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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.
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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.
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.
VideoGamer.com: Moving on, with Resident Evil 5, no PC version has been confirmed. PC gamers are looking at that and might be thinking they’re being left out in the cold. How does that tally with Capcom’s multi-platform strategy?
CS: That’s a fantastic question. Unfortunately it’s one that I can’t give you an answer to today. But stay tuned.
VideoGamer.com: There is hope, then?
VideoGamer.com: Lost Planet 2 has been announced for Xbox 360 only, but it hasn’t been described as exclusive for Xbox 360. Lost Planet has a loyal following among PC gamers, as well as PS3 owners. What’s the deal there? Are PS3 and PC gamers out in the cold on Lost Planet 2?
CS: That I would love to give you more information on, but I’m going to have to remain silent for a bit longer. It’s complicated, it’s confusing, I do understand that it’s confusing how it was announced. It’s not clear. Clarity will come over the coming months.
VideoGamer.com: You mentioned that you’re aiming for a simultaneous release going forward with all of your titles. Does that apply to Dead Rising 2?
CS: In truth I actually need to check with the team on that. I know it’s announced for PC. I don’t know if that one is targeted for simultaneous launch. Dark Void will be simultaneous. Bionic Commando will be nearly simultaneous. We haven’t given a date on Dark Void yet. Bionic Commando…
VideoGamer.com: For Bionic Commando we’ve got May 31.
CS: That’s probably about right.
VideoGamer.com: But we’ve only got the first half of 2009 for the PC version.
CS: Correct. Let’s say it was in the first half, it’s within a couple of weeks, if you’re May 31 for your console version. It may not be quite day and date but it will be close enough to benefit from the marketing that’s going on around it.
VideoGamer.com: It seems like Capcom is trying to get the PC versions of its games out as close to the console versions as possible. Is that a message you’re keen to get out?
CS: It is. The sad news is we’re not going to be consistent about it for a while. So while it’s a message I’d love to get across we’re not quite walking the walk yet.
VideoGamer.com: Capcom is a Japanese company and traditionally the PC isn’t as strong a gaming platform as in other countries. From your point of view, does that cause frustration?
CS: Capcom is an amazing company in its ability to evolve and adapt. To be fair to the guys in Japan they listen incredibly well. So when I sit down and say look, it’s important that we do this, they line up, they take notes and they put action plans together to make it happen. It just takes time to make these things happen. And it takes planning literally months if not years in advance for some of these things to take place as far as managing resources to make sure that builds are in lock step on all three platforms, not just two.