print” because these are one shot prints, on a unique serie, in a very small amount. Nevertheless it stays at an accessible price, we wanted this rarity-accessibility compromise. We the first are fans of FFXV, I would be thrilled to have the collector but it’s way too expensive … Too bad.
K: You are a part of this new french generation making the paper reborn from its ashes, are you feeling that when a colleague editor produce a book on a subject, it’s very hard to work as well on that subject ? For example the Yu Suzuki biography from Geeks Line which got a big part devoted to Shenmue, could you also approach the subject at Third Editions ?
M: On that particular example I would say yes. It’s a biography book, we would make it 100% about the game. But if a colleague makes a book on a serie, would we make our own ? I don’t think so. There is so many different subjects to approach out there …
N: Pix N’ Love will release a book about Tomb Raider soon, it’s the kind of product we could have made, but they are doing it so we won’t. Especially since we know each other, we are certainly not going to stab each other in the back. Maybe one day, in a few years, we could approach it with our touch? Why not.
M: Our advantage is that we are not restricted to the retro-gaming. We really want to make one about Uncharted, God of War, or unreleased games like Horizon: Zero Dawn. We want to write about modern sagas. As long as the video game industry will produce great titles, we will be there. For FF, we still got lots of titles to write about, and for the XV, we’ve got 10 years of hellish development to explain, it’s awesome !
K: Like we said a bit earlier, the edition of a book between the idea and the printing take some times. Have you ever experienced the fact that another editor was releasing a book treating a subject you were already treating ?
M: It has never happened, but it’s possible yeah !
Ken: That’s concerning France, it’s pretty insane to see that the offer is so important for such a “small” country. However in the US, the market seems to be quiet at this level.
Nicolas: Indeed, Americans product more guides, like Japaneses product more artbooks.
Mehdi: In America, there is BossFightBooks whom also got a Kickstarter, but it’s more limited. The books have a hundred pages on a pocket format. These are great books, but it’s not quite the same as what we are offering.
Nicolas: We are feeling that the market is emerging, this is what made us start our Kickstarter, we are right on time ! It’s starting to provoc interest, we don’t want to miss the train !
Mehdi: We want to be precursors, or at least be in “the move” of this new era in the video game literature which is about intellectualisation and research on a specific subject.
Nicolas: We were pushed by Carta, who already wrote for us at the time of Console Syndrome (the internet version). He made his internship with us last year and he insisted about us going international, we were like “yeah, yeah we will…” But never doing it. So he put some illustrations of our books on Reddit, and it went big !
Mehdi: We didn’t realize at that time how much it blowed; we made it to Reddit’s homepage with about 7000 upvotes. Now we are studying the communication in the United States so we realize that 7000 upvotes on Reddit is a huge deal !
K: Initially, you had to be stressed about the probability of not reaching your goal… Yeah about that let’s not jinx it, you’re not there yet; but hey, this buzz around your books on a way bigger market than the one in France… Isn’t that make you feel under pressure ?
M: No, we are enthusiasts more than anything, we wonder if the english-speaking people will appreciate our work !
K: But after all that time working together, you will have to increase the staff, right ? You seems to be close to your baby, don’t you mind about delegate your work ?
N: We’ll have to, as long as we can make it together, we would, but the time will come for sure. Even on the french market, our offer evolve with books about PC games like Half-Life or Fallout. We are facing new challenges. We put ourselves into this, asked for $100,000, this is a huge goal, but we didn’t want to release a single book, translate it and then see how it would go. We really want to share a big sample of our best work, and make tons of copies. If it works, an american branch may open, everything is possible !
K: Can you tell us more about the stretch goals ?
N: We’ll ask to the people which book they want to be translated in addition of the first-three. The objective is to release as many titles we can with the money we earn from the Kickstarter.
M: The $100.000 ensure the release of three books (Dark Souls, Legend of Zelda & Final Fantasy VII) in their two versions (Regular & First Print). With this amount of money, we can’t release more than three books. The stretch goals will feed our catalogue. The purpose is not to do a Kickstarter only for three books, we want to establish ourselves and make it count.
