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Epic's Sweeney just wants to sell Unreal Engine, as Amazon, Unity move to services

Epic's Sweeney just wants to sell Unreal Engine, as Amazon, Unity move to services

March 18, 2016 | By Christian Nutt

Would it make sense for Unreal Engine to start integrating and offering services -- say, analytics, ads, or hosting services, like its competition? Epic Games founder and CEO Tim Sweeney tells Gamasutra that his company will not copy other companies -- and focus strictly on its engine business.

"We could, at Epic, try to build some of those solutions as general solution for the whole game industry, but I tend to see a lot of specialized companies doing a better job with that," Sweeney told Gamasutra at GDC.

"To try to create revision control systems to compete with Git or Perforce certainly isn't Epic's specialty. We tend to focus on the things that we're uniquely good at in the industry. We work with all of the best partners, all over, in all of these other fields and let them provide the services they're best at."

Amazon's recently released Lumberyard engine is a triple-A quality product that is totally free -- but is tightly integrated with Amazon Web Services for online functionality. Unity, meanwhile, has moved into offering ads and analytics, important pieces of the pie for mobile devs, which are its bread and butter.

Though Epic has made great pains to make Unreal Engine more accessible (with, for example, its Blueprint visual scripting language) it was clear from its GDC presentation that the company still sees bigger studios as its main customers.

That was also reflected in Sweeney's response. When it comes to integrating the right third-party packages into a game, "A bigger developer who's experienced and is shipping a game they expect to be successful I think is going to do a lot of research to figure out all the options and choose the best among all of them," he said. 

"There are advertising plugins for Unreal, metrics plugins, web-service backends, eCommerce backends. All kinds of varieties and endless new technologies that can be added to it and we're happy to have them in our ecosystem. We don't feel the need for us, Epic, to provide everything."

"We certainly see most of our partners choose a bundle of technologies of which we're just one component. So tying it all together is not necessarily a good thing. If Unity Ads is successful, we'd be happy to see them bring it to Unreal. If it's a good advertising backend, great."

Epic's biz model, contrasted

"We make engine technology purely as developers succeed. And we profit from the success alongside them," Sweeney said, reiterating the point he's made before, when announcing the company's shift to a free-to-start, royalty-based business model. 

"Our model is probably the purest of them all. We profit from 5 percent royalty on the revenue from games built with Unreal. You pay relatively unproportionately to the value you're getting out of the engine and we have an incentive to help everybody to succeed in proportion to their potential."

"If you make a great game and you succeed, we succeed with you. I think that is the greatest motivator. We really are focused on our customers. It's important for us that they make great games and they're successful. It's very pure. Very simple to understand," said the company's CTO, Kim Libreri.

Libreri contrasted Unreal Engine against Amazon and Unity's models, respectively:

"Obviously cloud-hosted games are making profit out of the cloud hosting component of it. That's great, but it's not quite the same metric as being a successful game. If a game is not efficient, and uses more cloud resources, that still is in the interest of somebody who's selling cloud services. 

"If somebody's making money through advertising attached to a game, that's still not the pure -- the game has to be great and selling great numbers for us to be succeeding the best, so it is pure."

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