Veteran studio turns its eye to the little guy.
Epic Games knows it needs to be courting independent developers. Not that long ago, the Unreal game engine was the go-to for countless AAA studios, and powered Epic’s own hugely successful Gears of War franchise. Now those studios are increasingly turning elsewhere, many of them simply creating or buying up their own engines, and even Gears of War has been sold on.
At Epic’s ‘Post-GDC Briefing’, the company is wearing its new strategies on its sleeve. Both a chance for them to speak directly to an audience of indie devs, and for those devs to network and make new connections, the event carries a strong theme of independence and casting aside the traditional business structure of games. The discussion panel of industry insiders, including ID@Xbox’s Agostino Simonetta, Deco Digital’s Joe Brammer and Ninja Theory’s Dominic Matthews, is buzzing as they talk about the world of new opportunities in smaller-scale development. Following an announcement at GDC, the Unreal engine is now free, opening its use up to any studio, regardless of scale or budget; “Now there’s nothing stopping you from making an amazing game,” enthuses Brammer, whose own game Pneuma: Breath of Life was developed on UE4 and released earlier this year.
The audience, many of them aspiring or up-and-coming developers, listen eagerly as the panel paints a picture of an industry more accessible than ever. “Just go out and talk to people, just be brave,” says Simonetta – self-publishing and self-promotion are, he explains, more possible than ever before, for those bold enough to take on the challenge. Even for those who don’t handle their game’s business and marketing sides themselves, AAA publishers no longer hold all the cards; Simonetta points to Devolver Digital as one of a new breed of smaller, digital publishers, without the baggage and risk-aversion of companies like Ubisoft and EA.
Ninja Theory, traditionally a big-budget studio, is taking a different strategy for its latest game Hellblade, Dominic Matthews explains. “We’re too small to compete in the AAA market as it is now,” he says. “The choice is we either go really big, or try something new, and we decided to try something new.” He calls it ‘independent AAA’ – the studio is publishing the game itself, and despite pitching it as a fully AAA gaming experience, Hellblade’s team consists of only 12 people.
“Now is the time to do this,” says Matthews. “We can self-publish digitally. We don’t have to put our games on discs and put them in boxes anymore.”
One technique they’re using is open development. The panel talks excitedly about the possibilities of making the development process transparent to consumers, thereby building a relationship with fans without the need for a huge marketing budget. “If you aren’t good at press releases and stuff like that, just be open,” says Joe Brammer, pointing to the success of Nuclear Throne developers Vlambeer.
“We’re sharing everything, the good and the bad, because we want to open this up to other developers,” adds Matthews. That’s another big theme of the event – the indie development community working together, helping each other out, rather than competing. There’s a strong sense of rejecting the colder attitudes of big publishers and embracing something friendlier and more optimistic.
With companies like Epic shifting their focus to it, small-scale development is only going to become more significant over the next few years. If the community can maintain and grow the sense of cooperation, openness and self-determination seen at events like these, it’s going to mean great things to come for gaming.
How did we do?
We hope you found this article useful, or informative, or thought provoking, or maybe even a little entertaining. Perhaps it was a guide that helped you through a tricky bit, or we even saved you some money? Lovely stuff! If you'd like to say "thanks" you could always buy the team a cup of coffee.
Recommended for you
Latest from Thumbsticks
Marvel’s Avengers is now free on PS4, PS5, PC, and Stadia
Square Enix opens up Marvel's Avengers to PlayStation, Steam, and Stadia players for the next three days.
Ori: The Collection bundles both games on one Nintendo Switch cartridge
Iam8bit, the specialist publisher of collector's editions, is bringing Ori: The Collection to Nintendo Switch later this year.
PlayStation Plus gets three games in August 2021
Sony reveals the free video games available to PlayStation Plus subscribers in August 2021.
The Xbox Games with Gold for August 2021 are pretty good
The Xbox Games with Gold lineup for August 2021 includes an underrated sequel and a flawed but fun homage to...
Krispy Kreme developing Nexus Level Doughnut in partnership with Xbox
This Krispy Kreme / Xbox mashup doughnut looks delicious, sure, but why is it called the "Nexus Level" doughnut?
Is Valve’s Steam Deck the perfect gateway to PC gaming?
With a simple and approachable device like the Steam Deck, will PC gaming finally get its hooks into console gamers?
The next Monster Hunter Rise event adds Okami’s Amaterasu
Capcom has announced that the next collaboration event for Monster Hunter Rise will feature Amaterasu from Okami.
This tech demo from Gears of War developer The Coalition is unreal
Unreal Engine 5 running on the Xbox Series X, that is.