People Can Fly profile: the story so far and making Outriders

We talk to People Can Fly CEO Sebastian Wojciechowski about the studio’s history, teaming up with Square Enix, and working on some of the most famous games in history.
By Duncan Heaney
Tags: Outriders

There are plenty of reasons to be excited about Outriders: amazing weapons, ludicrous amounts of customizability, and the ability to strike, squish and squelch enemies with brilliantly brutal powers to name but a few. I mean, this is a game that lets you hit your foes with a literal volcano!

But you already know all that from the recent demo, and SQUARE ENIX PRESENTS showcase. There’s an even bigger reason you should be on tenterhooks for the game’s release on April 1: it’s developed by People Can Fly.

When it comes to action games, few developers are as respected as People Can Fly.

Based in Poland, the talented team is responsible for critically acclaimed games like Painkiller and Bulletstorm. It was also formerly part of Epic Games, where it worked on some of the most popular series in gaming, including Gears of War and Fortnite.

Since then, it’s gone independent and partnered with Square Enix to create Outriders, due for release April 1.

In short, People Can Fly has gone on quite the journey. Ahead of the game’s release, we sat down with its CEO Sebastian Wojciechowski to find out all about the studio’s fascinating history - and it’s promising future.

Outriders 101

Hi Sabastian. So when did People Can Fly get started?

People Can Fly was founded way back in 2002, so around 18 years ago! Our first game was a first person shooter called Painkiller. It was a success, and lots of people really liked it - I think it’s still got fans today!

After Painkiller was released, the company started work on a new game - Come Midnight. Unfortunately, the publisher we were working with had some financial difficulties and the project was cancelled.

That, as you can imagine, caused some… trouble for People Can Fly.

So what did you do?

Well fortunately, around that time, we created a demo that was seen by Epic Games. They were like: “it’s great and fantastic, and it’s in Unreal Engine - we want you to become part of Epic!”

This was really good for our company - Epic bought majority shares and People Can Fly joined the Epic Games Family.

Outriders screenshot

What did you work on?

From the get-go, we started working on the Gears of War series. First, we did a PC port of the original Gears of War, and also started collaborating on Gears of War 2, and later the third game, as a co-development partner.

We also started working on our own original game - Bulletstorm. That was in development for a couple of years and published by EA in 2011.

After Bulletstorm launched, we started working on Gears of War: Judgement - the fourth game in the franchise. Around this time - in 2012 - the three founders of the company left to form a new studio, and I joined as studio head. Epic also bought the remaining shares and we became wholly part of that company - Epic Games Poland.

What did you do as part of Epic Games?

We started helping Epic with various different endeavours. For example, in 2013, we did a lot of work for Unreal Engine. More and more developers were starting to use it to make their games and they needed content and templates so that they could learn how to use it.

Also around 2014, we worked on Fortnite - though back then it was still purely a coop PvE Player vs Environment game, not the Battle Royale it is today.

Outriders trailer

What did you learn from your time with Epic?

A lot of stuff! We wouldn’t be able to create Outriders without our experience of working with Epic - and all the shooters we worked on. Those skills gave us the confidence that we can deliver the best shooter in the world.

Also, being part of Epic games meant that we were super-close to the development of Unreal Engine - which we still use in our games.

Why did you decide to go independent?

Working with Epic was good, but we started to think about our future.

Look, as a developer, it’s great to work on someone else’s intellectual property - especially if that team has been created to be a collaborative partner. But People Can Fly was founded to make its own games, and there was an internal desire to create something new.

We chatted internally with Epic about this, and in 2015 we became an independent studio again. We quickly started working on Outriders, pitched it to publishers and ended up working with Square Enix.

How have you found working as an independent studio?

There’s more creative freedom, obviously, but it’s beneficial in other ways too. For example, we can be much more agile as a developer.

Because all the main stakeholders are directly involved in the day to day operation of the company, we can make decisions about how to approach problems or opportunities much faster than before.

