Yesterday, Epic Games announced plans to make Unreal Engine 4 available to developers big and small as a $19 monthly subscription service. They’ll drop Unreal 3’s finickity licensing system in favour of a 5% gross revenue royalty on whatever the developer makes - and in return, the dev will get access to the Unreal Editor and C++ source code.
It’s an exercise in simplification. By Tim Sweeney’s account, that’s the philosophy that drives engine development at Epic. Last night, the company founder talked to our Rob about making something as exponentially complex as game making “affordable and fair”.
Sweeney called rival outfit Unity a “really robust company supported by a huge and awesome community” - and said Epic were “motivated” by the accessibility of modern game engines.
“We’re seeing a renaissance in game development,” Sweeney told PCGamesN. “We’re about 30 years straight from coin-ops to Xbox 360. Games doubled in complexity every few years, and budgets would go up and team sizes would go up. But this revolution has reset everything.
“We’re very much motivated by that. We wanted to bring this engine that was brought up and forged in the AAA world to everybody. And a business model that’s affordable and fair.”
Asked how on earth Epic plan to keep track of and audit the revenues of all of their engine subscribers, Sweeney was unconcerned.
Though he said there would be “some scenarios where developers are going to want to negotiate a custom licence”, Sweeney pointed out that Steam, Apple and every other games marketplace gives developers reports on revenue - and make it easy for developers to share that revenue data with Epic.
“We’re very excited about making our tools available so a new generation of artists and designers can come up learning Unreal,” he said. “That’s been a big driver of our business model.”
One of the aspects of Unreal Engine 4 developers criticised following last night’s announcement was its lack of a scripting language. But Sweeney doesn’t think it will limit indies.
“There are two levels to implement game functionality in UE4,” he said. If you’re a programmer, you can write code in C++. You can do absolutely anything as a programmer. If you’re a designer or an artist or a non-programmer, you create Blueprints to visually create gameplay actions.
“These are different worlds. Designers tend to dislike programing and programmers tend to dislike visual scripting languages.”
In other words, devs will either need to write code themselves or use Blueprint to find a way to do it. Perhaps that will be enough? If not, there’s always Unity, or the new, cheaper CryEngine subscription to turn to.