Last year, Epic Games took a majority stake
in Warsaw, Poland-based developer People Can Fly, developer of first-person shooter Painkiller
On the other side of the Atlantic, Epic makes its headquarters in Raleigh, North Carolina. Gamasutra spoke in more detail to Epic president Mike Capps following his recent comments to us
on EA Partners publishing People Can Fly's upcoming game.
Among other questions, we asked him how Epic manages the trans-Atlantic co-development process with the Polish studio.
The Investment Strategy, Or Lack Thereof
The move, which saw a prominent independent developer invest in a smaller studio working in the same primary gameplay genre, was not dissimilar to Valve's acquisition of Turtle Rock Studios
-- and also is an uncommon move. Capps acknowledged the parallel, noting that the decision "was not planned at all."
"It's not like Valve or Epic don't have the ability to go acquire studios, it's just that we don't have the time, and it's not really what we're in the business for," he explained. "They're really talented, and we could help keep them together. We said, 'What if we gave them the resources to kick it, and really make a great game?' So we did, and I think it's going to work out. There's no strategy behind that."
Capps said the move was based on Epic's appreciation for People Can Fly's work, which also includes the PC version of Epic's Gears of War
, more than it was a financial decision based on the sales performance of Painkiller
] was well-reviewed, [but] it was not the biggest reach. It certainly did not make People Can Fly rich," he admitted. "They didn't maintain control of the IP; the publisher had it. But in terms of this little 'studio that could' -- writing their own engine from scratch and doing things that, physics-wise, we sure weren't pulling off at the time -- it was really impressive."
"We're very protective of the Epic brand, and we're putting our name on this," Capps said, when asked how the co-development process works.
"We started at the beginning with [Epic designer] Cliffy [Bleszinski], me, and the producers of Gears
, reading the treatment in circles until we got to something that we thought was really worth prototyping," he said.
"EA's got folks on the ground in Poland, and for the last year and a half we've had at least one Epic staffer out there full-time. We also try to keep people from Poland in the U.S., as much as we're allowed to immigration-wise. Cliff and I play it every week, just to trade knowledge and ideas."
"It's been tough for them to have external design input, but we try to use the stick as little as possible," he said. "They like what Cliff has to say about game design, because he's really good at it."
Capps said that while the situation is new for People Can Fly, the studio appreciates the freedom it allows. "I think what they're enjoying that's different is having all the time and money they need to make a game -- because this is a studio that's been scraping by," he pointed out. "Being told, 'Just spend three months coming up with ideas,' then saying, 'Take six months to get a playable up,' gives them time to get it right, and they're loving it."
The Upcoming Game
Capps largely deflected questions about People Can Fly's in-development title, but did indicate it will share thematic similarities to the studio's existing work.
"There was tons of cool gameplay," he said of Painkiller
. "It wasn't all perfectly-scripted, but there were tons of great nuggets. That's what we want to do -- harness the crazy 200-foot boss monster, and the wacky experience, and all the coolness, and put it into a good action movie flow that fits what we think we did with Gears
, and what we think they can do."
The Other Acquisition
Just this year, Epic also acquired Chair Entertainment
, developer of Unreal Engine 3-powered Xbox Live Arcade game Undertow
. Though Chair is a wholly-owned subsidiary, unlike majority-owned People Can Fly, Capps said the reasoning behind the deals was similar.
"They made our engine sing," he said. "It was one programmer on the [Undertow
] team, and they took our engine, squeezed it down to forty megs, and made a really fun game out of it. It was a completely serendipitous opportunity. There's no plan to go acquire lots of studios. We're not a publisher or a conglomerate."
He did not comment on the forthcoming game under development by Chair, but confirmed that like People Can Fly's project, it is "something new," rather than part of an existing Epic franchise.
In addition to its development studios, Epic operates an outsourcing company in Shanghai. While Epic in Raleigh has some 105 developers and People Can Fly about 45, Epic Games China has already reached 130 staffers, mainly artists.
"Most of our outsourcing is done there," said Capps. "They do work for us, and NCsoft, and CCP, and some other companies. They're our sole supplier of outsourced art now. The Poland teams are using them too."
He pointed out that one reason for the studio's large size is that it allows the main game development teams to stay relatively small: "We try to keep things lean and mean at Epic."