Valve is about to get an Epic ass whooping …

I appologise to Valve’s fanboys for the offensive nature of the title. I know it hurts, but that’s how the latest news felt like:

Steamworks now integrated into UDK

I can already hear you shouting: “But that means that actually Valve bitch-slapped Epic, not the other way around!”. Easy there! Although not a Valve fanboy, I like plenty of things from this company to be on your side on this one.

But, what if I am to tell you that development teams think about shifting from the Source Engine to UDK? Or the fact that Valve still didn’t match the offer made by both UDK or Unity?

It all started one year ago, in 2009. Unity released its engine for free. It was good news, despite the fact that the free version of Unity has some limitations (of which, by the way, some are actually plain stupid).

Then Epic did something … epic. It released it’s runtime at a very cheap price for indies. Don’t get me wrong, Epic did that before with UT2k4’s runtime. What made things different this time is that the Unreal guys allowed people to make and sell games based on the UT3 runtime that we now know as UDK. That’s the epic part right there!

Other than that, both companies have similar offers: binaries-only access, low (99 USD in case uf UDK) or inexistent (in case of Unity) prices, tools, examples …

So, when I saw that Epic, a company that once said it’s shifting focus from PC towards consoles, is now following the footsteps of Unity, I told myself: “Wait until Valve sees this! I bet they’ll release their Source engine (the non Orange Box thinggie) immediately!”.

So I waited … and waited … and waited … insert crickets noise here … and waited.

And nothing happened.

No, I’m lying, something did happen: UDK incorporated Steam.

You’ll shout out once more: “But Valve will be making money out of this!”

And I shout back: “That’s small potatoes!”. Here’s why Epic gained (and still gains) from this “let everyone use our engine” approach:

  1. Some money. Again, this is small potatoes. In order for this to matter, the next BIG thing on PC gamming MUST come from indies. I don’t see this happening any time soon.
  2. Fame. This matters more, actually, because the hidden message here is “our engine is so neat everyone can use it”. Plus, it puts Epic back in the eyes of the indie-wannabe modders. And this matters because Epic will ultimately gain something much more important than the above two:
  3. Developers.
    I’ll spend a bit of time explaining why this is important:A game lives for as long as the community built arround it keeps playing the game.Same goes for frameworks (game engines in our case): it lives as long as people develop applications (here games) for that said framework. There is a reason why Steve Ballmer kept shouting “Developers, developers, developers”:

    Having developers on your platform means that cool applications will appear for it and people will buy them AND the platform.

    And another insiduous effect is that a good deal of the gamming development workforce out there will be competent in Unreal. So their future employers will feel a stonger push to use Unreal in their products.

So you see, Epic is playing for the long term, trying to get their hands on the best asset out there, the development teams.

If for one second you belive that there are no teams switching from Source to UDK, well, think again:

http://www.moddb.com/mods/age-of-chivalry – a Source based mod, released in 2007

http://www.moddb.com/games/chivalry-battle-for-agatha – an UDK powered game

And it’s the same team. They once worked on a mod for source. Now they’re making their game for UDK. Apparently, moving the art assets from one engine to another is fairly simple, if you still have the original, engine-independent, files. Coding can be done in a reasonable ammount of time, especially since the Unreal community doesn’t seem to lack coders.

As for UDK using steam? Well, that’s just another feature that makes UDK attractive. The irony here is that they’re using a Valve product to acheive that.

Gabe, I know you’re not dumb. And you know that I have nothing against your company. I love how you make sure that ownership of the game is not limitted to a platform. I keep using Steam as a perfect example of a good DRM.

But you should look int this thing man. We know Source is not that straight forward to use, but people are willing to go pass that. All they want is an opportunity. Give them that opportunity, especially since your company always had a great modding community.

Otherwise, when the “game as a service” concept comes to fruition, you might not have enough developers behind it to keep it alive.

Be a developer, don’t turn into a publisher that sometimes develops games

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