How Seth Killian went from playing Street Fighter to making it, and what happened next
By day, Seth Killian was a philosophy teacher at the University Of Illinois. By night, he was a competitive Street Fighter player and tournament organiser, part of a small group of US players who were collectively laying the foundations for what is now a highly organised nationwide scene.
Videogames were a passion, sure – he did advocacy work for the Entertainment Software Association, his experience of a hugely social, arcade-based pastime proving a handy courtroom counterpoint to the common perception of games as a solitary, unhealthy pursuit – but he’d never considered a career in the industry. Until, that is, Capcom asked him to help make Street Fighter IV.
“It was nothing magical,” Killian tells us, though that’s rather contradicted by the explanation of events that follows. As a thank you for his advocacy work, the ESA gave him free entry to E3 every year, and he and his fighting game friends would always agree on the Capcom booth being the end-of-day meeting point. One year, a friend suggested he ask the Capcom representatives for some merchandise to give away as tournament prizes. “They said, ‘Get lost. Take a hike, weirdo,’” he laughs. “I was like, no problem, I am a weirdo from the Internet, which at that time was even weirder. So I took a hike.”
He tried again the following year, and took another hike. The next year, however, the reaction was more positive; Christian Svensson, now Capcom’s senior vice president, had just joined the company and wanted more engagement with the Street Fighter community – meaning people like Killian. A job offer soon followed. He turned it down, not wanting to waste ten years of academic philosophy. “And that’s when they told me, ‘We’ve greenlit a game called Street Fighter IV, and here’s a really early wireframe.’ I was like, ‘Wow, this looks terrible,’” he laughs. “‘This is the worst thing I’ve ever seen.’”
His family tried to talk him out of it, but to no avail. “I decided I had to. Fighting games had been a huge part of my life. I knew the magic of the genre, but it had sort of disappeared, and here was a chance to bring it back with a real budget. I felt like if it didn’t go as well as it possibly could, and I’d passed on a chance to potentially help, I would have thought about that decision every day for the rest of my life.”
He settled in quickly, his lack of industry experience proving something of an asset. Eager to prove himself, he pulled no punches in early milestone reviews. “I was being very tough. It could have been seen as disrespectful, because I was like, ‘This is no good,’ which is not the way you talk to senior Japanese management! I didn’t know the proper etiquette. But it worked out well, because at least they understood that I knew what I was talking about. We got on very well.”