Christian Svensson on making Capcom a world class PC developer.
VideoGamer.com: Is piracy a lazy excuse?
CS: It's definitely an excuse. Piracy is a challenge. There is no way around it. Within the PCGA we have established what we call our Piracy Sub-Committee in the last couple of months and we've just figured out what its remit is and how it's going to contribute to the PCGA. The first step quite frankly is to quantify what is the true effect of piracy? That is something we hope to have more visibility on in providing some hard data, well supported data, in the next few months. I don't want to give a time frame simply because we don't quite have all the answers yet, but we have some very smart people in the room, from Microsoft, Nvidia, I'm OK, we've got some very smart people in the room who think about this stuff literally as their day to day jobs, who are going to try to put some numbers to this. The next step is what are best practises? What are things that we as publishers and developers and hardware manufacturers can do to provide a better experience to consumers such that we're not beating them over the head with restrictive policies and at the same time protecting our content and not leaving the back door open. I don't think anyone has the piracy question, there's no solution today that is simple. To be fair, there are solutions out there that could shut down piracy for good, no question, but at exorbitant cost and at pretty questionable consumer propositions for being fair. So, along that continuum, we've got to figure out what are the best practices and what new technologies are on the horizon that can help in that fight. Is piracy a factor? It's absolutely a factor. It drives the business in certain directions in terms of how you think about it, what sort of content is most appropriate. To be fair, piracy is also potentially a force for good. People torrent demos. If you could harness what pirates do, and what pirates effectively do is provide a service, and use it in a positive way that actually contributes dollars back for the effort expended in creating that content, whoever figures that out first is going to win. I think the PCGA is looking at things in that direction too. Maybe that's a part of the best practice.
VideoGamer.com: Ubisoft released the console versions of EndWar last year, but the PC version has only just come out. Ubisoft Shanghai director Michael de Plater said: "To be honest, if PC wasn't pirated to hell and back, there'd probably be a PC version coming out the same day as the other two. But at the moment, if you release the PC version, essentially what you're doing is letting people have a free version that they rip off instead of a purchased version. Piracy's basically killing PC." Is that view misguided?
CS: I'm going to give you a very diplomatic answer. Capcom's objective is to do simultaneous releases, piracy issues notwithstanding. Someone specific to that project, creative director or otherwise, made that determination and the market will decide whether or not it was a good idea.
VideoGamer.com: Capcom's involvement with Steam has sparked some debate online. It seems you're only testing the waters with it. You're not fully on board, you're not not on board. What do you think about Steam?
CS: Steam is great. I'm a huge fan. I've got more than 200 hours logged in Team Fortress 2. I'm good friends with Doug and Scott and Jason at Valve. I used to work with Doug. I'm very close to those guys. Steam is to me the embodiment of what is right with digital distribution. That said, I have about 20 digital distribution partners. Steam and Valve are just one. So, coming back to what I was saying earlier about packaged goods not being as important as they once were, we've made a very heavy investment in our digital distribution relations to the point that I would say we have as good if not better digital distribution capabilities than any publisher anywhere in the world. As far as what our content is showing up for, there are some tricks that have to do with intra-company issues. Projects created in Japan have separate contracts from projects created in the US or in the west. I am still working on getting some of our Japanese content up there. I would also say that Capcom was the first company to do a full Steam integration on a title, in the form of Lost Planet. What you now know as Steam today is partially because I and the Lost Planet team were asking Valve, can we please use your libraries for matching? Can we please use your DRM? And they had to peel those bits of code out of the Half Life 2 libraries because they were previously only existent in their own code and make them usable and actionable for us. While they may have eventually gone that way, we were the thing that kick-started it. Again, we do have a great relationship with Valve. I will make the statement, all content created in the US or the west will go to Steam day and date with any other outlet. I will say that I am working on getting similar levels of support out of Japan on that, both retroactively and forward looking. I agree Devil May Cry and Lost Planet: Colonies should be there.
VideoGamer.com: What kind of anti-piracy measures can gamers expect from PC versions of your upcoming titles?
CS: We have an agreement with SecuROM. They have been an excellent partner and I think they are quite frankly much maligned for things that they are not necessarily responsible for. SecuROM is as onerous or innocuous as a developer or publisher chooses to make the policies. You can decide, for example, what is the appropriate number of concurrent installs. I say concurrent as a very important distinction. You can enable replication of licenses that it becomes a concurrency issue. So instead of having five installs for life, as long as you provide a revoke tool or some other mechanism to revoke, or you have the revoke tool happen transparently via un-install, you can install or un-install a million times, but you can only have it on three, five, seven, ten, whatever the policy you choose to hold, machines at any one time. There's a lot of miscommunication that has happened through some of the first implementations of the network authenticated versions of SecuROM. We have tried to be a) transparent and b) we've tried to make it so that people understand that if you buy this from us you're going to be able to install it for life. We want to make sure that you can absolutely have access to the content you've got to the same extent as if you bought it on the disc and had no DRM. The way it works is it does one authentication upon install. You can decide to have it phone home every time you execute, you can decide to phone home every week, month, year. We haven't historically implemented phone home mechanisms. Basically once you authenticate with us upon installation you're done. The technology itself is not the bad guy. It's how it's implemented and, furthermore, how it's communicated or not communicated to fans. I think so many people have been beaten up so badly with let's say more restrictive forms of DRM that they always assume the worst. That's not always the case.
VideoGamer.com: So going forward Capcom will employ a similar strategy?
CS: That's our intention. We have a good, long-standing relationship with SecuROM. I don't anticipate that going away any time soon. And to be fair we think it's actually had really good results for us.
VideoGamer.com: I wanted to ask you about a number of titles that you have coming out in 2009. Capcom has spoken about the importance of a mult-platform strategy. You talked about Street Fighter IV. Is there any rough ball park on when PC gamers might be able to get their hands on it?
CS: Yes. Let's say summer. I think one of the interesting things as well is we rolled out our Mad Catz sticks and pads, and the interesting thing to note about all of those sticks and pads is they all work with PC as well. I'm in talks with Mad Catz to figure out how can we actually do some bundles of pads and Street Fighter IV PC.
VideoGamer.com: You certainly wouldn't want to play it with a mouse and keyboard!
CS: Well you know what? There are people who do. There are competitive players who play GGPO or other emulated versions with keyboard and they're actually very good, no joke. But you're right, the barrier to that is pretty high and those people are pretty few and far between. The preferred input device is definitely not a keyboard and mouse.
VideoGamer.com: How has Street Fighter IV done for you guys on the console side of things? I guess you must be delighted.
CS: We are thrilled. We set the bar really high for ourselves numbers wise in our forecasts and we are exceeding forecasts in a very, very healthy way. I would go so far as to say... no I don't want to say it. We're really, really pleased. It's great that Street Fighter IV is there to help reinvigorate the fighting space. It's been received far better than we could have imagined. The fans have been incredibly supportive.
VideoGamer.com: It sounded like you wanted to say something incredibly positive about the game but you pulled back.
CS: I did! I pulled back. I don't want to make an outrageous statement that I can't back up. When we can back it up I'll make an outrageous statement. It's on track to do some pretty amazing things. I'll say that.