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Did Capcom Miss an Opportunity by Not Licening their MT Framework Engine to 3rd Parties?

Ryujin

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During the beginning of the XBOX360/PS3 Era most Japanese developers were struggling with the increased costs, development time and technology with the transition to the "HD Era" of higher resolutions, graphical effects and textures.

This became an often repeated meme that outside of some huge powerhouses (Square Enix, KojiPro) that most Japanese developers were now having a hard time competing on graphics with their western counterparts. Over the course of that generation we saw numerous smaller developers either shutting their doors for good or being bought up/consolidating into larger publishers. This also contributed to the often cited "Death of AA games" as budgets and required technical talent skyrocketed across the industry.

Of course western developers were not faring much better at the beginning, although some had a big advantage over their Japanese counterparts of coming from being mostly PC centric developers who were used to creating scalable games that ran at higher resolutions and targeting the most cutting edge technologies available in the PC space.

Western developers, both in the videogame space and the enterprise space, had developed a culture of supporting open source technologies where possible and sharing techniques, technology and knowhow either through blog posts, contributions to open source or various meetups/industry get togethers/trade shows. Staff were also prone to move from company to company often, building their knowledge across their career and also sharing their built up knowledge with others.

Japan by contrast was a very closed system, normally in Japanese work culture it was expected that an employee would be employed at the same company for very large periods of time, often for life in traditional Japanese work spaces. Industry knowledge and "trade secrets" so to speak were considered highly valuable and kept close to the chest at all times. A technique or skill developed in house could be leveraged and used as a competitive advantage in the market place. So much so that in the 80's and early 90's developers were often not allowed use their real names in the credits of their games due to fears of being poached by a competitor perhaps offering a higher salary or better title. This lead to developers having to use odd or "cute" nicknames/pseudonyms to identify themselves.

Another characteristic of Japanese game development at the time was the idea of new "ad-hoc" game engines designed from scratch on a per game basis. This offered great customization and performance initially as the engine could be tailor made to the specific needs of the title/team. However as we know this can be very wasteful, time consuming and inefficient. Recreating the wheel each time in general makes for worse performing code that is more prone to errors and edge cases. Granted over time some developers reused parts of their code or entire engines that were iterated on but the culture of knowledge and expertise sharing was definitely not present in most Japanese companies.

Then came along a little game engine that could: Unreal Engine 3

This engine promised a well tested, performant experience with improved workflows adopting best practice. It was promised to increase productivity, graphical prowess and reduce development times all with good documentation and technical support from Epic. Once Gears of War showcased what could really be done on Xbox 360 and with this engine the floodgates opened and it became the defacto game engine in use by a large portion of western developers.

Western developers were already used to using open source engines or licensing 3rd party engines that were well documented/supported in the industry and making their own modifications on top of this. Japan by contrast was used to only using in house technology and often rewriting engines from scratch on a per game basis.

Unreal Engine 3 did not take Japan by storm. Aside from the cultural issues there was a huge lack of documenation with UE3 famously having terrible documentation in Japanese, often months or years behind the English language version, or just badly translated with no office in Japan/Japanese hours to offer support. For a while it seemed that no Japanese developer could compete with Unreal Engine 3 or High Definition graphics in general.

Along came Capcom with MT Framework. Capcom showcased two projects early in the Xbox 360's life that blew people away, both customers and industry veterans who worked at competing companies. Those games were Lost Planet and Dead Rising. Now, finally here was a company that could keep up with the latest and greatest in tech, and all with an in house engine. It also helps that they became smart about branding and PR at this point and were actively branding the engine and mentioning it in interviews, showing in splash screens.

This engine further proved its worth with the graphical power house that was Resident Evil 5, easily able to keep up with the best that western developers could put out at the time. The engine and Capcom's output proved so impressive that they were approached by many 3rd parties in Japan about the possibility of licensing out the engine in a similar manner to Unreal Engine 3.

