Christian Svensson on making Capcom a world class PC developer.
Ever wondered why PC versions of multi-platform games often come out after console versions? Wonder no more. In an extensive interview, Capcom's Christian Svensson, vice president, business development and strategic planning, dishes the dirt on the challenge of bringing its games to the PC, answers questions on when PC versions of Capcom's high profile 2009 games will be out and reveals Capcom's commitment to simultaneous releases. If you're a PC gamer and you like Capcom's games, you need to read on.
VideoGamer.com: What are the biggest challenges in bringing Capcom's games to the PC?
Christian Svensson: It's fair to say that Capcom today is probably not perceived as a powerhouse among the PC gaming audience. Our biggest challenge is actually building credibility with that audience and finding a home with that audience with our content. It's fair to say that our historical strength has been on consoles. However we do believe that content of all sorts in many ways is better on PC than it is on console. For example, the best version of both Lost Planet games was PC. The best version of Devil May Cry is the PC version. More content, better performance. Street Fighter IV will be an interesting one. The arcade version is effectively a PC. That is the epitome of what the game was meant to be and we've obviously made considerable enhancements for the console release versus the original arcade release. I think you'll see a few extra bells and whistles on the PC version when that comes a little later this year too. That could become the definitive version as well.
VideoGamer.com: Looking at Capcom's record on the PC in recent times, when you have brought games to the PC that have been on consoles, it's usually after the console versions have already been released. How much of an issue is that?
CS: That is definitely an issue. Syncing release dates is a challenge. What's funny is, I don't know if you saw actually on my blog a couple of days ago somebody somewhere started spouting off that we were holding back PC releases due to the impact of piracy, which is a completely absurd and pointless statement. Piracy exists regardless of when I release it. The objective is obviously to keep the window as close to a simultaneous release as possible to benefit from a significantly larger marketing footprint. So the accusation that we were delaying things due to piracy impact is silly.
VideoGamer.com: Then why do you do it?
CS: Well the answer is the game's not done. So, to put things in perspective, the Street Fighter IV team is working on two things right now. They're finishing the PC SKU, and people are like, well the arcade was the PC, how hard can it be? Well I just mentioned we had all of these additions for the console version in terms of content that didn't exist on the PC. All of that needs to be rolled back in. We have to do an online integration with an online service. I won't discuss which one yet because it hasn't been announced yet. Obviously the arcade had no online. Here we have an online integration that has to be done. We have to optimise the game for a variety of configurations, both up and down, so that it looks pretty on things that are more powerful than the arcade system and it runs well and at 60 frames per second on things that are considerably less powerful so we sell to more than the top two per cent of the market. All of that takes time. The testing on PC in particular is a very, very time consuming process. Testing and optimisation versus obviously when we're working on console or an arcade board for that matter, it has a known configuration that we can optimise for out of the gate.
VideoGamer.com: The argument from PC gamers would be that these games are invariably built and developed on PCs so it makes no sense that the PC version would take longer than the console versions.
CS: That would be probably a bit misguided in the sense that while the assets are created on PC, the hardware on which they're running and which they're being optimised for are not PC. Consoles increasingly look like PCs to some degree. The PS3, while it has a PC-like GPU, is not a PC. It does not run in DirectX in any way shape or form. The multi-threaded, multi-SPU issues that you have to contend with are completely different than what you have to tackle on a PC. To some degree a PC is a more known commodity and going to PC is a fairly well understood process, but that process still takes time.
Your next question to me is probably, well why don't you just hold the console versions until the PC is done? The answer is the unfortunate financial realities of making our numbers within certain financial years or quarters drives when we have to actually get some stuff out of the door and recognise on that. The other part of this is while the PC is an important part of our business, today the forecast does not justify holding back the lion share of the revenues that comes from consoles to make it happen. Now, moving forward the objective is always, day and date simultaneous ship. We've achieved that with MotoGP, we achieved it with Neopets, we will achieve it on Dark Void, we will achieve it on Flock. That is always what we're going to be shooting for moving forward. I had actually a very candid conversation with Takeuchi (Jun Takeuchi, creative director and producer on Resident Evil 5) at DICE about this, they're going to make a concerted effort to try and pull those dates in closer than they have historically and ultimately with the goal of simultaneous shipment eventually with their future products.
VideoGamer.com: Capcom's PC gaming fans will appreciate that. Whenever you have brought a PC version of your games to market it's always been a quality product. Perhaps the frustration has more to do with what they have the potential to enjoy more than anything else.
CS: I certainly am happy people are passionate and want our projects. I think it actually demonstrates that we've come a very long way in a very short period of time, because there was a time not so long ago when our PC projects, let's just say were not representative of what was done by internal teams. I think that Lost Planet and Dead Rising and MotoGP and a few other titles have actually done a pretty good job of at least helping to build our credibility back with that audience.
VideoGamer.com: There is a feeling that the PC gaming market isn't as potent as it once used to be. How does Capcom view it in terms of its health?
CS: We view the PC gaming market as a growth platform. To be fair, we don't have it 100 per cent right either right now in terms of content, in terms of presentation, in terms of how we're going to reach our audience on the PC. Some of this is still a learning process for us. The PC for us as a growth platform, that growth comes in a number of areas. I'll use international and emerging markets as a key one. There are plenty of territories around the world where our content will never be viable as a console product within those territories. It will only be viable as a PC product. There are emerging markets that are fantastic markets, or within a few years will be even better markets. Russia and Brazil are prime examples. Our content should be there, our brand should be there and there is no reason why we shouldn't be building an audience in those territories. Those are unlikely to be console strongholds any time in the foreseeable future. Looking farther out down the time horizon, India probably represents a pretty significant opportunity, with a growing middle-class and obviously a very, very PC centric society. I'm not saying that we have the right content for all of these markets but these are opportunities for PC gaming that on the whole are growing. I would say that the perception of the decline of the PC gaming market has more to do with the decline in importance of brick and mortar sales to that segment of the market. Secondarily a traditional packaged goods model as opposed to a service oriented model, this is why I say we're still learning, is probably where that market starts to move towards more than anything. Where you're hearing the doom and gloom from are the people who are whetted to packaged goods sales at retail.
VideoGamer.com: The doom and gloom usually comes from western developers and publishers. Is PC gaming in good health in the US and Europe?
CS: For us those are still the two largest markets, and they're going to continue to be viable, valuable markets for the foreseeable future. They're probably not significant growth markets by themselves. The PC opportunity is really a global one and if we're focusing solely on western audiences with western content that may not be the solution ultimately to our success in that space. I'll point to some of the things our guys in Japan are doing. Inafune-san (Keiji Inafune, head of Research & Development and Online Business at Capcom) is a huge proponent of the PC within our organisation in Japan as the head of R&D, and his establishment of an online group that is focused on providing content to Japan, Korea and China and Hong Kong in particular, is a major play for us as a company. We're making significant investments in that space. Hopefully further down the line we'll actually see some return on those investments. We're just getting started over there, relatively. Monster Hunter Frontier launched about a year-and-a-half ago. It is from my understanding the largest online PC gaming game in Japan. It is launching in Korea and in China later this year. Fingers crossed, that will be a huge success for the company.