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Epic Win

Mike Capps on an immature business, the right time to make a Vita game and why he's scared to reveal new IP

In this exclusive interview conducted at Game Connection this week, Epic president Mike Capps talks openly about the need for the games business to mature by sharing content and information, why the company is support the PlayStation Vita with its Unreal engine but not making its own game, and the worry of revealing new IP. In your talk at Game Connection this week there seemed to be a strong emphasis on the welfare of the staff, which given the recent email leaks and horror stories from other companies, seems rare?
Mike Capps

It broke my heart when someone misreported our hours at Epic and suddenly we were the bad guys, we don't have one per cent turnover of staff a year because we're mean and terrible. All my friends work at Epic, it's my entire social life. My best man works at Epic. To call it family is a little cheesy but that really is true. Is that approach because it works for you from a financial point of view, or do the finances make sacrifices for that? What are you doing that those other companies aren't?
Mike Capps

It's an easy thing to do, to look at a project and say "well we said we were going to ship this day and we must because otherwise Wall Street will cut our price in half if we don't ship." So then you're looking at do we push these people this hard or miss, and you know, a lot of folks get hurt if our company loses half its value, so which one's worse? I'm really glad I don't have to make those sorts of decisions.

And also since I've been an Epic, ten years, we've been profitable, knock on wood. And that makes it easier to say we'll have free soda all the time and bring in dinner if we're working late, you have the money to do that. We haven't had to test where the line is drawn when you don't have the money to buy soda. Maybe it makes it a lot easier to be really nice to everyone.

There's a lot of kids driving fancy cars at Epic who have only been there a couple of years, and that's because we've been very successful, we have great fans, and then we give the money to the employees

And I think Tim founded the company on that principle of, he's just really, really fair. For a majority owner of a company who could take a significant portion of the profits - there's a lot of kids driving fancy cars at Epic who have only been there a couple of years. Literally programmers that have been there for four years driving around Italian cars, and that's because we get lucky, we've been very successful, we have great fans, and then we give the money to the employees. He doesn't have to do that, he could do half and nobody would notice and they would think it was really great, and he does it because it's fair. You're here talking this week about that sort of strategy, why is it important to you to do that. Is it just because you have an engine to sell?
Mike Capps

It's one of our values. There's a lot of different parts to it. We get really involved in the Supreme Court defence for games, for example, because we want games to successful, we're total game nerds. And when NVidia is saying "we're trying to decide whether to put X transistors or 2X" we're like "2X, everyone needs 2X! Here's why, look what we can do with 2X." And we did the same thing with Microsoft guys and the Xbox quite famously, cost them a billion bucks or something like that for extra memory, and I think it was the right thing for the gamers and for them.

So we do a lot of pushing. And our games industry is shockingly immature from a business perspective, because so few folks have business experience before coming in, or an education for business. It's awesome because it's entrepreneurship gone right, that's what our industry comes from, and that's really exciting, but there's not a lot of sharing, there's not a lot of great game business 'how to' books, so we try to share and people listen to us, for some reason, and we try to learn as much as we can from everybody else and their mistakes. It just seemed like the right thing to do. How do you balance that commitment with creating and maintaining an engine, and your own IPs?
Mike Capps

They're very complementary, to make the games we make and have the ownership of our IPs and to have clarity of vision on our products, because we have that engine business. Every game company is one bad game away from going out of business unfortunately, and we're three away. Which is awesome, and hopefully we won't have three in a row, but we could survive Gears not selling and it would be OK and we'd try again. And so it's very complementary, and from a technology standpoint it's entirely complementary.

It's difficult for us when we make the decision how do we provide support to licensees when we're in the middle of shipping a game, but we have to, because we said we would. Heck, we don't even say we will, but we do more than we ever put in any contract because that could be us in the middle of shipping our game, so it's a little do unto others...

I was licensee, I shipped the first Unreal Engine 2 game, and a lot of my programmers were licensees, because they really know the tools and then made their way to Epic because they thought it would be fun to make the tools better. So we kind of understand what it's like to be on the other side, and that helps up a lot to balance it.

And then for support we have lots of techniques and tricks to make sure that it scales very well. We don't do one-on-one meetings with all our licensees all the time, we do lots of forum style stuff so it's very easy to communicate.

Every game company is one bad game away from going out of business And those licensees help each other out on the forums?
Mike Capps

Absolutely. When I was a licensee probably half the questions were answered by other licensees because you're all in it together. There's no reason, if you find a bug, you don't go "ha ha ha, that'll give us an edge on Splinter Cell!" Because it doesn't at all and so you share it, because it's one less thing that Epic has to find and fix and they can focus on something you care more about. And you share with the Mass Effect guys and they share with you.

I love that about middleware just in general. We use a lot of middleware, not just our engine, but we license ten or fifteen, because it lets us all do better stuff. We're not all reinventing the wheel and designing a car engine to get some place, we buy a car and then go. And that let's us do so much more. Not everybody can build a fantastic physics engine. I think we might be able to, if we worked really hard, but why don't we just take that good free one? That sounds way better. And then let's focus on physics interaction with players and that fun stuff.

Rachel Weber avatar
Rachel Weber: Rachel Weber has been with GamesIndustry since 2011 and specialises in news-writing and investigative journalism. She has more than five years of consumer experience, having previously worked for Future Publishing in the UK.
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