Q&A: Epic's Capps raps about EA deal

Gears of War developer's president discusses partnering with Electronic Arts, dissects the publisher-developer relationship, and divulges the existence of another new IP.

The biggest news at yesterday's Electronic Arts Studio Showcase was the announcement of the company's new publishing deals with two highly influential developers. The first was Grasshopper Manufacture, the maverick Japanese studio behind such cult hits as Killer7 and No More Heroes. The second was with Epic Games, maker of such megahits as Unreal Tournament III and Gears of War. The latter deal will see EA publish an unnamed multiplatform game from Epic Games' Polish studio, People Can Fly (Painkiller).

Mike Capps believes that People Can Fly.

While both announcements produced audible gasps in the presentation hall on the EA Campus, the Epic deal struck many as particularly surprising. The studio already has established relationships with two major publishers: Midway Games, which just released Unreal Tournament III on the Xbox 360, and Microsoft Game Studios, which will publish Gears of War 2 on November 7.

Why didn't Midway or Microsoft land the opportunity to publish the new title? And why did Epic choose EA, of all companies? The answer lies in EA Partners, a program which has been thriving since John Riccitiello returned to EA in 2007 as CEO. Overseen by EA Games president Frank Gibeau, the initiative essentially rents out EA's vast resources to developers, offering such services as testing, marketing, publicity, publishing, and distribution.

While still remaining independent, studios in the EA Partners program can choose from as many--or as few--weapons in EA's arsenal as they desire. The a la carte nature of the program has proven irresistible to many top-tier developers. Valve signed on in 2006 with The Orange Box, and was joined in 2007 by Harmonix and MTV Games, which used EAP for Rock Band. Crytek's sci-fi shooter Crysis was published late last year under the EAP banner, which id Software hoisted last month at E3 for its forthcoming open-world actioner, Rage.

So what made Epic games jump on the EA Partners bandwagon? GameSpot sat down with Mike Capps, president of the Unreal Engine maker, to hear the story behind the deal.

GameSpot: So this deal is totally out of left field. Tell me how it came about.

Mike Capps: Our relationship with People Can Fly started when they used our engine tech to work on a demo to show publishers. They really impressed us and we said "Wow, we should really get these guys to do a few [Gears of War] maps." They did, and it just knocked us over. They were really, really cool.

GS: These are the extra maps in the PC version of Gears of War, correct?

MC: Exactly. They're just really gorgeous. We were blown away, so we partnered with them just doing the whole PC port [of Gears]. After that, we liked them so much, we bought the company.

GS: Move over Remington, eh?

MC: I know. It's silly, but it's totally true. They're that good. Two bottles of vodka and a smile later, we had ourselves a Polish developer. So we asked them, "What do you want to do next, what's your dream?" They pitched us a bunch of different ideas, and we really latched onto one we thought was pretty darn impressive. [Gears of War designer] Cliffy B was in there, and me, and the producers of Gears, everybody kind of helping to shape that into something we thought was cool.

Then, we did some demos and approached a few publishers. EA is the one that came back with the best understanding of what we were trying to do. They had the most flexibility in terms of fitting with an indie developer like Epic. We were really impressed with what they had done with The Orange Box and we called the guys at id, and they had really good, positive things to say. So it just added up. It made sense.

GS: So you just called out of the blue and asked, "Hey [Valve CEO] Gabe [Newell] and [id co-founder] John [Carmack], how'd that whole EA Partners deal work out for you?"

MC: Basically, yeah. It's a small industry. There are only so many small shooter companies that have been around for 10 years making engines, right? Jay Wilbur, our VP, cofounded id Software, so we're all pretty close. Bitter competitors, but still really close. [Laughs] I mean, it's a new EA. Five years ago, if you told us we were going to be working with EA, I'd have thought you were a little crazy. But the way they just put so much more emphasis on external development and really partnering [is important]. They're not just all about the games they're making. It's just being smart. I mean who wouldn't want to publish The Orange Box, even if they didn't develop it? Or Rock Band, right?

GS: That's funny you say that because whenever I've written an article saying that EA is publishing Rock Band, I get an angry phone call or e-mail from a PR rep saying MTV Games is publishing and EA is "just distributing it." You guys don't seem to be as sensitive about the terminology...

