New Adventures for Old Heroes

Capcom’s Christian Svensson provides a promising and candid look at the future of cross-development between consoles and PCs.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a gamer unfamiliar with Capcom. Operating both as a developer and a publisher, the Japanese company is responsible for long-running franchises such as Megaman, Resident Evil, and Street Fighter, each a legend in its respective genre. On the strength of these and other properties, Capcom has blossomed into an international enterprise and a fixture of gaming culture.

A look at Capcom’s library reveals that they have the Midas touch when it comes to designing experiences memorable for players. Resident Evil is practically the game that defined survival horror, a genre still thriving today, and Devil May Cry did the same for the action brawler genre. Street Fighter is the standard for competitive fighting games. Smaller, more artistic releases like Okami are staples for the gaming literati, and the ubiquity of Mega Man speaks for itself – it’s widely known as one of the best games ever made.

No one doubts Capcom’s status within the industry, but it may surprise some that they’re a member of the PCGA. The types of games for which Capcom is renowned – platformers, fighting games, survival horror – have all historically been most successful on consoles. Most of their classics have never been made available on PC, or were released in a limited fashion. Search for Mega Man on any popular PC game distributor, and you won’t find much beyond used copies of a DOS CD-ROM for Mega Man X. But Christian Svensson, Capcom’s Senior Vice President of consumer software, tells me that Capcom is looking forward to a bright future on the PC – and points out that things are already moving in a positive direction.

“The core of our business is still in consoles, but for the seven years I’ve been working at Capcom, our PC efforts have been steadily growing. It helps that the PlayStation 4 uses X86 architecture, meaning the development synergies are greater than ever. Looking forward, we should see a higher and higher percentage of our games making their way to PC, and I believe players will find the definitive versions of our games on PC,” he said.

The signs of that growth are encouraging. Looking back at Capcom’s most significant console releases over the last several years - franchises such as Devil May Cry, Resident Evil, and Street Fighter – all have been praised for their exceptional PC ports.

Svensson proudly lists the perks of various PC releases. Lost Planet and its sequel were respectively the first releases to use DirectX 10 and 11. Releasing this week, PC version of Resident Evil 6 features a number of exclusive features, most notably a challenging new gameplay mode leveraging the PC’s ability to render vast numbers of enemies.

Such loving treatment is music to the ears of PC gamers, who were widely disappointed by SourceNext’s rushed port of the brilliant Resident Evil 4, which not only failed to include graphical options but even lacked mouse support. When many gamers load up their newly-purchased software to find the experience so lacking, they might blame it on laziness or incompetence, but angrily bombing the port’s Metacritic score never seems to solve the problem. The reality is that several internal factors may lead to poor ports. Svensson explains:

“There a couple of possible causes of less-than-stellar PC releases. The first is simple ignorance- a development team working on a PC SKU might not know what’s possible or expected in a PC game, especially if they themselves aren’t PC gamers. If they’re tasked with bringing the console experience to PC, they’ll often do exactly that and nothing more. But even when all the right intentions are in place, there’s a second set of obstacles: budget and time.”

The economic forces at play here are complicated. The PC’s market share is formidable and growing fast, as PCGA President Matt Ployhar can prove with some compelling data. But for a company like Capcom, that’s only a part of the story. “Our PC fanbase is growing but it’s not yet to the scale of our individual console releases in terms of revenue generation,” says Svensson. “In the forms that our content has historically taken, we continue to find sizable audiences willing to pay for that content. It takes time to build a new audience.”

Svennson continues. “Special PC enhancements are often the first feature cut when schedules and budgets get tight. Gamers ask how much time and money is required to implement some of the simpler features, when, after all, modding communities will frequently find workarounds for the missing ones not long after a port’s release. The key thing to point out is that it’s less about the actual development costs than it is about QA costs. Every feature requires considerable QA and compatibility testing, which isn’t cheap. The PC platform comes with all kinds of different hardware you need to test for. Sometimes, we need to compromise: it’s better to release a game missing a feature some discerning players consider important, than to release a game which a larger set of players can’t run at all due to some arcane bug.”

“Thankfully,” he adds, “we’ve mostly been on top of our development teams and clearly expressed our expectations for what features we want at a minimum. As a result, over the last several years, the PC versions of our games are almost always the best [versions of a given title]. We intend to keep things that way. After all, we’re committed to quality, and given the horsepower available, the PC is where a game can shine the brightest.”

Recently, some of the credit for that record goes to QLOC, the developer, QA company and localization shop to whom Capcom has delegated many recent ports, such as Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition, Street Fighter X Tekken, Resident Evil 6, and DmC. In the latter outing, they had a little help from another PCGA member, AMD, who provided optimization and compatibility recommendations for their hardware. Chalk up a victory for fruitful partnerships in the PC world – exactly the kind of activity the PCGA is eager to broker and support.

So, the future of Capcom on the PC does indeed look bright. And what about those classic titles which never fully saw the light of day on PC? Svensson hints that PC gamers with a taste for the retro might have a little of the past to look forward to. “We are looking at our back catalog, and with partners like GOG.com we’re starting to get some of the older stuff out there. We made Street Fighter Alpha 2 available there a few months ago and I’m hoping to do more in the future. At the same time, as we look at our “future” digital classics offerings on other platforms, I hope to have PC be a part of the mix as well.”

Capcom and the PCGA have been a powerful pair of allies, and with guys like Christian Svensson around, things are sure to stay that way. We look forward to continuing to work with them in the coming years.

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