Editor’s note: In the first of a two-part interview, John Gaudiosi, who covers the video game industry for WRAL Local Tech Wire, talks with Mike Capps, president of Epic Games in Cary, about the fast-growing company.
REDWOOD SHORES, Calif. — Epic Games keeps setting its sights ever higher for new products, partners and franchises.
On Thursday, Epic Games President Mike Capps was at Electronic Arts’ Redwood Shores Studio to announce a partnership with the world’s largest game publisher. The new action game from Epic’s People Can Fly studio in Warsaw, Poland, will ship for PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
Could there be another multimillion-copy seller like "Gears of War" or "Unreal" in Epic’s arsenal?
While no name for the shooter was given, nor a release timetable, Capps discussed this new partnership in this exclusive interview.
Epic is now working with Microsoft, Midway Games and Electronic Arts on games. Are you trying to diversify?
We’re not trying to diversify. We matched the publisher to the title. This title and what we’re trying to do with it is a very good fit for EA’s portfolio. They were the most passionate [among] the publishers we talked to. We don’t do a bidding war. That’s not what it’s about. Luckily, Epic is more about finding a passion for a particular product.
What made you choose Electronic Arts?
Five years ago, we never would have worked with EA. They were focused on internal development, and they were the big corporate machine that was not a fit for an indie developer like Epic, especially a prima donna indie developer like Epic. They really changed the focus on external IP [intellectual property]. Their work on a game like “The Orange Box” says it all. We called Gabe (Newell of Valve Corp. and the popular "Half-Life" game series) and asked him what it was like to work with EA, and they had a really good experience. That was a game that EA doesn’t own, and they marketed it and distributed it and everybody made buckets of money. It was a great partnership.
We called over to BioWare and asked if they would really work with EA, and they said it’s a really good fit. Every game is treated as a star [in] the portfolio.
Are there publishers Epic wouldn’t work with?
Some publishers wouldn’t fit with us. Nintendo’s not going to do the next Epic game. I don’t think it’s about a "mature" rating. I think it was about what we’re trying to do with the title.
What are you trying to do with this new title?
I can’t talk too much about it because it’s still early. But what People Can Fly is good at is they make really fun, over-the-top crazy, shooter-type experiences. We’re trying to combine that with our new-found ability to create a really interesting franchise – a deep, story-based world that has fun game-play in it. We want to take what we learned with the "Gears" franchise and apply it to what they’re good at.
What are you looking for in a publishing partner?
EA Partners has this new, a-la-carte approach to publishing for third-party games which offers PR, marketing, testing, distribution and design. I don’t need design for this game or an art director, but I do need a lot of the services they offer. Most publishers do a one-size-fits-all model that requires us to adapt to them, so we get a lot of frustration from that. EA was willing and able to have their European studio on the ground with the team three days a week, plus coming out to Raleigh on a regular basis and keeping communication going.
They were basically putting together a package that worked for the way we’re developing this game. The way we’re developing this game is different. They fit to us.
How do you decide between cross-platform and single-platform for a new game?
We’ve had a lot of success making a single-platform game because you can really target that platform and, if you make the right game, get a lot of platform support. Being three platforms has its own wins, including having a much larger marketplace. For this title, we were thinking cross-platform, and EA was the best partner for that.
How large is the People Can Fly team in Poland?
They’re about 45 guys now, and they’ll get a little bit bigger before production is done. They’re in pre-production now. Mostly it’s been process changes. We don’t want to mess up what’s good about them, but we do want to apply the lessons we’ve learned at Epic. Epic’s always been this jazz band/rock star studio that has slowly become more structured as we’ve moved forward over the years. They’re where we were a few years ago, so we’re trying to apply those lessons without screwing up what’s magical about their studio.
Has there been any type of adjustment for People Can Fly since the acquisition?
I think the biggest adjustment for these guys is that they’ve been living hand-to-mouth, making games for different publishers. They never had the chance to sit back and take three or four months and come up with ideas for a new game. They’re not worried (now) about making the next milestone to get the next check. Luckily, Epic has been pretty successful financially. Their whole world has changed to "let’s just make the best game and take the amount of time that makes sense. Worry about opportunity cost, not dollar cost." That’s where developers should be.
Part Two: What’s next for Epic Games as a company?