One of the biggest players in Vancouver’s thriving creative industry has traditionally been among its most elusive. Capcom Vancouver is the city’s third-largest video game studio, boasting over 200 employees at its Burnaby office. Known primarily for developing the Dead Rising franchise, a popular zombie survival game, Capcom Vancouver is now starting to find its own voice and identity.
Vancity Buzz sat down with Studio Director Joe Nickolls to speak about the new Capcom. A fresh face at the studio, Nickolls is tall, bearded, and jovial – a West Coast antithesis to the typical Capcom image.
From radio DJ to record label marketer, Nickolls fell into games when a chance interview at Radical Entertainment changed his path forever. So began Nickolls’ high-flying games career, including 10 years at Electronic Arts (which he good-naturedly refers to as “the fortress on the hill”), Microsoft, and even an entrepreneurial gamble in the overseas mobile games market. Originally hired at Capcom Vancouver as an Executive Producer on a single title, a management change soon landed Nickolls in the Studio Director seat.
The interim years of silence have left Capcom an unknown entity in Vancouver, and Nickolls is the first to acknowledge the problems with anonymity: “We’re the third-largest studio in the city, but we’ve always never felt like it. And we’re changing that. We were so unknown, quiet, and guarded with our information. We’ve been trying to get the word out about who we are.” And that word comes in the form of a hiring boom, as is the case with much of the industry at present. “We’re hiring like mad, and it’s because we’re doing so much stuff. Two years ago if we had that many positions open, it was because everyone was leaving.”
The new Capcom is embarking on an ambitious, multi-project development cycle that will see the studio navigate different formats and genres beyond their comfort zone. Nickolls was tight-lipped on the unannounced titles, claiming both established IP and original works in progress, and that he’s excited about “bringing back stuff that people are going to go bananas over.”
While the studio seems to enjoy an openly transparent leader in Nickolls, I was also curious about the diversity of the leadership team – commonly, a controversial topic among the youthful, bro-tastic games industry. There’s genuine surprise on Nickoll’s face as he ticks them off on his fingers – upper management is 50% women, and in ‘non-traditional’ roles including the CFO and lead project managers. His rationale? “I don’t want a studio full of me. I’d make myself sick.”
Nickolls also expanded on a few other topics throughout the interview:
A couple years ago, a lot of people felt that this studio was becoming an outsource centre for the mothership in Japan. We really felt like a hired gun. What has been happening lately, which I’m super excited about, is that we’re actually starting to build our own identity here in Vancouver. We’re the only major Capcom game studio outside of Japan. We’re looked upon to spearhead what’s to come for the North American market.
We really believe that when someone joins us, they stay with us… In this day and age of outsourcing everything, in particular, the artists can find it harder to get work in the city. It’s cheaper to go to Eastern Europe or Asia to get stuff done cheaper. But while that’s ok when you’re outsourcing little, mundane things, when it comes to really amazing parts of the game, I want that done here because you can iterate upon it. I think it’s important to give artists work in particular in this city, as they usually get the short end of the stick.
Video games have been made in this city for a really long time, but they’re hard to make because creativity is difficult to quantify… We make sure people know it’s ok if they screw up and fly into the wall – because we do all the time. People who don’t admit that are lying. We try lots of things, but we nail more stuff than we screw up, and we learn from that.
We had to make sure that we were listening to the people who work here, along with listening to the consumers. I want us to have a lineup out the door of people who want to work here. Because we’re a really good company, and because people who come here love it. We want people to know it’s a different Capcom – Capcom 2.0. We’re getting great applications, not just here locally, but from all over the world. That’s cool, because it seems that word’s getting out that people are starting to see how we’re doing.
Halloween – this studio goes bananas. I’ve never seen anything like it. They start working on next year’s costumes on November 1st.
Take a look below for a sneak peek inside Capcom Vancouver’s Burnaby offices…