Funcom’s Dune game pushes Norwegian studio into a whole new weight class
With Tencent’s backing and a new studio in Bucharest, Oslo-based developer Funcom’s ambitious project to turn the blockbuster big-screen version of Frank Herbert’s Dune saga into a video game has gotten a whole lot bigger over the past two years.
Funcom, which was way ahead of the curve, signed an exclusive six-year deal with Dune intellectual property rights holder Legendary Entertainment in 2019. The mission – to create a game that’s both a hit – like the Denis Villeneuve-directed Dune film, which recently topped $300 million globally – and stay true to the spirit of Dune’s grandiose IP.
The Level Infinite team sat down with Funcom Chief Marketing Officer Erling Ellingsen and Eirik Leganger Nergård, Senior PR Manager, to discuss what it’s like to embark on such a big project with such a massive following.
Level Infinite (LI): Your CEO, Rui Casais, called the Dune open-world survival game “the biggest, most exciting and ambitious project Funcom has worked on.” How do you see it?
Erling Ellingsen (EE): Well, when we signed the Dune agreement in 2019, Dune had been a sort of dormant IP for quite some time. What’s happening now is Dune is absolutely everywhere. Everyone’s writing about it, everyone’s raving about the movie, it’s bringing in a ton of new fans and we get to be part of that. It’s very exciting to be part of developing an ambitious new game on an IP that is exploding like Dune.
LI: Are you and the developer Shiro Games creating Dune: Spice Wars from a distance, or are you working with the team at Legendary?
EE: We’re working very closely with Legendary, and we actually got to visit the movie set in Budapest. There were even several large scale ornithopters that we got to see up close. We were walking around, for instance, inside the Arrakeen Palace, with that huge mural of the sandworms, and we got to walk around and explore the place. It had been meticulously crafted. It was very impressive.”
LI: Just like in the book, the ornithopters looked like gigantic fireflies. So those were real, not just special effects?
EE: No, metal and glass and wires, I don’t think they flew, though! But we weren’t exactly there as tourists, we got to visit sets, the costume department, the props department, and they showed us all of these cool, little gadgets, to serve as an inspiration.
LI: That’s the movie side of it. What is your relationship with the IP owner, Legendary Entertainment? How are they to work with?
EE: Legendary is great to work with, they’re taking this very seriously. We’re sitting there making this huge Dune game, and it’s very exciting.
LI: No doubt Dune is huge, but your studio is no stranger to big games – The Secret World, The Longest Journey and Age of Conan, to name a few.
Eirik Leganger Nergård (EL): More than 11 million people own Conan Exiles.
LI: You became part of the Tencent family last year. What has that been like?
EE: Being part of Tencent gives you that opportunity. Now we can, to a much larger degree than before, execute on our ambitions. It’s not just about the financial backing, we now have access to this amazing talent pool that is at Tencent. All these knowledgeable people who are at the top of the industry, that we can talk to, that we can get input from.
LI: I know Funcom just opened a new studio in Bucharest and you guys are beefing up recruitment. What’s driving that?
EE: The Bucharest studio will be heavily involved in the development of our Dune franchise, as well as our survival hit Conan Exiles. It will also serve as Funcom’s headquarters for quality assurance.
LI: It’s an exciting time for Funcom. Describe the atmosphere.
EE: That’s the beauty of working at a gaming company, you’re surrounded by people who are sort of like you. I think the one thing that unites us all is our love for games. Just look at our CEO for instance. When he joined Funcom he was a junior programmer, and now he’s the CEO and doing a brilliant job at it.
EL: I think you’ll find very few industries outside of gaming where people bond so much outside of work.
LI: Is there more pressure now that Funcom’s been so successful?
EE: That’s a good question, we’ve been successful before, but we know there’s a lot more success to be had.
EL: There’s a hunger. Our ambitions and optimism have never been bigger.
Funcom was founded in 1993, starting out with making games for the big studios to fund its own ideas. Funcom was there in the early days of the massively multiplayer online games, and with over 25 games released, the team has won numerous awards and we’ve celebrated success.