Franco-German TV channel finds niche in high-brow video games

AFP - [email protected]
Franco-German TV channel finds niche in high-brow video games
The Franco-German TV network Arte's building in Strasbourg, eastern France Photo by PATRICK HERTZOG / AFP

French-German TV channel Arte is best known for covering cultural events and producing sophisticated dramas and documentaries, but over the past decade it has also been building a reputation in an entirely different arena: video games.


As with its TV programming, the publicly funded channel's video games reflect its focus on culture and liberal causes - from an adaptation of a story by French author Boris Vian to an adventure game where the main character is a Syrian refugee.

"It's a way of showing our editorial line to an audience which plays video games but doesn't necessarily watch TV or consume documentaries," said Arte's digital projects chief Adrien Larouzee.

Arte has been in the gaming business for a decade, carving out a niche in "human scale" titles.


"We don't work on blockbusters," Larouzee told AFP on the sidelines of Paris Games Week, France's biggest video game trade show, where it has a stall alongside giants of the industry like Sony, Nintendo and Ubisoft.

Larouzee said Arte was far happier with the "audacity" and "innovation" that comes from working with smaller, independent studios.

"We have the luxury of not having to think solely in terms of market share or commercial success," he said.

"We look for projects that are most compatible with our editorial strategy and those that we are able to support financially, editorially and humanely."

The channel, funded by TV licences levied in France and Germany, is finding an audience.

Arte has 17 co-productions with independent studios under its belt, its games being lauded at specialist festivals and praised by users.

It all started in 2013 with "Type:Rider", a platform and puzzle game where the player bounces through landscapes strewn with references to scripts from prehistoric cave paintings to pixel art.

Straight-up literary games have included "Californium", where the player is plunged into the psychedelic inner world of the famously troubled sci-fi author Philip K. Dick as he struggles with a flagging career.

And the literary theme continued with this year's "To Hell With the Ugly", a highly stylised adventure game set in a noirish Los Angeles, adapted from a Vian novel.

The game has already won awards and praise from critics, with specialist site Xboxygen highlighting its "singular artistic direction" and "masterful gameplay".


And its games do not shy away from political issues -- 2017's "Bury Me, My Love" depicts a Syrian woman's journey to Europe through messages to her husband.

Arte has long been an innovator with new technologies. It was an early adopter of video-on-demand and its social media channels boast more than 18 million subscribers.

The channel has an overall digital budget of between €10 million and €15 million a year. Marianne Levy-Leblond, head of Arte's digital production unit, said investments in individual video games ranged from €100,000 to €300,000.

With that relatively small outlay, the channel's executives are determined to keep exploring the possibilities technology can offer.

"Obviously we're paying a lot of attention to the metaverse," said Levy-Leblond.

As an example how virtual reality (VR) feeds into the channel's output, the channel is producing "Gloomy Eyes - The Game", an adaptation of an animation that won Best VR Film at the Annecy Festival in 2019.

Levy-Leblond said the channel already had a strong track record with projects using immersive technologies and planned to push further into that space in coming years.



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