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E3: id's Carmack, Willits Happy To Be Done With Engine Licensing

E3: id's Carmack, Willits Happy To Be Done With Engine Licensing

June 8, 2011 | By Kris Graft

Last year, id Software confirmed that it would no longer license its engine technology to developers outside of the umbrella of corporate parent Zenimax, which also owns The Elder Scrolls developer and publisher Bethesda Softworks.

The move was a surprise -- id had become known for licensing its tech for games ranging from American McGee's Alice to Call of Duty, even releasing its tech for free after a few years. Technology sharing, whether through licensing partnerships or through a free release of id Tech, seemed to be part of id's DNA, and the studio's acquisition by Zenimax helped put an end to that.

But id co-founder and lead programmer John Carmack told Gamasutra at E3 that he's happy to be out of the engine licensing business, as the studio concentrates on finishing id Tech 5-powered Rage and continues work on the further-off Doom 4.

"It's interesting when you look at our technology licensing -- it was never really a business that I wanted to be in," he said. "In the very early days, people would pester us, and we'd just throw out some ridiculous terms, and we were surprised when people started taking us up on it."

"I didn't want to be in the process of supporting a lot of outside teams, because you feel beholden to not make radical changes when it's going to pull the rug out from lots of other people," he explained. "When it's your own team, you can make the sensible decision that [a big change] is going to be worth it, that it's going to suck for a while, but we make our way through it. But you don't want to do that to other people."

Gears of War developer Epic Games is a dominant force in engine licensing in this console generation, and Carmack acknowledged that company's success in that area.

"Epic's done a really good job of building up a support structure for [engine licensing]. The market was ours to keep, but we abdicated because we weren't willing to put that effort into it. We didn't want half our company to be about managing technology licensing. Epic has gone and done a great job with it."

"If you have a team that's up to speed and going great with Unreal technology, I don't care at all. It's not a personal affront to me if somebody wants to choose a different technology to build a game upon," he said.

He added that id Tech 5 is "not magic," and the engine is good for certain kinds of games such as Rage, but not as much for games such as Grand Theft Auto that render cities with lots of surface area.

"The megatexture direction [in id Tech 5] has some big wins, but it's also fairly restrictive on certain types of games," he said. "It would be a completely unacceptable engine to do [Bethesda's Elder Scrolls V:] Skyrim in, where you've got the whole world, walking across these huge areas."

id Software creative director Tim Willits said in a separate Gamasutra E3 interview that dropping engine licensing was a welcome change. "For us, it was such a burden off our back. Licensing is a big pain, it really is. ... We always wanted to focus on the games, so it was a nice relief for us not to have to do that."

"... But John is still very active in open source," Willits said, "and we're the only ones that release our source now to such an extensive level, and the PC version [of Rage] will have the SDK ... all that stuff will be available. The spirit of [Carmack's] sense of sharing and working with the community, that's still pretty intact. I wouldn't stress too much about it."

Gamasutra will have more from id Software in the coming days.

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