MC: Well, I think for Rock Band they're more the distributor, and for us it's a full publishing arrangement. They're handling marketing, PR, and worldwide distribution.

GS: When I spoke with John Carmack at E3, he said EAP offers a basically a menu of services you can pick and choose from...

MC: Yeah, exactly. And that's perfect for us. The last thing we want is a publisher coming in and saying, "You guys don't know much about level design, and we're going to assign someone to your team to show you how to do lighting." I've had publishers try to do that, and not only does that drive us crazy, but they tend to get hurt. [Laughs] EA is more than happy to say, "Yes, we'll do the testing, distribution, and marketing, but we won't do design oversight." So yeah, it's perfect for us, because we can pick and chose.

GS: Now with Rage, John [Carmack] said they had already self-financed the whole game. Are you guys doing something similar, given that you have the financial means to do so?

MC: We're not talking about the business terms, but that's part of the package of being able to pick and choose. We probably developed the product a lot farther than most people when they're going around pitching to publishers, since we can do that. That gave PCF the ability to take it a bit further and decide what they really wanted to do, and also let us show EA something more substantial than just a design document.

GS: I don't suppose you can go into any of the specifics of the game...

MC: [Shakes head, grinning] Sorry!

GS: But, to be clear, this is an all-new property, right?

MC: Yes.

GS: Totally unrelated to any prior series from either Epic or People Can Fly.

MC: [Deadpans] Oh, we've invented an entirely new genre.

GS: Now at the presentation, you said your instructions to PCF were to "make something as cool as Painkiller and go totally over the top." Is that more over the top than other Epic games? Because I can't imagine anything more over the top than the chainsaw bayonet duels and 100-Locust armies in Gears of War 2...

MC: All I can say is that it's totally cool [grins.]

GS: OK, how should I phrase this...will the game cover traditional Epic Games territory?

MC: Of course. More importantly, I think it's going to cover traditional People Can Fly territory. It's gonna have the things they really like to do, hopefully with a little input from us to make it fit Western sensibilities. They like to make really high action, over-the-top shooters with great physics and tech, and really good competitive multiplayer. We want to build on that, not throw it away and make them make a kids' game.

GS: So we can expect all those elements to be in the game?

MC: Well, where you end up is always different than where you started, but that's my expectation.

GS: Well do you guys ever want to do something crazy like Gearbox Software did with Samba de Amigo? Just tackle a totally new genre out of left field? I mean you guys bought Chair Entertainment, and they did Undertow...

MC: You know...[pauses] There's interest in the Epic family for that, but we have a lot of guys who have a "no unicorns" clause in their contracts. For them, that just wouldn't work. These guys want to work on stuff they think is badass and cool and they want to play. Maybe, as we grow there will be room for that, but not right now. This whole making-games-that-are-cool thing is working out for us. [Laughs.]

GS: OK. And is the PCF game the only new IP in the works at Epic?

MC: We've always got ideas on the table. But Epic's [North Carolina office is] a two-team company, and we're making two franchises right now. Our team in Utah is working on something that we'll announce very soon--that's the team that made Undertow, Chair Entertainment. And now PCF's a one-team company, so they've got this new game to work on.

GS: Now this mystery game is being developed for the PS3, PC, and Xbox 360. Are you guys planning on a simultaneous release on all three platforms?

MC: I'd really love to do that, yeah. We'll see what the realities are, and what the time frame is. The best way to do marketing is to release all three at once, so yeah, sure.

GS: Well, the reason I ask is that Unreal Tournament III came out for PC last November, PS3 last December, and Xbox 360 just last month. Are you developing on all three platforms simultaneously? I know the past model has been to develop on PC and 360 first and then bring it over to the PS3, but LucasArts said at GDC that they're now developing for PS3 first, since it's harder, and then porting that version of the game.

MC: I don't have specifics, but the plan is to do it simultaneously. But then again, plans are meant to be changed. Gears was always a 360-only release, but Unreal Tournament III changed a lot during development. We ended up doing a PC and PS3 lead with the 360 version following a few months later.