Nobody knows for sure why, but Capcom declined and decided to keep the engine for only in house use. Perhaps it was to maintain a competitive advantage in their games division, or maybe as good as the engine was it could have been badly documented or difficult to use/scale and maybe Capcom didn't want to deal with the headaches involved. Perhaps it was simply a continuation of the cultural issues that plagued Japanese developers at the time and Capcom simply wanted to keep everything in house as it had always done.

So that brings us to the question of the thread: Did Capcom miss out on potentially becoming a powerhouse engine developer in the Japanese games industry? Could they have become the equivalent of the "Japanese Unreal Engine" if they had made some more forward thinking moves and planned their strategy around expanding into the engine development/licensing arena?

I'm not 100% sure how it might have gone down, but I would love to be able to look through a crystal ball to see the "what if" dimension where this actually happened. Am I reading the situation wrong perhaps? Was it better for Capcom to continue concentrating on their own games division output?

I'm interested in seeing what everyone has to say about what could have been.
 
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MarkMe2525

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Fun read. I remember downloading the lost planet demo and being floored. I really don't have anything else to add. Japanese development is a blind spot for me.
 
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diffusionx

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The issue is that you can't just sell it, you have to provide support, a lot of staff, regular release cadence, lots of communication. It's a business you have to jump into with both feet. See how badly EA has handled Frostbite across the company for an example of doing it wrong.
 

Ryujin

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The issue is that you can't just sell it, you have to provide support, a lot of staff, regular release cadence, lots of communication. It's a business you have to jump into with both feet. See how badly EA has handled Frostbite across the company for an example of doing it wrong.

Yeah that is what I was thinking, this was possibly a big reason: the hassle of support, communication, additional staff, legal requirements, uncertainty of it taking off in the conservative Japanese market, having source code copied by competitors on the sly etc...

Definitely a real concern I think and you are right without going full steam ahead with it a half assed effort would hurt their brand, reputation and likely their R&D schedules etc...
 
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sublimit

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Finally a thread with some effort put into it. Too bad it will be buried beneath tons and tons of garbage troll and fanboy threads.

I didn't knew that Capcom was approached by other companies to licence their engine.I also wonder what was the real reason they refused.
I think they perfected it with Dragon's Dogma and Monster Hunter World and i am hoping they will keep improving it for future action games
like Dragon's Dogma 2. :messenger_smiling_with_eyes:
 

Ryujin

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Finally a thread with some effort put into it. Too bad it will be buried beneath tons and tons of garbage troll and fanboy threads.

I didn't knew that Capcom was approached by other companies to licence their engine.I also wonder what was the real reason they refused.
I think they perfected it with Dragon's Dogma and Monster Hunter World and i am hoping they will keep improving it for future action games
like Dragon's Dogma 2. :messenger_smiling_with_eyes:

Agreed, it doesn't get brought up enough but Dragon's Dogma was an absolute technical marvel for its time. To be able to fit such a huge open world with tons of enemies, AI companions and all with crazy fast action gameplay physics and insane spells, not mention giant monsters all into 512MB of total RAM for Xbox360/PS3 was absolutely crazy.

I remember reading an interview way back where they had to come up with some clever way to stream in/out the data in real time depending on where in the world you walked. And then to see what they were able to do with Monster Hunter World on top of that is really impressive.

I'm really looking forward to Dragon's Dogma 2, you just know they have to be working on it now since Itsuno finished up DMC5. I wonder will they use MT Framework again and upgrade it for their use case or will they go with a heavily modified RE Engine? My only concern is that the RE engine to the best of my knowledge is designed to work in smaller enclosed spaced with a few very high detail characters, rather than a whole open world.

They will likely have to modify it heavily, either way I can't wait to see a Dragon's Dogma 2. With some refinement and a few new features/ideas it could be a real hit with the general public.
 
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StateofMajora

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Oh yeah, most definitely. That was hands down the best multiplatform engine in the 7th generation, and one of the best overall. Hell, it would have been good this generation.

