It all started in VR, in a dirty kitchen.
At E3 2015, Capcom started showing off a PlayStation VR demo called Kitchen, a virtual reality horror experience that was – if nothing else – incredibly unsettling.
At the time I speculated with my colleagues that this was Capcom teasing a brand new horror IP. After all, Kitchen was dirty, gritty and had a more restrained tone than the publisher’s other horror titles.
But at this year’s E3, Capcom revealed that Kitchen was in fact a teaser for a brand new Resident Evil game. The firm launched a demo called Beginning Hour on-stage at the show.
This created something of an online phenonena, with gamers trying to unlock all of its mysteries, including that of a certain finger.
Though certainly a shift from what consumers expect from Resident Evil, the change in tone was welcome news to gamers, as well as Capcom’s marketing team.
“The first time we heard about the project was very shortly after they started developing it,” EMEA marketing director Antoine Molant says.
“It was back in early 2014. It brought a broad smile to the entire crowd because it was a massive change in terms of the game’s perspective, obviously. Our first reaction internally was probably the same as the gamers’: ‘How is this a Resident Evil title? How is this going to connect to Resident Evil as a whole?’
“So we obviously spent a lot of time with the dev team talking about the game. You see that in the very recent previews that came out, where people were saying: ‘Yes, the camera perspective has changed, but what makes the real core of the game is survival horror’. I was really pleased to see in the previews that a number of journalists were drawing parallels between the first game and 7 despite the massive gap between the two, things like the puzzles, inventory, item management, save rooms and so on. At its core, more than the characters or the lore, Resident Evil is about being scared to open a door because you don’t know what’s on the other side. That’s the kind of feeling you find in Resident Evil 7 as well.”
After the more action-based gameplay of Resident Evil 4, 5 and 6, this new entry feels more refined, restrained and intimate. It feels like Capcom has been taking notes from the more scaled-back indie horror game scene that has emerged over the last few years.
“We took the direction – starting with 4 – to become more action-based,” Molant says. “There’s a crowd for that as well and lots of people loved that. For a long-lasting IP like Resident Evil, you need to re-invent yourself on a regular basis while keeping the core nature of why your game is good. I think the first three Resident Evil games, and the spin-offs, were part of a trilogy. But 4, 5 and 6 presented a departure, with different camera angles and so on. You could think that 7 and what comes next are also a new take on the Resident Evil franchise.
“It’s an interesting exercise. It sometimes can be a bit scary for gamers, and for the dev team as well. I don’t think this game was focus tested before they started development, but these guys identified clearly what Resident Evil was, putting that in the present day, taking inspiration and influences from modern horror movies and games as well.”
"We’re very confident in terms of the quality.
Commercially, it’s probably the biggest Capcom game
we are releasing on the new machines."
Antoine Molant, Capcom
As well as being playable ‘traditionally’, Resident Evil 7 can also be played in its entirety in PlayStation VR. It’s perhaps one of the first triple-A titles to be playable from start to end in VR. Messaging something like this can be a challenge.
“At the very beginning, we had to have a message that the game is PSVR compatible,” Molant says.
“You don’t need PSVR to play it. It’s also the same game – you buy it once, you can play it in PSVR, that’s an option. That’s very important. But it’s a great window for us to promote the game and to show the game in its best light. Obviously having PSVR heightens all of the feeling and sensations you get.
“Hopefully most people will like it, if they have PSVR. Some people might find it too much, I don’t know, we’ll see. But it’s definitely an extra bonus for gamers who just have to buy one game and can play both versions.”
In the run-up to Resident Evil 6’s release, Capcom went all out to market the title. The push for the game had a very big, very Hollywood feel to it. While Molant says that Resident Evil 7 is going to get a similar investment, the tone of its marketing push is going to be very different.
“The sheer size of it and the investment is either similar or probably higher [to Resident Evil 6],” he says.
“It’s just the tone. Asny good marketing campaign will have its roots in the game. You can’t just do something that’s not related or connected to what your game is. It wouldn’t work. So the tone will be different, the imagery will be different. But in terms of where you actually put your investment and budget, or how big it is, it’s pretty similar. The tone will be more intimate, like the game is, and probably more survival horror, like the game is compared to 6.”
"At its core, more than the characters or the lore,
Resident Evil is about being scared to open a door because
you don’t know what’s on the other side."
Antoine Molant, Capcom
At this year’s E3, Capcom also launched a demo for Resident Evil 7 called Beginning Hour. Since, this has been updated twice.
“The thinking behind updating the demo is similar to how we approached the marketing campaign as a whole, starting with a bang, and then ramping up the teasing and reveals bit by bit,” Molant explains.
“We thought that this would allow gamers to experience new content over a longer period of time.
“Being able to go live with a demo at announcement means you usually cannot offer a slice of what your game truly is. But as the development of the main game progressed, we were able to add more elements to it, via the updates.”
Capcom has opted to launch Resident Evil 7 in January. The start of the year has become a popular release slot for the publisher with Capcom launching titles such as DMC: Devil May Cry, Resident Evil: Revelations 2, Street Fighter V and Resident Evil: Origins Collection during the first two months of the year.
“January is becoming the little Capcom window,” Molant says.
“Looking at the market, you see that January and end-of-January sales into February and March are actually quite good. Obviously there’s less competition there. It’s post-Christmas, you’d think that people have a bit of money to spend, they’re back at work or school or wherever, and want to have fun. It’s early in the year.
“The October, November and early December window... we’ve seen, this year, I’m sure some publishers will be gutted to see the sales of some of the franchises. There were a few winners as
well and that’s great. Everything is more expensive in terms of advertising, communication, you don’t get as many voices and people talking about your game because they are focused on games they actually playing.
“It’s the same at retail. The pre-order campaigns are about pre-Christmas stuff, so January gives us a really nice window. You can see some publishers are already starting to push back their game into the Q1 window as opposed to Q4.
“Also, part of it was simply the fact that the game wasn’t ready to ship before Christmas and wanted to work on it. We were more than glad to fulfil and get the game released in January.”
If anything is clear from this conversation, it’s that Molant and his team are incredibly confident when it comes to Resident Evil 7.
“We’d love to have only nines or tens, but I’m sure we’ll see a few eights as well,” he says.
“We’re very confident in terms of the quality. Commercially, it’s probably the biggest Capcom game we are releasing on the new machines. Ideally, we’d love to sell about 4m units Day One globally. That would be great. Looking at what we see in the pre-orders and the trends these days, we’re pretty confident we are going to get there. All the signs that we have seen across the market, whether it’s from the UK or from other territories, are very positive so far.
“We’re not sitting back and relaxing at all because we want to push that. But the confidence is there.”