GS: Now this is a bit different from the traditional relationships Epic already has with two publishers. You've got a deal with Midway to publish Unreal Tournament III and with Microsoft Game Studios to publish Gears of War. If this EAP thing works out, do you see yourself abandoning the traditional publisher-developer model?

MC: Well, we still think the publisher-developer model is still the right way to go. I mean, it's a huge amount of effort to, say, do you own marketing. I mean sure, we could hire some really smart people to do marketing in 30 territories. Or, we could work with a publisher that already does that. I mean, distribution is not the hardest part of publishing. It's the partnering, the helping guide product, providing the public presence, and making sure people know about it. And then there's tests and all that.

I mean, I suppose we could contract all that out, but I just think it makes sense for us to work with a publisher. That lets us focus on what we do, which is make great games, and not worry how we go about buying newspaper ads in the Czech Republic. I hate to say I've got better things to do, but I've got things to do that I'm better at.

GS: That's a nice way of putting it, actually. However, while your describe your deal with EA as pretty much a standard publishing arrangement, your deal falls under the EA Partners aegis. How much autonomy are you going to have? Has EA just given you carte blanche?

MC: [Making air quotes] EA is "hiring" Epic, working with Epic because they've got a lot of faith in our ability to make a great game. Other than that, it's a partnership. They've got really good designers and producers out there in the team in London, who is working with PCF, who are giving great ideas we're putting into the product. And we want those guys excited about the product.

Look, Epic's always been the kind of shop where the systems administrator can do a play test and send in comments. If they're good comments, it goes into the game. We don't worry about, "Well, Cliff didn't come up with that..." Cliff's smart. He steals the good ideas, right? I'm smart. I steal the good management ideas from other companies and use them at Epic. That's what we do.

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Discussion

118 comments
ArchfiendKing
ArchfiendKing

This really excites me. I'm a fan of both GoW and UT3. I'd also like to see a possible new and PS3 exclusive game. I kinda feel like i got the raw end of the stick, as all my friends can play the amazingness that is GoW2, and i'm stuck with nothing. Either way. I can't wait.

chief_527
chief_527

Did he just admit that they're a copy cat company with different art work

king_bobo
king_bobo

I'd rather Epic Games made a PS3 exclusive as apposed to a multiplatform. That would be cool, because the Xbox 360 could have a great Epic game and the PS3 could have one too. I'd rather have that than having Gears 2 multiplatform or their next game multiplatform. Additionally I like the way that EAP works - and clearly so do developers! :)

Staryoshi87
Staryoshi87

EA has made great strides and is an industry leader... in a good way! Fight the Activision-Blizzard menace :P

jets78
jets78

exactly cause thers just to much movie in the game they shouldve kept it all about the game play and release a blue ray dvd movie of mgs 4 would have made the game more replay able

SalarianChemist
SalarianChemist

MGS4 dropped from #1 in June sales to #34 in July sales. In just one month's time, Metal Gear Solid 4 literally became unpopular. MGS4 had only 10 seconds of glory, mainly because it has little replay value and poor online play.

Clonemenace
Clonemenace

The EA hate is strong in this thread. Get over it people the new EA is not the same as the old one.

Thaius_Tydane
Thaius_Tydane

Well then. The way it sounds, there's plenty of freedom. As long as EA doesn't have any control over Epic, they can't ruin Gears, so I'm good. Though, for all your desperate fanboys who keep wishing it, Gears will NOT be ported onto the PS3. Not only is it too important of a 360 exclusive, but, well... the PS3's not good enough. It would probably melt from having too much awesome put into it. It's probably allergic to things that rock...

drangel_jam
drangel_jam

Let's PCF doesn't go overboard on the coolness.

MAXIM-332971
MAXIM-332971

C'MON EA PORTING GEARS 2 ON THE PC AND PS3 I KNOW YOU LIKE IT $$$$$$$$$

JehovaWrinkles
JehovaWrinkles

OOOO BOYYYY i cant frickin wait till this comes out i am still trying to get seriously for the first one though. But hey. I love playing gears so i dont mind.

okassar
okassar

Wow I just read over some really stupid comments...Epic invited EA,they felt that that is the best choice for the publishing service,I would have to agree.What's better for a devloper than for their publisher to actually work on THEIR pace and acknowledge their needs,and upon that,provide them with the corresponding service?Lol,yes,that sounds confusing,but seriously,EA is NOT affecting Epic's devlopment process in anyway,it's actually helping,a lot,and that's why Epic chose it.Good move Epic.

