Xbox Game Studios Spotlight: Compulsion Games

By Kes Eylers-Stephenson,
Xbox Game Studio Compulsion describes itself as a small studio in a big industry. See how the We Happy Few developer ranks, its history, projects, and how many achievements you've unlocked!

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Compulsion Games overview

compulsion games

Compulsion Studios is a Montreal-based studio that became a part of Xbox Game Studios in 2018. However, the team was actually founded in 2009 by an ex-employee of a fellow Microsoft-owned developer (Arkane Studios) called Guillaume Provost. The former project lead took a risky leap in the post-financial crisis era, but the Compulsion Games team got up and running with work for hire on Darksiders (2010), Arthur Christmas: Elf Run (2011 — iOS, Android), and Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale (2012).

This was all to help raise funds for the team's first major title, the platformer Contrast in 2013. It's initially a 3D experience, but when you jump into a shadow you can run across the shadows on the walls. Manipulating scenes using light to your advantage is key. Provost wrote the script while working for Arkane Lyon and took inspiration from that French city. Layered on top of this were the "1920s Burlesque and Vaudeville era with some more classic film-noir elements from the 1940s," according to an interview with Game Informer. The game was received with moderation, sitting at a 65 on Metacritic and garnering criticism for some of its unintuitive platforming and lack of polish.

Contrast Screen 10Compulsion Games — Contrast (2013)

Contrast gave the Compulsion team a lot to think about over the next few years of development. The size of the team tripled from five to fifteen, with the struggle of Contrast's development helping Provost realise that procedural generation would be a neat trick to help ease the burden of development (thanks, MCV). The concept of 2018's We Happy Few was influenced by the passing of Provost's mother just before the release of Contrast. Out of this spiral of emotions came the dystopic British setting with its drug-fuelled society of citizens who had made some horrible mistakes in an alternate reality World War 2, and who were trying to enforce forgetfulness. Released into early access in 2016, when the game finally launched the general impression was a little more positive, settling on a Metacritic of 64. The strength of the setting was heavily praised, with the technical aspects and some of the gameplay systems heavily criticised.

At E3 2018, Phil Spenser announced that Compulsion Games had been acquired by Microsoft alongside Ninja Theory, Playground Games, Undead Labs, and the talent for the creation of new studio The Initiative. Since then, the talent at Compulsion has doubled again for a rumoured third-person title.

Compulsion Games' last project: We Happy Few (2018)

compulsion gamesCompulsion Games — We Happy Few (2018)

We Happy Few is Compulsion Games' most recent effort. The roguelike was released in 2018 after two years of early access. The survival-horror had a procedurally generated town with a population riddled with Joy, but not in a good way. You see, in this alternate reality British setting, people are trying to forget the sins of World War 2 by taking a drug called Joy. You are trying to investigate the events of the past while learning the weird rules and regs of this creepy dystopia — Wells and Orwell would be proud. In our on-site review, Rebecca has it a six out of ten, saying "[the bugs] spoil what can be a decent game, with a unique world, interesting characters, and a convincingly damning depiction of the perils of taking hallucinogenic drugs." Her score reflects the Metacritic average of 64, where the setting found fans, but the technical skullduggery and gameplay systems were heavily criticised.

Compulsion Games' current project: Midnight (rumoured)

ReviewCompulsion Games — We Happy Few (2018)

Compulsion Games project for certain is a third-person action game and it is in full production. In an interview with XboxSquad, community manager Naila Hadjas confirmed these details while suggesting that Compulsion will be looking to expand on the strangeness of its stories and worlds. It is clear from that interview that the team wanted to be done with the roguelike structure and give its next game an actual ending, which should be possible given that double the development workforce is working on this title.

Jez Corden at Windows Central has reported that the codename for this game is called "Midnight." and will be "set in a dark and fantastical world." You can see some of the concept drawings of the protagonist and some twisted harpies, as well as a touch of the world design in the article. The story will apparently be centred on a "coming of age" plot with a "southern gothic" vibe inspired by America's deep southern states. The game is described as a single-player story-heavy experience. There has been no news on a release date.

Compulsion Games in 2022

Contrast Screen 9Compulsion Games — Contrast (2013)

In late 2021, community manager Naila Hadjas gave an interview to XboxSquad. There she spoke about the fact that it took a year for Compulsion to integrate into the Xbox Game Studio ecosystem, as well as the team being proud that its new game will be played by more people on Xbox Game Pass. She also gave some indication that as the smallest of the Xbox Game Studios teams, Compulsion has been garnering help from other internal teams to help expand the development process in ways it hadn't been able to previously.

How does Compulsion Games rank?

All of us in the TA office are really rooting for this little team, especially because Compulsion clearly has originality in concept totally sorted. When deciding exactly what would constitute the definitions of our grades, Compulsion stuck out as that perfect promising C grade. This was such a small team, but with clear talent at world-building and artistic direction. The technical side and some of the underlying gameplay systems have, unfortunately, been lacking in We Happy Few and Contrast — something that we really hope can be improved under the tutelage of Xbox Game Studios. While there isn't a portfolio of work present, there is absolutely promise. With the next game, we can well see Compulsion joyfully scaling the form chart and hitting the B with aplomb.

C Tier

An up-and-coming studio, or one struggling to realise its potential

Naturally, this is just our opinion and a bit of good fun! Have a little go at the poll and leave a comment to let us know what you think of Compulsion. We have loved a lot of the detailed posts we have seen in Spotlight articles!
How would you rank Compulsion Games?
  • S — A world-class studio executing at an exceptional level
  • A — A studio with a fantastic portfolio, and the talent to impress further
  • B — A studio capable of greatness, but has more to offer
  • C — An up-and-coming studio, or one struggling to realise its potential
We've had 409 responses.
Kes Eylers-Stephenson
Written by Kes Eylers-Stephenson
Working across TrueTrophies and TrueAchievements, Kes writes news, reviews, and a variety of bespoke features. Kes left university after four years with a first-class MA in English Literature — a subject that required research, creativity, and lots of writing. He also has dabbled in teaching, farming, and building websites. Some days, he plays Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag to pretend he is a pirate.
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