Lord Of War: Epic’s Mike Capps
Studios are becoming larger and more international. Will you fight to preserve Epic’s tight-knit family values?
It’s not an easy answer. It’s tough to balance the needs of a franchise like Gears Of War: what the marketplace expects, and just how much bigger a sequel needs to be to be perceived as good as the first one – it’s gotta be twice as long and then it’s nearly long enough. What’s been successful here has always been a really strong feeling of culture. All the money that comes into our studio goes to our employees, so we’re all very invested in the success of each product. And it all goes in one big pool, so everyone’s incentivised to help each other. We all want Bulletstorm to be a big win, and so the engine guys are going to be crunching to make sure Bulletstorm on PS3 is bad-ass. That’s our job.
You want people with you in that kind of environment you can count on – and I can only find brilliant people I can count on so fast. I’ve been hiring at the same rate for about the last seven or eight years now, which is about ten new guys a year. We don’t lose many people at Epic – maybe one or two a year – so there you go.
The acquisitions have been really interesting. We got Chair Entertainment and People Can Fly right around the same time – and those companies both had their own cultures which are different from ours, but are focused on making a great game and making it fun. These are quality-focused guys, but the cultures are different enough that we always have differences of opinion. But maintaining ‘what is Epic’ when going from 20 guys – which is what it was when I started – to 450 in five countries is rough. Every day, it’s what I think about the most. I work with my HR director more than anyone else in the company.
What’s your take on piracy and DRM on PC?
Piracy’s already had its impact. If you walked in to this place six years ago, Epic was a PC company and always had been. We did one PS2 launch title, which was a port of Unreal Tournament, and everything else was PC. And now, if you read our forums, people are saying: ‘Why do you hate the PC? You’re a console-only company’. And guess what? It’s because the money’s on console.
We still do PC, we still love the PC, but we already saw the impact of piracy: it killed a lot of great independent developers and completely changed our business model. But there’s certainly a light for PC gaming. The biggest game of all now is Farmville, right? Free to play with micropayments is not just working in Asia but in the western market. So, most publishers I’m speaking to right now think their money’s going to be shifting back to PC and away from traditional consoles, just because folks are in that mode of wanting to spend a little bit of time every now and then, and paying money to save time because there’s so much media competing for it.
I read a great article about Dungeons & Dragons which said: ‘Imagine, 20 years ago, your ten-year-old kid buying a box of books. You tore those books apart, you were so fascinated to read all the rules and stuff. If you bought a game, you read every page of the manual’. Why D&D has changed is because kids don’t read the rules any more. I sure did when I was ten. So when you have that sort of change in the way people consume media, it makes sense that we’re moving away from the ten-hour blockbuster to those always-persistent bits of play.
So, maybe Facebook will save PC gaming – but it’s not going to look like Gears Of War.
And do you find that people are frightened by that metamorphosis?
Yeah, you’re not going to be playing Baldur’s Gate. It’s just not going to be that way. It’ll be a free-to-play, buy-your-potions-for-five-cents-online version, with user-created content [laughs]. Our children will never know what they’ve lost. We’re certainly not dooming-and-glooming over here. Piracy hurt, subscription is the answer. Used game sales are really, really hurting console – how many players never paid us for Gears? – and the response to that is that people are putting more and more into DLC, retail-only download codes and those kinds of thing. And it makes sense. Dragon Age is a good example, focusing efforts on the people who paid for it.