McGregor
McGregor

Hey using EA as a publisher that doesn't have any input on development works. Like they said, if someone is better at publishing, and can do it for either the same price or less, I say let them. Even if it is EA. I'm convinced EA destroys games they take over, but games that they publish and market seem to still be ok, as long as they aren't in the development process.

cryingfoot
cryingfoot

EA......is trying to use mind trick to takeover!!!!No!!!we are doom!! -so well tough-,agree!-

grafkhun
grafkhun

well EA will always be EA.

kratos_karmakar
kratos_karmakar

If EA provides a good service for the developers i love so that the actual game development may become easier for them without the worry for things like distribution ,advertising etc then why should we have a reason to hate them. its not like they are developing the game..... which would have been a threat!. :D

856891
856891

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

Coops606
Coops606

dude that does suck....I know alot of people dont hate EA and I dont either....but damn you have to admit that 95% of EA games suck at online play...with lagg being there number one contentor...if Gears runs on Ea's servers instead of microsoft's ( 1) which I know sounds weird but 2 publishers 2 servers 2) I sincerely doubt will happen) that would SUCK!

kobebryantyanic
kobebryantyanic

HAHA, i hear a lot of xbox fanboys complaining about ea buying everything. Maybe they're quickly forgetting the 50 mil that microsoft slapped rockstar in the face with, just for some downloadable content. Microsoft is not that different from ea, ea makes a lot more smarter moves though. Anyway, epic was already kind of a multiplat company. Gears is probably the only exclusive franchise they make(pc and 360), everything else is multiplat. But i doubt the gears franchise will see daylight on ps3 though, the franchise succeeding gears of war will be the one that goes to ps3.

casesomething
casesomething

i dont understand why everyone is hating on EA for simply publishing games. its not like EA is totally taking the reigns on developing all future epic projects. this is a great thing because EA has the money and power to do great things for marketing and selling games. but i do admit that most EA developed games arent good, and their move to get exclusivity with the NFL was a little outrageous.

Generic_Dude
Generic_Dude

@klmillis: Well put. Epic's making their decision here... and that decision, like most good companies decide, is to follow the money.

commander1122
commander1122

EA......is trying to use mind trick to takeover!!!!No!!!we are doom!!

ardie4352
ardie4352

EA is trying to take over!!! This could be a good thing...or it could be very bad.

-Gray_Fox-
-Gray_Fox-

honestly if this turns out great and EA's popularity becomes better as a result of what they are doing(y'know many ppl hate EA for some reasons) then this is one of the best gaming news!!

klmillis
klmillis

I can't believe everyone hates EA so much. Remember we're not talking about EA owning Epic, but the EAP model. Anytime you can free up a developer to focus on their game, you open up the possibilities for the end-gamer. Does anyone remember the South Park episode when Harbucks (Starbucks) moves into town and threatens the local store? Sometimes the result of a big business that specializes in its craft, is that you get a better cup of coffee. Let's look at this with optimism. Keep in mind Epic chose EA. They know what they're doing, it's their business, and they could have had any publisher they wanted.

necronaux
necronaux

Fairly long interview without giving any real info. Come on GS, get some details!

mankeyador
mankeyador

If bioware can be bought by EA then any third party developer can be bought by them (except for activision blizzard, just too damn big).

Fiotwo
Fiotwo

I commend EA for their partner program allowing developers to use their tools and resources, but I am still pissed at EA's marketplace actions, nickle and dimming everyone. Dom: Shoot those Guards Marcus: I Cant I didnt buy extra ammo from the marketplace Dom: Le sigh...

neock2003
neock2003

You know what If companies like Konami desides to sell out to EA, I will quit gaming!

neock2003
neock2003

Well Gears of War 2 is the last game I'll buy from Epic. The whole thing with EA buying everyone out is going to cause me to quit gameing!

demoralizer
demoralizer

Wow EA is real good at paying people to say EA lets developers pruduce their own ideas. EA bought the NFL licence for godsakes they are evil and bad for gamers.