You can see that in our growth - we’ve gone from 40 developers to more than 230 in four years. That was only possible because we could take actions extremely quickly.

Independence must come with problems though…

Oh yes - more responsibility and more stress! (laughs)

There are no free lunches as an independent developer - you have to be ready to do it all, handle any problems yourselves. That can be super stressful!

One of the best things about being part of Epic was that we could always ask HQ if we needed support. Whatever the issue, they’d always help us. As an independent developer, we don’t have that safety net.

That’s one of the reasons we wanted to find a true collaborative partner - a team that can help us with development and support us in a meaningful way.

So why did you choose Square Enix as that partner?

Well as I said, we pitched the initial concept of the game to publishers. We weren’t looking for a company who would just give us some money and leave us to it - we were looking for a proper partner that would contribute to the development of the game itself.

Square Enix was interested in taking that role, and we partnered pretty much from the get-go. The team there understood what we were trying to achieve with the game, had thoughtful input and were eager to support it. And it’s been a really positive - and collaborative - partnership.

How does Square Enix support People Can Fly?

We’re very much working together on Outriders, so they contribute in so many different parts. We work with Square Enix studios on a daily basis - they help us with code, art, advice… basically, every element of the game design process.

They also take care of many other crucial parts of development, such as user testing, quality assurance, and marketing, for example.

Plus they contribute to the ideas, provide advice and so forth too. It’s extremely helpful to chat to people with a different perspective on the game. For example, they may help us identify whether an idea can be taken further, or perhaps isn’t quite working as intended - stuff that can be tricky for us to spot when we’re working so closely to that part of the game.

Long story short, they help us navigate through the very complicated process of developing Outriders!

Let’s talk a little about Outriders. Why did you decide make this game in particular?

Going independent is always a tricky moment, especially when you’re already established like People Can Fly.

For example, if establish a new studio, you have the luxury of doing anything you want. Even if the team has experience of doing shooters, you can do a racing game and nobody ask any questions.

But People Can Fly is already known for shooters, and I think that’s what people really expect from us. When you’re pitching a game to publishers, you want them to feel comfortable that you can make the game you say you can, so it was obvious that we needed to stick to our roots.

Fortunately we love to make shooters, so that wasn’t exactly a problem (laughs).

Still, when we started planning a new game, we had a few things we wanted to achieve. Firstly, we wanted to push ourselves, and disrupt the shooter genre. Many of us on the team love RPGs, and we wanted the deep mechanics of that genre in our title too.

Secondly, we focused on designing a co-op game - we wanted to make Outriders a multi-player experience - not just a single player one.

It was also decided early that it should be third person. This game is about loot - new armors, and weapons for example. We want you to be able to see how your character progresses over the course of the game.

These fundamental ideas were there right from the start, and have remained through every step of development - from conception to now. It’s a game with a clear vision behind it.

Finally, what would you say defines a People Can Fly game?

We are known for over the top entertainment. I call it entertainment ‘a la PCF’ (laughs).

We love gore, we love guts - that kind of stuff. Mature content is what we like and we know how to do it.

Also quality of course. One of the unique things about People Can Fly is that the core team have been working at People Can Fly for around 15 years. Even though the team is growing, the backbone of the studio has remained the same for a long time now - that expertise comes across in our games

But the true ‘secret sauce’, if you like, is that we genuinely love playing our own games. We will not put out a game unless we ourselves find it enjoyable - and I think that shows.

Many thanks to Sebastian for answering our questions.

Outriders is a thrilling shooter with that combines depth and spectacle. The devs recently went into detail on some of it’s most interesting mechanics in these deep dives:

The game releases April 1 for PS5, PS4, XBOX GAME PASS, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and Steam, Epic Games Store and Stadia. You can try the game right now in the free demo - and your progress will carry over to the full game!

The full game is also available to preorder now from the Square Enix Store:

To find out more - and see the latest news, trailers and more - make sure you follow Outriders on social media: