“Where’s Unreal Tournament 4? Where’s Unreal Tournament 4?
Where’s Unreal Tournament 4? Where’s Unreal Tou…”
Over recent years, fan demands for a follow-up to Epic’s
long-standing, rightly loved competitive shooter series have been reminiscent
of Bart Simpson’s haranguing of the post lady for his spy camera. And understandably so. The studio’s old-school PC faithful have
been rather left out in the cold of late, as the company has focused largely on
engine licensing and the development of the Gears of War series for Microsoft.
And besides, with a new Unreal Engine hitting for next-gen, surely the time is
right to show it off with a new flagship entry in the series that bestowed its
It seems, finally, that Epic agrees. Last night, the studio announced that development of a new Unreal Tournament game has begun. Whichever
side of the decades-long Unreal vs. Quake rivalry you find yourself on (I’ve
always been a Quake man, but my overall outlook has remained non-dogmatic), the
announcement of a brand-new, fast-paced, high-flying competitive shooter from
one of the genre’s historical masters is an incredibly exciting event in
today’s climate. But there’s something even bigger going on here.
The new Unreal Tournament is going to be entirely free. No
microtransactions. No paid weapon unlocks. No “Drop $5 to jump higher”.
Entirely free. What’s more, it’s going to be developed in the open, with a constant
dialogue with the community taking on board desires and requests as of right
now. It’s a game with the spirit of a Kickstarter or Steam Early Access project,
but without the need to drop down anything by way of donation. For an entry in
a series as community-driven as Unreal, that’s a fantastic revelation.
Of course, this thing isn’t being made out of pure
altruism. There’s money to be made from a new Unreal Tournament, and Epic is
going to make it. But once again, the methods are innovative and
community-minded. Eventually, Epic is going to create a UT marketplace, where
independent and amateur developers can sell new mods and content. Marketplace
revenue will be split between the content creators and Epic. This is a game whose
core mechanics will be forged by Epic, but whose exact shape will be hammered
out by its players. It’s a brilliantly forward-thinking (and entirely logical)
approach to a game like Unreal, formed of a smartly focused culmination of
multiple recent shifts in game development, from Kickstarter to Steam’s
There is, however, a secret stealth benefit for Epic here,
in the form of a quiet, long-term power-play that could easily go unnoticed
amid the excitement of the game’s announcement. And it all comes back that
engine licensing business. Having dominated last-gen’s third-party development
with its ludicrously prolific Unreal Engine 3, it’s entirely in Epic’s
interests to have that happen again with UE4. And it needs to make it happen
soon. While UE3 swept to ubiquity at a rapid pace after Gears of War
demonstrated its power, its follow-up hasn’t yet achieved the same sort of
traction. With Gears now handed off to Microsoft wholesale, a new Unreal
Tournament is exactly the showcase Epic needs. And a new Unreal Tournament
which incentives mass adoption of its engine is one hell of a smart idea.
Consider this: Epic puts out the new game. Its community
gets hold of it and immediately starts creating new content, spurred on by the
twin incentives of game ‘ownership’ and financial gain. That’s UE4 on a whole
bunch of new dev machines overnight. Then indie studios get involved, using UT
as an additional source of income. That’s UE4 on a whole bunch more dev
Creators and modders start producing astronomically pretty
and clever content for the new UT, as many modders have for big PC games over
the last few years. Think Grand Theft Auto IV’s ‘realism mod’. Think Skyrim.
Think the Dark Souls PC upgrade. That’s one hell of an eclectic, endless stream
of advertising that Epic doesn’t even need to involve itself in, let alone pay
for. Suddenly UE4’s (presumed) power and versatility is known. Then when Epic
drops its touted shiny, AAA console game (or licenses the tech to
Microsoft for the new Gears), all market bases are covered and the engine’s
momentum is off to a great start in the opening years of this new generation.
Calculated? Certainly. Cynical? Maybe a jot, depending on
your perspective on the machinations of big business. A smart, fresh, healthily
forward-looking approach that might just deliver a whole boatload of magic?
Categorically. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to buy a new mouse and initiate
a stern workout regime for my forearms and wrists. Those twitch-aim skills aren’t
going to rebuild themselves.