Capcom’s Seth Killian ‘Heartbreaking’ Leaks, Importance Of Language For Games – Developer Pop Quiz #23

Developer Pop Quiz is a weekly interview series in which we ask developers from around the industry the same 10 questions and post their responses.

Capcom’s Seth Killian has his dream job. He’s gone from organizing the famed EVO fighting tournaments (which prominently featured Capcom’s fighting games, which he is an expert at) to being a Special Combat Advisor for the games that he grew up playing, and running the online community to make Capcom’s releases something special, for fans that are pretty much just like him. On top of being an all-around nice guy, he has a unique perspective on his job, and the industry as a whole, because he’s a fan whose love of games has gotten him to where he is today.

He’s also the first person to be featured in a Developer Pop Quiz that’s has a boss character named after them.

Name: Seth Killian
Title: Strategic Director, Online & Community, and Special Combat Advisor
Company: Capcom
Job Description: Help make our games into something really special, and give our fans a voice in the process. After the game is great, translate what’s most awesome about it into forms anyone can get excited about.
First title worked on: “Street Fighter IV”
Most recent title worked on: “Marvel Vs Capcom 3″

What game has most influenced you, and why?
For me it’s probably classics like “Metroid,” “Street Fighter II,” and “Super Mario Brothers.” There are games released every single week that get basics wrong (like jumping, exploration, and combat), and you can find a lot of answers just by spending more time understanding what made those games so completely absorbing. Too often you see games shortchanging basic mechanics for an ambitious idea, but if a game doesn’t feel good, the ambitious new idea gets lost in a frustrating experience.

What are you playing right now?
I broke my right hand skiing which has slowed down my gaming, but I still spend an hour a day in “MVC3″’s training mode. I’ve also been playing the “Killzone 3″ beta, “Drop7″ on my phone, and finally 100%’d “Super Meat Boy.”

What was your first break in the games industry?
It was crazy. I would play “SF2″ on the arcade machines at the Capcom booth during E3, and then try and corner Capcom employees for posters and keychains to give away at the fighting game tournaments I helped to run. For a few years they just told me to get lost, and then one year I met some new Capcom people who sat and listened to my crazy ideas for a while. They ended up offering me a job.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
If you want something, ask for it. You may get turned down a lot, but if you don’t ask, your chances for success go to pretty much zero. You don’t have to be a jerk, but at the end of the day there are no points given for “politely not bothering someone.” Follow your heart, take the chance and go for it.

Where do you look for inspiration?
I play a lot of games to try and see what’s working for other developers, but mostly I look to the players themselves. As individuals, and definitely as a group, they’re extremely smart. And even when their ideas aren’t necessarily ingenious, if they’re all asking for something, you should still listen – they are your fans as well as your customers. If you aren’t making something they want, you’re doing it wrong.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about game development?
Strong vision is required to get anywhere, but if you’ve surrounded yourself with good people, be willing to listen and trust them along the way (those good people should include your fans as well).

What has been the low point of your career?
Leaked info and ripped games can be pretty heartbreaking. I understand the motivations, and often it comes from your biggest fans that are extremely hungry for information or a chance to play early, but it can really end up hurting the game and a company’s relationship with its fans over the long term.

What do you think is the biggest problem current games suffer from?
I think one of the biggest problems with games is language. We don’t have great language to talk about so much of what matters most in a game. If you play a platformer with a bad jump, that’s simple enough, and it totally sucks, but how can you put that into words that anyone can understand? It’s a problem for developers, but it’s also a problem for evangelizing games to the wider world that still thinks of them as kid-stuff. As a player you can understand the glory of a game masterpiece from the inside, and share that experience with others on the inside, but how do you translate that experience for someone that isn’t going to devote the time in the first place? Film, literature, and even abstract art have been able to do it, but most game discussions still fall flat in terms of translating their glories to people that don’t already play.

What is the most important thing that has happened to gaming in the last 10 years?
The internet. It takes a lot of work to make interactions with a CPU interesting even for a single playthrough, but injecting the voices and direction of real people into your games can make them instantly 100x sexier and/or provide potentially infinite replay value.

Where do you see gaming in 5 years?
It’s going in a lot of interesting directions. The line between games and every other part of our lives has been blurring a lot, which creates interesting intersections, but I also think they often trade a lot of the greatest developments in console and PC gaming for simplistic, cheap, and addictive experiences. That’s great if you just want something to keep you busy on the subway or at a boring job, but for the best games overall, the more you invest, the more you get back. I worry that many of the biggest mobile and social games don’t really offer anything in return for your time spent- there’s no vehicle for self-expression, and instead it’s just addiction, so I hope to see new games that are social and mobile, but also great games instead of merely addictive.