Making high-quality video games ain't cheap. If you aren't some massive corporation putting millions of dollars behind a project, chances are you're scraping together anything you can to get a game finished and out the door. Such is life for the indie developer. The costs of making an engine from scratch or licensing one out--plus other expenses like getting a development team together, asset licensing, and marketing--can become a major financial burden. So when it comes to game engines, indies can't always afford the best of the best. At least, that was the case. CryEngine and Unreal Engine 4 have unveiled low-cost subscription models and indies finally have access to the high-end development tools for a reasonable fee, which can open up the creative and technical possibilities for low-budget games.
At GDC 2014, Epic was the first to unveil its new Unreal Engine 4 subscription model. Basically, the deal allows indie developers to use the Unreal Engine for a low, low monthly payment of $19 (oh, and Epic also takes a 5% cut of your gross earnings). And you're not just getting some limited starter edition of the engine, either. Epic Games founder Tim Sweeney said "this is our complete engine, with everything Epic provides to leading game developers, priced accessibly for teams of all sizes, budgets, and aspirations." That all seems pretty reasonable, considering licensing the Unreal Engine 3 used to run you a few hundred thousand dollars. Then there's the competing CryEngine. Crytek is offering an even better deal than Unreal (if you have a smaller development team), giving independent developers access to the CryEngine tools for a monthly subscription of $9.90 per user, with no added royalty fees. The program, titled CryEngine as a Service, will start this May, so developers won't even have to wait long to take advantage of the AAA tech.
So what does that all mean for gaming? Well, there's a few things. For one, any average Joe with the creative mind to make games and the luxury of time can have access to these high-end engines; as a result, more indie titles will be capable of generating the high-caliber visuals we see in big-budget games. Plus, with indie game makers unhindered by the technical limitations of a smaller wallet, they can experiment with the processing power of the cutting-edge engines and potentially come up with new and exciting gameplay possibilities.
And the engines themselves can also benefit: With so many more hands tinkering with Unreal Engine 4 and CryEngine, that's just that many more developers putting the tools through their paces. Errors could be found quicker than before, feedback will get to the developers faster, and the engine's performance can improve rapidly--giving indies and AAA developers alike an even better engine to work with. It's a total win-win situation.
Indie games will be on more of a level playing field with the blockbuster games out there. Think of a game with the graphical prowess of something like, I dunno, Ryse: Son of Rome, but with the experimental and innovative gameplay you see in outside-the-box indie games like The Stanley Parable. Maybe one day you won't be able to, at a glance, distinguish between a multi-million dollar title from a major developer and a game made by a single person.