While open source tools make indie game development more accessible, that’s pretty much where the easy part stops. Developers must secure considerable funding, often by working on their passion projects outside of a day job and then market as best as they can—hoping and praying that someone notices. Some games make it big, but most don’t—which is why AAA publishers are stepping in to help.
Epic Games (Gears of War, Robo Recall) has teamed up with Xsolla Capital, a $50 million royalty investment fund focused on video games to encourage and fund self-publishing efforts with Unreal Engine 4 (UE4). “Together, Epic Games and Xsolla Capital plan to widen the reach of UE4 games in global markets and propel the developers behind these exciting projects to continued success,” the companies announced in a press release Wednesday.
Unreal Engine 4, an open source game development platform created by Epic Games, is free (with royalties upon game shipment). Epic’s strategic partnership will further encourage developers to use UE4 for their projects while providing additional resources to make those projects a reality—a win/win.
“Since taking Unreal Engine 4 free two years ago, we’ve seen an enormous rise in high-quality titles made by small teams, and Xsolla is able to share in that success by allowing developers to maintain creative control while receiving many of the benefits a traditional publishing arrangement would provide,” Mike Gamble, European territory manager at Epic Games, said in a statement.
“In addition to quickly building and iterating with the tools, indie teams can bring triple-A production values to their games using Unreal Engine 4,” Gamble told AListDaily. “Because we at Epic ship our own games, Unreal developers have a proven path for achieving optimal performance on their target platforms, and this mitigates risk for publishers and partners like Xsolla. As a result, these small teams gain a real competitive advantage in the market. Epic’s model is built around the success of Unreal developers, so we continually seek out the most fun, high-quality indie projects, and we support the teams behind them through numerous programs. This ultimately builds great business opportunities for everyone involved.”
Under the terms of the collaboration, Xsolla Capital will support UE4 developers with financial and marketing resources for the development of their projects in addition to covering the costs of custom Unreal Engine licensing. Xsolla also offers worldwide payment solutions, a 24/7 international customer support team, fraud protection, distribution options, data visualization and more.
“We share a belief that the developer knows how best to make the game they’re envisioning, and how to communicate with their audience, Dmitri Bourkovski, vice president of global business development at Xsolla told AListDaily. “But, a publisher’s input is also valuable in a lot of situations and Xsolla works with both publishers and developers. When developers decide to self-publish, they get access to the same set of tools and services that Xsolla provides for publishers, too.”
While not everyone offers funding, it is certainly in the best interest of game engine providers (Unity, CryEngine, UE4, etc.) to attract new licenses. Self-publishing puts control in the hands of developers, who are then free to stay true to their creative visions. Relying on the assistance of major publishers often means compromise over creativity—a major reason crowdfunding has become an indie developer’s best friend.
Indie developers can now self-publish on major consoles thanks to programs like ID@Xbox and PlayStation Network. You’d think a AAA publisher wouldn’t want to help the little guys as not to create unwanted competition, but the opposite has been true in recent years. Competition on their respective marketplaces creates an ecosystem that thrives and keeps the publishers relevant as trends come and go. Plus, audiences love a good underdog story.
Such was the case with Unravel, the charming indie title that spawned from a partnership between EA and Coldwood Interactive. Following the game’s success, EA Originals—a selective indie partnership program—was unveiled during EA Play last year. Swedish developer, Zoink (Fe) became the first participant, and Joi-Mei Games (Sea of Solitude) made the cut for 2017.
“Making games is hard. It’s a hard business,” said Patrick Söderlund, executive vice president of EA Studios in an official blog post. “These developers have taken on the risk of developing a new IP, and great games deserve to be played. So with EA Originals, we want the profits from these games to go into the hands of the studios making them. We want them to be recognized for their work, so they can keep innovating and creating, and so the players get to play more and more amazing games.”