New tools are making it easier for anyone to build their own games, but the established technology is still a favorite for most developers.
A number of the people who make games think Unreal Engine 4 is the best game-development engine on the market, according to Develop Online’s latest poll of industry insiders. This toolkit from Gears of War creator Epic Games is still in the early phase of its deployment. It is the followup to Epic’s Unreal Engine 3, which was extremely popular with big publishers like Electronic Arts throughout the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 generation. Now, with competition from the Unity engine — which is popular with smaller companies and indie studios — Epic is making more of an effort to appeal to indie studios with Unreal 4. That is potentially paying off.
Develop Online had more than 45 chief technology officers, indie developers, and other experts vote on their favorite game-making tech. Unreal Engine 4 finished No. 2 overall, Unity is No. 3, and CryEngine landed at No. 11. The tiny Raspberry Pi computer was the top technology with the people Develop Online spoke to.
Unreal Engine 4 is the tool that Epic Games is using to make its upcoming PC defense-building shooter Fortnite. That release is still in the works, and isn’t expected until later this year at the earliest. So far the only Unreal Engine 4 games on the market are Zombie Studios’ survival-horror game Daylight and a couple of mobile games on iOS and Android.
To attract more attention from indie studios, Epic changed its business model from Unreal 3 to 4. Instead of upfront fees, you can get access to all of the tools for a $19-per-month subscription. If you end up releasing a game, Epic will then take a 5 percent royalty on top of the subscription.
While Epic is a developer, it likely has made most of its money over the last few years selling licenses and earning royalties from its tech. Based on the result of this poll, Epic may continue to make a lot from Unreal Engine.
Of course, Epic can’t ignore Unity. This is Epic’s biggest competitor. Unity Technologies doesn’t collect any royalties. Instead, it charges for licenses to its Unity Pro tool, which typically costs around $1,500 or $75 per month. Many developers can even get Unity Pro for free if they work with publishers like Nintendo.
At No. 2 and No. 3, Epic and Unity are likely going to battle it out over the love and admiration of game developers. While that includes more and more indie studios every day, fewer big developers are turning to third-party tools. Electronic Arts has all of its companies working on two engines that it owns — one for sports and one for everything else. Bethesda, which owns Doom developer id, is also migrating its studios over to its proprietary tech. This means Epic and Unity need to offer more tools and support for indie developers rather than megacorporations.