Choosing The Game Engine That Can
April 13, 2009 Page 3 of 3
While Andersson is adamant about being mainly a one-engine studio, his team has dabbled with other engines when necessary; they did some physics maps for Unreal Tournament using the Unreal Engine.
"Regardless what it does -- good or bad -- it changes your way of working and how flexible you are in certain areas," he explains. "You have to adapt to the constraints of the limitations of what the engine has. You have to think in a different way and that's not the kind of restrictions we want here."
His best recommendation to other developers just starting out is to weigh your budget, decide whether you want to take the risk of building your own engine, and determine whether your staffing is capable of doing that.
"I get the feeling that most developers who want to build their own are cocky bastards who just want to prove themselves," he observes, "and that's a good attitude to have, a very healthy one. But, for most start-ups, it's far less risky to license somebody else's engine. Today's climate is very different from when we started in '97."
"Projects are 10 times larger than they used to be and so the risks when creating your own engine are far greater. At the same time, licensing fees are much less compared to budgets than they used to be, which may make it more economical to use someone else's engine."
But which one? Andersson recommends identifying the game you want to make, find an engine that has created something similar, and license it. "On the other hand," he says, "if you're building a Gears of War-type shooter and don't want it to look like Gears of War, Epic Games' Unreal Engine may not be what you want. It depends on how high you're aiming. If you're going to try to beat Epic at their own game, you probably shouldn't use their engine."
Apparently Andersson's advice to license rather than to build is taken to heart by the majority of developers, according to Mark DeLoura, an independent games consultant. Of the 100 developers he recently surveyed, 55% are licensing someone else's engine although they aren't all happy about it.
"About 46% of those surveyed said that if they had their druthers and an infinite amount of time and money, they would prefer to create all their own tech," says DeLoura. "About 37% said they'd rather purchase a middleware library suite. And only 9% said they'd rather buy a game engine."
The primary motivations, according to the poll, are money, time, and whether the strategy is going to work for the game. Developers report they are paying approximately $1 million to license a game-specific engine but only $250,000 per title per platform for a generic engine.
"Let's say that building your own engine will take a team of 10 engineers approximately 18 months," says DeLoura, "so figuring $10,000 per man-month, that's about $1.8 million. But what you get for that money is an engine tailored to the game you're building which minimizes the customization you'd have to do on a licensed engine."
In fact, notes DeLoura, developers tell him that licensing an engine doesn't necessarily shorten the development cycle at all.
"What it does do is allow them to focus on the game-specific technology," he explains. "They don't have to write the low-level code that accesses the memory pack, the networking, or any of that. They can focus on how they're going to tune their NPC behaviors, game event timings, and so on."
One advantage of licensing a popular engine is that it simplifies outsourcing. "For example, 39% of the respondents who are licensing engines say they use the Unreal Engine," says DeLoura. "If you need to send work out to contractors -- or even if you need to staff up your team internally -- chances are you'll find people who have worked with that engine before. Not needing to have them familiarize themselves with your unique engine is a huge benefit."
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