Forging Capcom-Unity: An interview with Christian Svensson

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Forging bonds, creating an interconnected web and developing fellowships that test boundaries. Sounds like something out of Lord of the Rings, but it’s the real time work of some of the people who work to make Capcom-Unity what it is today.

You may have noticed that some game publishers have been increasingly vying for bigger fan out-reach and community building. And if you’re familiar at all with what Capcom’s been doing over the years, you’ll notice that ever since the formation of Capcom-Unity, its interactions with fans have become increasingly tighter.

For the uninitiated, Capcom-Unity is a centralized hub where fans of the company’s games can read up on upcoming news and events, chat with like-minded individuals in a forum and even utilize it to funnel requests directly to Capcom staff, who also participate in the discussion.

Though the company has been developing and publishing games since the formation of Capcom, Co., Ltd in 1983, it’s only since 2005 that it’s started to develop a deeper transparency with its fans. Noticing this change throughout the years, I had the burning desire to find out how it all came about, and who better to ask than one of the top men behind it: Capcom Senior Vice President Christian Svensson.

I had the chance to conduct an e-mail interview with Svensson in order to understand how Capcom USA set out to build a better bridge between it and its fans, while also picking his brain about the outlook on next-gen consoles and Capcom’s increased surge in digital game distribution.

And of course, I couldn’t help but ask a Breath of Fire-related question or two. It’s an obsession, I know.

I was curious to know how Capcom-Unity came about. Over the years, Capcom-Unity has developed into a great direct link between fans and the publisher. How did the push for a stronger, more connected community come about?

Apologies in advance but I’m going to take this opportunity to write something of a manifesto.

Capcom-Unity was done as a skunkworks project that we didn’t tell anyone about outside of the folks who were working directly on it. But Capcom-Unity.com was really only one component of a bigger strategy of placing an increased emphasis on better, more direct communication with our consumers. And telling the story of why that strategy was important or came to be is a bit more complex… let me know if this is too detailed. ;)

In my very first job interview at Capcom in 2005, I stressed to folks that I thought the company wasn’t leveraging or engaging its most important asset: its fans. Through a series of conversations, I convinced my boss (Mark Beaumont) and our CEO (Hiroshi Tobisawa) that this was critical for success in the market. They agreed and we put some plans in place to address that.

My goal for the company was to “be better at having a relationship with our customer” than other publishers could or would. It is a goal that unfortunately has many components that aren’t fully under our control but it’s a good goal nonetheless.

So phase 1 was first “get the right people on the bus to drive these community efforts”. Having arrived at Capcom about seven months earlier, I wanted to have a presence at Comic-con 2006 in order to mingle with our fans more.

Our events person at the time didn’t want to attend or run consumer shows at all. So I said “screw it, I’ll run it”. I set about planning our presence and some activities. At the time we were getting ready to launch SF Hyper Fighting on XBLA and the Street Fighter Alpha Collection on PS2. So to that end, we wanted to run some tournaments but no one on our marketing team had any experience doing so… so we reached out to some of the Evo guys we vaguely knew for help.

Enter Seth Killian and Joey Cuellar (Mr. Wizard).

They ran our tournaments that weekend in San Diego (though they were three hours late arriving due to traffic on I-5). I really hit it off with Seth that weekend and I came back from the show that next Monday, cornered our VP of marketing and said “ok, you’re going to hire this guy (Seth) to run community for us”. About two months later, Seth moved out from Chicago and we coupled him with our newly appointed senior director of PR, Chris Kramer, who I had pulled out of Sony Online Entertainment, at that same Comic-con.

So Kramer and Seth were the duo directly charged with furthering that consumer engagement goal.

As we viewed it, there were a couple of key contact points with community that we wanted to improve. First were live events. Our presence at Comic-con, the introduction of “Fight Nights”, “Fright Nights”, Monster Hunter Community College and launch events were central to “real world” interaction with our fans. Later PAX, NY Comic-con, PAX East and other shows contributed to that effort.

The other was a more persistent interaction driven by online connectivity that could reach a much wider audience than we could with real-world approaches. The world is a really big place given that we had international aspirations for the effort and we can’t be everywhere with events. So online was where we felt we should focus our efforts.

We had a pre-existing Vbulletin forum system (that was largely a ghost town) administered by our customer service person. No one from marketing, product development or executives ever read it or interfaced on it. The community and web team felt we would need something “better” to meet our objectives.

Having media backgrounds and having launched major online gaming destinations in the past, Kramer and I hatched a vision for a set of services that married the ability to be a soapbox and facilitate interconnections and content sharing between likeminded fans. There was so much energy and effort expended by fans to create independent pockets of interest, we wanted to provide a “lightning rod” for them to contribute to something greater and more centralized around our brands.

Tom James, our web guru, came to the party with a vision for unified data services (that expand outside of Unity) and brought a platform partner to the party. He and his team had a vision for how we create applications and services that wrap around that platform but integrate with other social services.

