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Epic's Sweeney: Studios need to react to the changing industry to survive
Epic's Sweeney: Studios need to react to the changing industry to survive
July 11, 2013 | By Mike Rose




The game companies that react early to the constantly changing industry are the ones that come out the other end as survivors, says Epic's Tim Sweeney.

As part of a talk at Develop Conference today, the industry veteran discussed how Epic has undergone major shifts throughout the last couple of decades, and it is the act of leading rather than following that can help a studio survive.

For example, just three years into the life of Epic, Sweeney and his team saw that 2D shareware games soon wouldn't work anymore, and that 3D games were the future -- hence, his team had to make major business changes so early on as a necessity.

Elsewhere, Epic switched from PC games to console games during the last decade as the PC market began to decline. But the recent move onto mobile was a tricky situation.

"I have to admit, I didn't notice mobile," he says of the original launch of the iOS App Store. "I didn't see the potential for it."

Mark Rein at Epic kept telling Sweeney that the company should move into mobile, and that it was important, but Sweeney wasn't so sure. In fact, it was three generations into the iPhone -- the 3GS model -- that Sweeney finally realized just how big mobile was going to be.

At this point, Epic jumped onboard with iOS "to show the industry it was possible to bring AAA to mobile."

And now, says Sweeney, we're moving into persistent online games, so studios should already been looking into this. "The industry is in constant turmoil," he adds, "and the companies that react to it are the survivors."

However, he notes that Epic as a whole hasn't really changed its core beliefs in 22 years. "We've had our ups and downs," he says, but Epic has always wanted to make games and tools, and it will continue to do so.

"We're not just making games to sell them - we're participants in this industry," he adds, noting that he loves to see other studios doing well too.

And Sweeney briefly touched on the immenent launches of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles, noting that, "You're not seeing console gamers giving up on console games and moving to mobile" -- there's just lots more new players who enjoy mobile games.

"It's like YouTube versus movies," he says -- YouTube is great and accessible, but you'll always have people who want to sit back and watch a full movie, much like you'll always have people who want to sit back with a console game.


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Comments


Ramin Shokrizade
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"The game companies that react early to the constantly changing industry are the ones that come out the other end as survivors" I will agree to this. I would add that it is those that successfully *predict* trends and act aggressively to take advantage of future trends that end up doing much better than just surviving.

Jay Anne
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It's been interesting to see that while bleeding edge companies make early adopter hits, it's often the "translators" who swoop in later, learn from the innovations, create a more accessible product, and achieve mass success. EQ vs WoW, Quake vs Half Life, Dota vs League of Legends, etc. Looking through Epic's history, it's interesting to see how strongly this shows in their products. Quake -> Unreal, Quake MP -> UT, Battlefield -> UT2K4, Resident Evil -> Gears of War.

David Navarro
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Indeed, Jay. The usual "The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese" type of situation.

Ian Uniacke
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I don't think it's that simple. It's knowing when to be aggressive and knowing when to be conservative. Just diving head long into the latest greatest thing is bound to ruin your company eventually. PC social gaming was a trend and look where it led Zynga (for example).

Jay Anne
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@Ian Uniacke
Yeah, all it led Zynga to was growing into a company with a billion dollars in revenue that went public in 4 years. Nobody wants that, right?

In fact, the general consensus is that Zynga's recent troubles are actually because they could not figure out the latest and greatest thing (mobile).

Ramin Shokrizade
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Zynga is a good example of a company that moved aggressively and effectively into a new space first.I don't think their products were that high quality, and they were typically very, um, similar to other products that came before. The lack of competition in the space (Facebook) is what made things easy for them. That and the free advertising until that got closed.

An example of a company that jumped into a space late, without understanding that space, would be something more like Electronic Arts.

Dan Porter
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"'You're not seeing console gamers giving up on console games and moving to mobile' -- there's just lots more new players who enjoy mobile games."

I liked this quote. It captures something I think many people tend to ignore; that just because a new market opens up doesn't mean the old one is in decline. And even a market on decline can be profitable if you can fight up to the top.

Sindharta Tanuwijaya
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I think things would be a little bit different if full movies with HD quality existed on YouTube.

Michael Joseph
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He's making a comparison about the experience of a high production feature film vs low production videos. Somebody needs to invest a lot of money up front to make a well produced feature film. That's not the case for cat videos.

Sindharta Tanuwijaya
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Yes, that is right. But it's a little bit different from games on tablets, because we are starting to have great quality games on tablets, and their quality will keep improving.

Daniil Sarkisyan
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Yerr... do you mean, you have not stumbled yet on "720 or better" full movies on non-English parts of social networks? Or you never used torrents?
Folks around me would go to big theaters for 3D or IMAX quality only. Otherwise the free options are too tempting: there is 99% chance you would not want to watch this movie second time, and 50% chance you will be bored even the first time you see it.
Much the same situation is with games: if gameplay is totally indistinguishable from 100 other games and it leaves you mind&soul empty, why would you sacrifice your precious time and energy playing it?

Sindharta Tanuwijaya
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"Much the same situation is with games: if gameplay is totally indistinguishable from 100 other games and it leaves you mind&soul empty, why would you sacrifice your precious time and energy playing it?"

Of course not, but are you saying that all games on tablets/phones are like this ?

Josh Griffiths
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Anyone else find it ironic they just announced their next game will be a AAA shooter after this article?

tony oakden
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Isn't this stating the obvious? Do we really need Tim to tell us that the games industry is constantly evolving, mostly because of changing hardware, and that companies who adapt to those changes do the best? Obviously it's better to be pro-active too. I think there is a bigger question as to whether these constantly shifting technological platforms on which we try to build our products are a good thing or not. Of course he doesn't ask that and why would he when his company and many like his have managed to make hundreds of millions out of the tech churn. It must be nice to be in the privileged few with representatives from all the major publishers and hardware developers banging on your door, begging you to work with them.

Yamil Chaar
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It may seem obvious to us that change is perpetual but there is a big jump from the actions you describe to actually recognizing change before or while it is happening and acting on it.

History is littered with the headstones of companies who simply did not react in time, refused to do so, or thought they had a solid understanding of the market only to be proved wrong.

In hindsight everything and anything seems obvious.

tony oakden
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True but saying we should react to change when there is so many possible ways to react is pretty useless advice in my opinion. The games industry is a bit like a herd of antelope constantly under threat from lions (for the purposes of my admittedly rather week metaphor represent advancing technology). When the lions attack the herd runs randomly in all directions so ensuring that at least a handful survives but that's scant consolation for the poor animal who is unlucky enough to pick the wrong direction and gets ripped apart by lions. Except in our case the majority of those who flee from the ravages of advancing technology go in the same direction and usually fail and only a handful make the right call. So for this thread to actually be useful Tim needs to tell us which technology and genre to back. But of course that's impossible because nobody actually knows.

Dane MacMahon
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It's about seeing the change ahead of time and betting on what you saw. Or on the case of true innovators creating that change.

Even within one company you can have examples of this like Xbox Live at MS surrounded by a lot of following in other departments.


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