RCFTechOn3
RCFTechOn3

wow ea is trying to get gears of war i bet. im never buying an ea game ever again after that army of two game. god that game sucked.

RCFTechOn3
RCFTechOn3

wow ea is trying to get gears of war i bet. im never buying an ea game ever again after that army of two game. god that game sucked.

IZZO71
IZZO71

Interesting to see what kind of product they will come up with.

Death_Masta187
Death_Masta187

wow now i really wont buy any more of Epic's games...

thibbledorfP
thibbledorfP

This is probably a good choice for now, as EA has been making some good games of late, and has the weight to provide great financing and production costs to developers. But Epic should be careful about how involved they get with EA. I am worried about the decision Bioware made to sell to EA. EA has a rep that is well-earned for exploting name-value of creative companies, then producing low-quality games in the short term. They win and make a tidy profit, the industry loses. Ok, they have turned things around recently. But there is one man, Riticello, in charge of the new development, and EA is still large company with many shareholders. As an industry behemoth, the board of the company would have a very different view that a leaner company would have. Very much ROI. EA could decide to halt the 'experiment' and snap back to old practices. What is stopping them? What will happen to developers who have put their eggs in EA' basket?

MonkeManFoSho
MonkeManFoSho

hopefully if they do buy out epic, microsoft will have an exclusive contract for GoW3

ronnet
ronnet

Epic is a great developer, but so is Maxis but the last few years theyve been doing nothing but the Sims. Now we finally have Spore, but just imagine what we could have had if they had more freedom. I dont think Epic's quality will go down from this (neither will that of Bioware) but theyll be stuck making high quality spin-offs,sequels and expansions instead of original games. I hope Microsoft and Sony are going to realise that they need to be doing this, soon devs that are sepose to make amazing current gen games are stuck making multi-plats for Wii and PS2.

Impostorzim
Impostorzim

The only thing I love about EA is the fact that they take almost anything and bring it out multiplatform. GOW HERE I COME!!

buffdaddy69
buffdaddy69

Dom - MARCUS! LOCUST ARE COMING! Marcus: Ok, Let me finish this Whooper from Burger King *Looks at Player and smiles while a Burger King sign can be seen in the distance.*

athenian29
athenian29

Wow, EA just earned another 50 brownie points from me. Another 62800 and they'll earn a real brownie!

Spryt
Spryt

Could this relationship spell in EA releasing GoW3?? its believed the third title is up for grabs... possible PORT!

Senor_Kami
Senor_Kami

In 2008 the following games got a rating over 80 @ metacritic: Madden 09 All Play Madden 09 NCAA 09 Battlefield Bad Company Rock Band Spore Creature Creator UEFA Euro 2008 Boom Blox Burnout Paradise In 2007: Rock Band Orange Box Crysis Fifa Soccer 2008 skate NHL 08 Tiger Woods 08 Madden 08 NCAA 2008 Command and Conquer 3 NBA Street Homecourt EA makes alot of games. Some good, some bad. I don't know why people always act like every game EA makes is like a 50 rating game. Basically every title that looks to be quality turns out quality and ones that are bound to be crap (ie Harry Potter and Sims clothing expansions) end up as crap.

fmobliv06
fmobliv06

world69star69, if Gears of War is so bad, why are you so obviously jealous of it? :P personally i think that EA is doing a great thing with the EAP program. they're really working to distance themselves from the "evil empire" image.

DukeBriggs
DukeBriggs

I don't know why people are making such a big deal about this. This is amazing news, especially for the indie companies out there with amazing game potential and none of the means to distribute the game itself. If you read the damn article you'd see that EA is giving companies the option of picking and choosing whatever services they want. If they want EA to help build a game, they can. If they just want them to distribute a game, they can do that, as well. Basically what that means is that those people who have the know-how to build an amazing game, or even just a game engine, can go to EA for the additional services that they know nothing about, and can help distribute the game on a multi-platform, international level. Who the hell WOULDN'T want that? So, basically, quit your whining, people. EA is offering a smart service to people that benefits everyone.