As of June of this year, Capcom is a 30-year-old company, ranking up there with Electronic Arts and Activision in terms of longevity in the games business. It's a fact that even Katsuhiko Ichii, director of the publisher's consumer games division, is a little amazed about.
"I don't think you see an industry in the past 30 years that's had such great and fast-paced change as the game industry," Ichii told Famitsu magazine in an interview published this week. "It's something truly dramatic. The visual expression is something on a completely different level, and the fields we're providing games in have also expanded. 30 years ago, I don't think anyone imagined what smartphone gaming would be like; you didn't even have Windows PCs at the time. The fact that devices have both improved and are now available anyplace you want to be has really given players more choices, I feel."
Part of Capcom's longevity is thanks to their uncanny knack for creating unexpected hits like Mega Man in 1987, Street Fighter II in 1991, Resident Evil in 1996 and Dead Rising in 2006, that become huge franchises that create entire new genres for the business. "I think that stems from our need to keep challenging ourselves," reflected Ichii. "We never let ourselves go on the defensive. Looking back, whenever new hardware came out, we've always managed to create new content for that hardware, and that wound up bearing new fruit. Of course, you can't tell which consoles will sell at the starting line. But we feel a challenge rising in us, like 'If we use the hardware's features like this, we can do this really fun thing with it'. We've always had that spirit, and I think that's why we still have so many fans supporting us."
As Ichii puts it, though, Capcom is faced with more competition than ever, especially on the Western front. "At last year's E3," he recalled, "we felt like the quality on Western-made titles was really going up at a massive rate. To be honest, we were pretty panicked. It was to the point where we had an emergency meeting with the staff during E3 and we were all 'If this keeps up, we're going to be left in the dust.' This was partly a technological thing, partly a matter of ideas and uniqueness for our own titles. I feel like the concept or vision behind our games has always stood out, but we needed to apply more polish to them. So during what we called the 'post-E3' period, we conduct research into graphics and programming in preparation for this year's E3."
The results were seen both at E3 (with Dead Rising 3 getting its Xbox One unveiling) and at the PlayStation 4 unveiling in February, where Capcom showed off the PS4-exclusive online RPG Deep Down. "There's something that really gets a rise out of our developers whenever they hear about new hardware," Ichii told Famitsu. "It's like the 'we gotta do it' switch gets turned on, and that sort of DNA might be a tradition across Capcom's history. I don't have to provide much direction; it's more of a matter of people telling me what they want to do. Deep Down is a title that had all sorts of ideas pop up for it as we research the PS4. We'll be releasing more information on it in the future, but I think it's a really unique title."
How can Capcom compete with the West in the future? In Ichii's mind, it all comes down to one concept: uniqueness. "What I see in the past few years, playing the sorts of games that generate buzz in the West, is that it's not just a matter of tech," he explained. "It's not that they're all perfect at the complete package of visuals, story, controls and so on. It's that they are really excellent at certain parts of the experience - for example, the world setting might be really exciting, or the gameplay system really unique. They compete in these unique fields, and that's ultimately what makes a game unique, or saleable. The part of the game, in other words, that only that game can provide you. It's important to realize how important this uniqueness is to a brand. I think we'll see advancements in technology and play styles in the future, but I think that uniqueness is what we really need to secure for ourselves."
With the fifth Ace Attorney out now in Japan and the fourth Monster Hunter coming September, "uniqueness" may not be first priority in Capcom's remaining 2013 lineup. But Ichii still sees it as Capcom's saving grace, much as it has been in the past. "This is something that I say a lot in the office, but I don't think that every title we make has to sell just as well everywhere in the world," he said. "Every region has their own tastes in terms of content, and there are games that are particularly suited for each region. As long as we know what each title is trying to target, that's fine for me. We have to ask ourselves what makes each title unique, foster that uniqueness, and make the product stand out. I think that connects to making a truly Capcom-like product."