Epic ‘placing its bets’ on releasing games for free as work begins on the next Unreal Tournament

Releasing games for free is more attractive than the old “build, ship and pray model”, Unreal Tournament’s project lead Steve Polge has told us.

Epic began ‘open’ development on the next Unreal Tournament game last week, inviting fans and UE4 developers to actively participate in the creation of the new competitive shooter. When complete, the game will be free, with development costs recouped through a marketplace in which developers, modders, artists and gamers can give away or sell mods and content they create. Epic will take a share of those earnings, and throughout development all of the game’s code and content will be available live to UE4 developers on GitHub.

When asked whether the decision to release the game for free was a reflection of a wider industry trend, Unreal Tournament senior programmer and project lead Steve Polge told us: “It’s certainly where we are placing our bets and it is our focus at Epic. We like the model because it’s fundamentally generous. It allows us to succeed by doing the right thing for the community, and then the value naturally comes back. That’s a lot more attractive to us than the old build, ship and pray model.”

Polge also said that Epic plans to take the idea of transparent, inclusive game development further than any other developer has to date. “Unreal Tournament is uniquely well-suited for this development approach – it combines an established franchise tailor-made for distributed development with passionate fans who have already tremendously enriched our past Unreal Tournament titles by creating mods, levels, and other content.”

It is being built with UE4, which has also become more accessible of late following Epic’s decision to offer the toolset to developers for $19 per month. Polge is confident that this opening out of its processes will give Epic a stronger sense of what players want from the next Unreal Tournament. “A lot of companies spend tens of thousands of hours of development on a game and only then do market research testing to determine what people like,” he tells us. “From that point, it’s hard to pivot. Especially with Unreal Tournament, we have fans that have been passionate about the franchise for years and have valuable insight and opinions about how we should evolve. Getting that from day one is going to help us make a better experience, with them and for them.”

Epic hopes that inviting more players into the development process with Unreal Tournament will drive adoption of UE4.

That doesn’t mean the game will become a chaotic tangle of disparate ideas, though. Polge says that Epic will still define what shape “core UT” – the basic game and its mechanics – and encourage the community to “buy into the direction we establish together”. “At the same time we will be ultimately responsible for making sure that the core game is awesome.”

It’s where modders build on top of that core game that the community’s influence will be most evident, with Epic and the community deciding which of these fan-driven elements then become Unreal Tournament canon. But what if Epic doesn’t like the direction the game is heading in? Can the studio decide to ‘overrule’ the community? “It isn’t a matter of Epic overruling community decisions,” says Polge. “We’ll be an integral part of the process that produces those decisions. Community developers can both participate in the core design process, and at the same time are free to perfectly realize their own creative vision in their mods.”

Those participating in the development of Unreal Tournament won’t be paid, but they will learn plenty about UE4 and game creation, added Polge. “The chief reward for developing with us is helping create a great game and getting an up-close view of the Epic development process,” he added. “We will teach our game community about professional game development and help them become better game designers and experts with the Unreal tool set. It will help us up our game, as well.”

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