Mike Gamble knows things. As Epic Games’ EU territory manager he’s privy to a plethora of yet-to-be revealed PS4, Xbox One and PC games powered by his company’s popular Unreal Engine, and has seen and worked with major new titles slated for release as far forward as spring 2015.
Epic counts Microsoft, Irrational, Ninja Theory, Arkane, Gearbox, Firaxis, BioWare, Rocksteady and many more as its clients, but it’s not giving up game development itself just yet. First announced at the end of 2011, Fortnite is Epic’s own UE4 game, but the developer has been strangely quiet about it ever since. Besides a glimpse of Epic’s next-gen engine in its ‘elemental’ video and Microsoft’s acquisition of the Gears Of War franchise today, Epic seems to have been uncharacteristically quiet of late. There’s a good reason for that, says Gamble.
“There haven’t really been any announcements of the games still under wraps [that use UE4] – as soon as they start going live, then you’ll see suddenly see that we’re everywhere again,” he tells us. “You’ll be thoroughly sick of us!”
There will be announcements from Epic at GDC this year, Gamble confirms, and the expected generational leap in visuals on console is coming for real soon after, he says. And he should know. “It’ll happen this year, toward the Christmas period,” he tells us. “Knowing the games that are in development, there are some crackers. The first quarter of 2015 is also where a lot of them seem to be aiming. This year there seems to be alot of cross-gen, but that’s publishers and developers being safe, isn’t it? It’s still a good revenue stream.”
One might expect that risk-averse approach to continue throughout the PS4 and Xbox One generation, given the cost of developing games right now. But Gamble says that’s not the case – of the games he’s seen, he says the split between existing series and new IP is “at least 50/50 – if not 70/30 in favour of new stuff,” with several studios putting out franchise updates in order to finance original games. “There’s a lot of buffering,” says Gamble. “A lot of studios are doing a franchise iteration and a new IP.”
Though the subject of console horsepower has generated plenty of press, Gamble says “there’s really no difference,” between PS4 and Xbox One. Instead, Gamble prefers instead to talk about the PC’s place in the current climate. Valve’s Steam Machines are “reinforce the importance of PC as a platform,” he says, and he isn’t surprised to find so many PC gamers extolling the virtues of ungradeability, the greater power that unlocks and the consequent technical advantage PCs will always have over consoles.
“You’ve only got to look at the console business over the last 15 years…[console] hardware’s locked and at the end of the cycle the delta between PC and console is massive,” he tells us. “That’s always going to be the case because PC is always going to be an upgradeable piece of kit. That won’t change. And PC gamers will always be smug because they can upgrade.”
And the next boost to the PC player’s sense of superiority will come in the form of VR. Epic has been working closely with Oculus, says Gamble, looking to ensure that UE4 supports the Rift and any other VR headsets which might be arriving soon, most likely from Sony. And for the medium to truly take off, it mustn’t limit itself to being a PC-only pastime – VR on consoles “could be the catalyst to make it mainstream so that Joe Public is aware of it,” says Gamble. “It has to be on consoles and play games that are massmarket games.”
There’s more and more talk about VR as a serious leap forward in videogame development, but right now that conversation and much of the excitement is among game developers themselves. In 2014 it’ll truly ‘arrive’, says Gamble: “There are games in development that are going to rely on it being in the market this year so if it’s not, they’ll be in trouble,” he jokes.
VR and Oculus represent great potential, but does making a dedicated game for the Rift represent good business sense? “It’s a hard decision to make because you never know what the market’s going to be like,” says Gamble. “Someone’s going to come out with that killer app – a Halo, or whatever it’s going to be – that’s just so good that the extra 300 bucks or whatever it might be for a headset…it becomes a case of ‘I really need that’. At that point it becomes mainstream.”
So after twelve months working (relatively) under the radar, 2014 will see a return to previous form for Epic. UE4 is powering a new generation of console and PC titles, Epic will play a part in VR’s return, and we’ll hear more about its own games. All eyes on Epic at GDC, then.