It’s E3 season, but it’s an E3 season without an E3. Despite everything the COVID-19 pandemic has done to disrupt everything, the games industry is trying its best to continue. Geoff Keighley of The Game Awards fame has been contributing, running a Summer Games Festival event with big reveals. Unreal Engine 5 was one such reveal, along with a new platform of access Epic Games is working on. Due to how Epic Games has and continues to disrupt the way things have been, it seems like regardless of motivations, Epic Games is spearheading a wave of change for the industry. And that change has the potential to make everything better.
Unreal Engine 5, of course, looks amazing. Now, it’s important to stress what exactly an engine is. It’s a toolbox. Games don’t just come out of engines like ice cream mixers. An engine is a collection of individual tools, which govern everything from physics, to lighting, to textures and more. The engine provides the building blocks, but what those blocks form is entirely up to the people using the tools. That said, the tech demo Epic Games’ team showed off looked amazing, and the visual fidelity of video games looks to have a great future. But that isn’t what I’m talking about.
Epic Games isn’t just pushing the latest edition of its powerful Unreal Engine. It’s also transforming the barriers of entry. Unreal Engine is a powerful toolset, that requires an expensive license. Beyond Fortnite, this is how Epic Games has so much money, enough that it can justify doing things like competing with Steam via the Epic Games Store and its dramatic change in service rates for devs. It’s also allowing Epic Games to provide indie developers free access to Unreal Engine 5, giving small teams the capability to use AAA-level tools, without paying a dime until they turn a substantial profit.
Epic Games is also doing everything it can to help the likes of Microsoft and Nintendo blur the lines of what individual platforms are. The PlayStation cross-play wars of 2019 were just the beginning. Epic Games is working on infrastructure that makes cross-platform integration easier than ever, theoretically allowing gamers to link everything about their games, including progress, to an Epic Games account they can log into regardless of platform. Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeny and his teams aren’t just trying to push the envelope with graphics and technology. They’re using their massive resources to affect major change in how these businesses work, and who they work for.
With the arrival of Unreal Engine 5, the games industry could be in for a massive shift. And I mean a shift in fidelity, a shift in access, and most importantly a shift in power dynamics. Small projects, thanks to free access to the engine, could appear on the scene with the same kinds of visual brilliance and muscle as an AAA project with a massive team. Epic Games wants to even the playing field as much as possible, bring people together, and break down barriers. Sure, Epic Games stand to profit to an unfathomable degree from all this, and questioning that motivation behind apparent corporate benevolence is always important. But regardless, if things pop off the way Epic is pitching, game development could get better for everyone.