The Future Of Indies And Game Engines

It seems like two of the most significant announcements from the 2014 Game Developer’s Conference are the new pricing schemes for Unreal Engine 4 and CryEngine. Two of the most powerful graphics engines in the industry seem to be targeting a wider range of developers than ever.

I guess it makes sense. The current indie developer scene has cropped up almost entirely after Unreal Engine 3 and CryEngine 2 hit the scene. Those two relatively recent engines debuted in different markets, thus their successors need to adapt their business models. I think it could eventually change the entire perception of indie games, or at least accelerate a change in perception that’s already taking place.

A lot of people still think of indie games as primarily two-dimensional sidescrollers with retro-styled graphics. A great many are indeed like this because that’s the simplest and cheapest kind of video game to make, especially for teams with single-digit memberships. This gives indie games a reputation for being essentially snack food gaming, or comparable to games from 20 years ago. I’ve done posts here in the past about how that’s starting to change, if only on PC first. That change is making its way to consoles though, with results that could begin to manifest later this year.

Over the last couple years indie PC games with advanced 3D graphics became much more commonplace — a popular type being first person adventure games or horror games. A culmination of this was last year’s Gone Home which is already on its way to consoles. The team behind Amnesia: The Dark Descent which popularized recent indie horror/adventure is prepping SOMA for a PC and PS4 release later this year. A personal favorite indie project of mine is Routine which looks as good as any UE3 game*. It seems UE4’s subscription model (as opposed to charging sizable sums from large game developers) seeks to make more games like these possible with its full toolset.

Because a lot more developers or even people can probably afford $20 a month plus five percent of gross profits, we’re likely to see a lot more games come out over the next two or three years using the impressive tools Epic Games showed off this week. On top of that you have Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo practically fighting to support indie developers.

What I really like though is how Crytek seemed to up the ante in response to Epic, offering a $10 monthly subscription fee for CryEngine with no royalties for indies (I don’t know how it plans to define “indie” yet). I’ve always lamented that relatively few games actually use CryEngine despite Crytek licensing it out. It’s a highly proficient engine that looks like it could give Unreal some decent competition. If nothing else it’ll be nice when Unity is no longer the only engine available to most indies.

Going after a wider range of developers could also be a response to how most of the big publishers have built their own engines.

EA, Ubisoft, Capcom, and other publishers had to pay Epic for Unreal for a lot of games on PS3 and Xbox 360. Now they probably won’t as much because EA has Frostbite, Ubisoft has Snowdrop (and other engines) which it showed off during GDC, Capcom has Panta Rei, Square Enix has Glacier and Luminous (if it can get the latter off the ground), and Konami has the FOX engine. Epic and Crytek seem to have resolved to go after developers who can’t afford to build their own world-class engines.

Most interestingly, we don’t know what could happen next. Valve still hasn’t shown its hand in regards to the future of the Source engine. Rumors abound Valve is working on something in that area, and today’s Source is an aging engine despite its advancements. Could Valve up the ante in a similar way?


  • *Correction: Earlier I listed Gone Home as a UDK game when it was in fact built on Unity.
  • A new movie is coming this year about Daisuke Jigen.
  • Didn’t know that game Chasm got its own site.
  • I don’t know about you but I’ve been waiting for a French Revolution Assassin’s Creed game for a while. It’s one of the settings that makes the most sense to me.
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