Seriously ask yourself, unreal engine 3 vs. MT... yeah. Devil may cry 4 on 360 to this day looks great, at pretty much locked 60fps.
 
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SkylineRKR

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MT Framework was great. Lost Planet on 360, DMC4 on PS3, Dead Rising 1 on 360... those games had amazing IQ and perf. I think MvC3 was MT Framework as well. Megaman 11 even. The engine is versatile at the least.
 
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deriks

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Of course. I always thought that an engine should be available to thirds.

Capcom adapted a lot from the "stage based" to more open Dragon's Dogma. With other developers it could mean a nice competition with engines, and maybe we didn't get so many broken ass Unreal Engine 3 games
 
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diffusionx

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I just wanna say Thank you to Capcom for Bring RE engine and throw into the garbage the Mt frame work engine.

I would be shocked if RE Engine wasn’t built off and iterated upon MT Framework. Companies don’t throw out functional technology that is tested and works like that, unless they are really stupid (and sometimes they are, sure).
 
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Hudo

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Finally a thread with some effort put into it. Too bad it will be buried beneath tons and tons of garbage troll and fanboy threads.

I didn't knew that Capcom was approached by other companies to licence their engine.I also wonder what was the real reason they refused.
I think they perfected it with Dragon's Dogma and Monster Hunter World and i am hoping they will keep improving it for future action games
like Dragon's Dogma 2. :messenger_smiling_with_eyes:
Yeah, when I read that MHW was using a (modified) version of MT Framework, I was pretty floored. MT Framework is/was one hell of an engine.
 
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Hudo

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I would be shocked if RE Engine wasn’t built off and iterated upon MT Framework. Companies don’t throw out functional technology that is tested and works like that, unless they are really stupid (and sometimes they are, sure).
Yeah, I can almost guarantee that the RE Engine is at least partially based on MT Framework. You don't throw away tested (!!!!!) code, if you can help it.
 
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SlimeGooGoo

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Well, making an engine can give you a competitive advantage in the industry, so unless your company works exclusively with making engines, it doesn't make much business sense to license it out or give it away.

Plus, back then they mostly made games for consoles, and that would have required other developers to also be licensed developers for a particular console (PS3, 360), otherwise they would not have access to the dev kit.

Fortunately, Sony released Phyre Engine for licensed PS3 developers (was used for Flower, Demon's Souls and many other games), and Microsoft released XNA (used for Limbo and some other indie games).
 
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CleverCaviar

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One "law" of software development I hold mostly true is something like as follows:

- the time it takes for you to write something is n
- times the above by three before you're happy/confident showing it to a colleague
- times the above by three before you're happy/confident showing it to your line manager
- times the above by three before you're happy/confident with it going to QA
- etc etc

The times may vary, your ease with showing off half-baked code may vary, but the general truth remains: there's a gulf between what you think is good enough for you, and what's good enough for the public, and to get to battle tested, public ready code, can take a while.

Maybe Capcom just didn't want the overhead that comes with supporting a commercial engine license (id software were never that fussed about it, unlike Epic), or maybe they didn't want to be in a situation where they felt like any choices made to the core engine would need to be considered against current customers.

Interesting question however, and like others have said, a welcome respite from the console specu-madness.
 
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Azurro

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Yeah that is what I was thinking, this was possibly a big reason: the hassle of support, communication, additional staff, legal requirements, uncertainty of it taking off in the conservative Japanese market, having source code copied by competitors on the sly etc...

Definitely a real concern I think and you are right without going full steam ahead with it a half assed effort would hurt their brand, reputation and likely their R&D schedules etc...

Yes exactly, you have to set up support teams, have people on hand to go to help your licensees, provide training, there's a lot of stuff surrounding the technology that has to be provided, aside from we don't really know how easy it was to use and what kind of tools for each genre it provides, it's not just what kind of visual results it provides.

Like someone else said, EA looked at how the Frostbite games looked and went "we will all use this", while the RPG teams went "wtf is this shit?!" when using it and realising it was lacking basic functionality to develop an RPG.