K: When you will be established, regarding the releases, France will be first served and then the US or will you try to launch the products simultaneously on both territories ?
M: We already have one step ahead in France. We to catch up in the US. Either way we don’t want to give the french market up, we know all the press here, so it’s easier to solicit authors, and it’s our mother tongue. But, if France became a “secondary” market, it would allow us to take more risks and give a try about publishing books on niche games.
N: We don’t exclude contacting american authors too. It would be a little bit harder to manage because english isn’t our native language but it will allow us to improve and try something new.
K: Speaking about new stuff, can you tell us about your label “Force” which is more about Pop Culture ?
M: Ok so first of all, did you get the pun or not ? Because we’re proud of it ! (laughs)
K: There’s a pun intended ? … Oh yeah, Force like “fourth” ! The Fourth one in english !
M: That’s right, good guess ! The first one will be on Dragon Ball, scheduled in October (in France). We can give you the release date of the next one !
N: It will be out on June 2017 (in France, again) ! Force opens us a whole new horizon, it’s awesome !
K: So video games are not your unique passion, aren’t they ?
M: Video games are our main hobby, but we also read a lot, we like cinema, we watch series… I don’t know about you but I’m not comfortable with the “geek” label…
N: In the 90’s, video games and all the pop culture were considered inappropriate. It gets better nowadays. For us, it’s important to define us like players but we like many things besides video games. Force allow us to claim that. The “geek” label is misused, we are not geeks, we are just moving in the times. We’ve all watched Dragon Ball, we all play video games, its a lifestyle now. Back in the days, we noticed that there was no book about Zelda series, that’s why we’ve made the book. And it’s the same with Dragon Ball now.
K: Will it be the same redaction process? In other words, the game’s genesis, dissection of the universe and analysis ?
M: All the same ! Anyway, we are so proud of the Dragon Ball’s manuscript, most of the authors are women, we’re barely the only dudes in the team, that’s cool.
K: Is Force concerned by an US release or do you want to focus on video games with Third Editions ?
M: Only video games for the moment.
N: I think that we’ll make it one day, but not right now. In France, we’ve been waited a year and a half before launching this new brand. Third Editions needed time to prove itself, that’d be the same scenario in the US.
M: By the way, here’s a scoop (it’s not one anymore, haha) we’ll soon release a new kind of book for a younger audience ! We are reaching the 8-10 years old. It will be about the story of video games through several characters : from Pac-Man to Minecraft ! It will include Final Fantasy, Street Fighter, World of Warcraft… with illustrations inspired by the graphic style of these games. We don’t know yet if there will be a sequel but we’re pleased to open that path of democratisation.
N: It’s a book for gamer parents who wants to pass on their passion.
M: Yeah it’s filled with easter eggs, we clearly target the parents and their kids.
K: Do you still have some spare time to play today ? What are you playing to ?
N: I’m on Quantum Break !
M: I advised him not to ! (laugh)
N: Gunfights are nice with the powers and all…, but the game design is five years old late, it’s not a memorable game. Otherwise, I’ve finished Life is Strange and The Witcher 3 after one year and a half…
M: I’m on Deus Ex : Mankind Divided, it’s really awesome ! You have to invest yourself, it’s a complete commitment. You dive into it, psychologically. I’ve also finished Inside.
N: I like those digital games, beatable in three hours. It’s compatible with our lifestyle, because, again, it took me one and a half year to beat The Witcher ! Telltale’s Batman is also very cool !
M: Yeaaaahh ! But it stays a Telltale, with all its codes. But if you love Batman, it’s a blast.
N: There’s always that little thing that kept you saying “and what if I did this, what would have happened then” ?
A huge thanks to Nicolas and Mehdi who welcomed us in their office ! If you want to discover their work, there is only one solution: back their project !
Thanks to Justine for the help on the translation !