Epic has used its Unreal University event in London to encourage the next generation of developers to stand out from the crowd - by building more ambitious triple-A games, rather than just cheap 'casual' distractions. (Via its Unreal Development Kit, naturally.)
Speaking in a warmly received keynote this morning, European Territory Manager Mike Gamble informed a packed room of budding UK devs that Epic "didn't believe" industry chatter suggesting triple-A games were "going away because the cost is huge and content on App stores is 99c".
Gamble told the 100-plus attendees that Epic's downloadable Unreal Development Kit would allow them to create top quality titles on a range of operating systems, including iOS and Windows - and that making hardcore games for Apple devices represented a standout opportunity for currently unknown devs.
"Experience tells us that if you create content with high production values the audience will buy it," he said. "You're customers, what would you prefer to do: Buy a game like Infinity Blade for $6 with plenty of gameplay, good production values that offers a visceral experience; or pay 99c for something you play once and never ever go back to?
"Our belief and what we're telling the professional industry - our Unreal 3 developers - is you need to start building content for the mobile devices using your experience as games developers.
"The proof for us has been Infinity Blade. It's a triple-A quality title built and shipped late last year. So far, we've earned more than $11 million of revenue from it - that's after Apple have taken their cut. Okay, it's not necessarily a strictly comparable case because Apple picked it up and promoted it heavily on TV etc.
"But even if you take those mitigating factors out, there's an audience out there who want to play good quality games on mobile devices - whether it be pads or smartphones. And as UDK users, you can build on iOs, and there's an opportunity [by building 'core' games with UDK] to really differentiate yourselves from the herd."
Gamble, a respected industry vet who recently joined the Gears Of War studio from Crytek, then broke down Epic's royalty payment structure to the group - who were all invited to attend Unreal University for free.
The first $50,000 earned via UDK-made titles belonged to their creator, he explained, with Epic taking a 25 per cent royalty cut of any subsequent revenue. For especially lucrative projects, said Gamble, developers could pay a higher flat fee to Epic and enjoy more economical terms as part of a full (i.e. non-amateur) Unreal 3 source licence.
Gamble claimed that Epic owns 65 per cent of the "engine market", and told the group that "if you're a student or a modder thinking of going into professional development, you're making a wise choice with Unreal".
He then moved onto Samaritan, the stunning Unreal Engine demo Epic showed at GDC in March, describing it as "our proposal to the hardware manufacturers as to what we think next-generation should look like". The technology, Gamble explained, is available for budding devs to use in UDK now, although "you just might have to buy a big machine to run it!".
After establishing Epic's opinion that triple-A titles can be commercially successful on what some see as 'casual' devices, Gamble then gave an insight into what the future of gaming might look like - with both Apple and Google getting a tip of the hat.
"Since Apple have been involved, things have splintered to the point that now every [screen] has become a potential gaming device. We're at the beginning of that thin wedge at the moment. We're getting devices like the Xperia Play and PlayStation Vita - which is an immensely powerful machine with some really interesting interfaces. Then there are slightly different devices, like the Motorola Smartphone with a docking device that plugs it into a telly. Suddenly, you're looking at content on your big screen TV that was on your smartphone. It also plugs into the back of what is essentially a dumb terminal and turns it into a laptop.
"Now think about this... you've got this little smartphone device. You're playing World Of Warcraft and you're doing some sort of metagame; managing inventory or sorting quests. But then as soon as you plug it into the bigger form factor, you've got full mouse and keyboard support. The question now becomes not so much one of technology - it's one of smart design. You need to design an experience that works on small form factors with a certain input, and then works when someone transfers it to a different form factor and input. That's where life starts to get really exciting in my view."
Gamble then pointed to a "whole host of devices", including set top boxes from Intel - as well as Apple and Google's up-and-coming TV packages - which could theoretically become dominant gaming systems in the future.
"Right now, these devices are all a little sub-optimum in terms of power," he said. "But you've only got to look at Apple's jump between iPad 1 and iPad 2 - and how it multiplied performance [in terms of GPU] by nine times. You can bet your bottom dollar that in an iteration or two, this stuff is going to be as powerful as [a top-end PC].
"A little device that plugs your iPad 2 into your TV via HDMI is actually already here. As soon as you've done that, all you've got to do is add a wireless controller, and you've got a console. Suddenly, you've got a device with a big screen that you can take anywhere to play on, and that you can plug into your telly; one which gives an experience which is not dissimilar to what you're getting through the current hardware.
"Again, you're beginning to open up a whole range of new ways of playing games - or playing the same game with different interfaces, different control methods and even perhaps different in-game aspects."
Following Gamble's talk, Epic's James Tan and Markus Arvidsson gave a series of lectures and tutorials on UDK's trickier aspects, which included 'How To Make A Racing Game' and 'Becoming A Digital Movie Director With UDK'.
Epic has promised that more Unreal University days will be held in future. As soon as we know details, you will too...