Over the years we have added other community managers to the team but more importantly we have continued to foster engagement across the company so that it isn’t just a thing for folks with “community” in their title to do. Producers read feedback on their games which helps inform post-launch support efforts. Product managers in North America, Europe and South America see requests and reactions to their announcements and product demos and that feedback goes back to R&D for discussion.

Over the years, the services layers and designs have evolved. We’ve made better use of raffles and contests. We’ve wrapped Facebook, Twitter and Youtube strategies around Capcom-Unity. We’ve added international local-language support for Brazil and Germany with others to follow. We’ve expanded our streaming capabilities and video editing, so that it’s a valuable content engine all by itself.

And while direct traffic is substantial, the pickup of information and discussions triggered by content from Capcom-Unity.com across the online ecosystem, is even more important.

The company has given fans a means to express themselves through the Unity forum’s “Ask Capcom.” How has this particular part of the forum helped in taking in fans’ requests? Can you give us an example of fan outreach through “Ask Capcom” that yielded an awesome result?

There’s loads of products that came from requests and suggestions on Capcom-Unity.com. Okami Wii, Darkstalkers Resurrection, Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike Online Edition, Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara, and DuckTales: Remastered for instance.

The feedback on character balance for Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix throughout development was all accomplished via Capcom-Unity. The feedback for the upcoming rebalance of SSFIV was also accomplished by reaching out via Capcom-Unity.

In addition, several features and changes to our launched games, like the RE6 changes that were made post launch came about via suggestions there.

It’s been a powerful tool for us and I hope that the process continues.

Since the Wii U Virtual Console opened, we’ve seen a large amount of support from Capcom. Does the company plan to bring all the NES/SNES titles that we’ve seen on the Wii Shop Channel over to the Wii U? Is Capcom looking into also bringing other Virtual Console titles that weren’t seen on the Wii Shop Channel? I’ve seen some clamoring for titles like Breath of Fire and Demon’s Crest. Similarly to that, is there a push for more PSone and PS2 Classics support?

We should have some more announcements soon on all of these fronts. While it looks like a simple business, suffice it to say there are many moving parts with multiple stakeholders (including the first parties themselves).

The company has a group in Tokyo that’s responsible for this component of the business. In recent months, we have formed an internal task force at CUSA (Capcom-Unity.com’s Brett Elston being one of the members of it… so bug Brett with requests via Capcom-Unity) to help prioritize and influence the efforts of our Tokyo group.

As the senior vice president of a company with a huge nostalgic fanbase, what does the future of console gaming look like to Capcom? In envisioning the future, is it at all related to what the PS4 and Xbox One are touting as “the future?” Do you feel that these ideas can limit the potential for a developer/publisher, or is there a sense of empowerment in having more tools? What are your thoughts?

I know you’re asking me to speak for Capcom as a whole but for a moment let me just speak to my vision.

The next generation consoles have some pillar features that dovetail with much of the community strategy I’ve mentioned above. Game DVR and streaming functionality are at the heart of direct to consumer communications and indeed our own games were already pushing in those directions feature-wise even before some of the newly announced first party efforts.

The other pillars of increasingly connected boxes that provide a slew of new services and support different business models and pathways to market is also critical.

As far as how nostalgia plays into those pillars, I don’t think they are mutually exclusive. More players who consume digital content means that there are new ways to cater to smaller and more specific audience desires (of which nostalgia plays are one particular type). If those plays are increasingly viable, that’s good for everyone who likes more varied types of content.

So in short, new technology enables new business models or expanded markets, which in turn paves the way for new content or the ability to continue to provide content that wouldn’t make sense in the older models.

A few months back, you said that Capcom was in talks with SCEA to get the PSP version of Breath of Fire III (previously exclusive to Europe/Japan) on the North American PlayStation Store. Are there any new developments on that front?

Sadly not yet.

Are we already seeing the effects of Capcom’s digital game survey from the holidays? What are some of the more notable trends you’ve gleaned from it?

DuckTales, Darkstalkers and D&D all were informed by it. There is at least one other title that has been informed by that feedback that has not yet been announced. It has also affected proposals but nothing beyond that I can speak to.

Finally, can you tell us if fan tweets and feedback regarding Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies have led to Capcom of Japan to actually consider a physical release in North America? What’s the update on that?

Actually, it was again, Capcom-Unity.com and some of my Twitter requests that triggered me going back to CJ and consulting with our creative services and sales teams. Sadly, I don’t have news to share on that front yet.

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Author: Patrick Kulikowski View all posts by
Patrick Kulikowski is a Rutgers University graduate and Pixelitis writer. In addition to being a gamer for over 19 years, he is an avid drummer and enjoys working on his VGdrum videogame music project. He also doesn't cling to just one platform. Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, the PC market, he loves it all.