It’s no secret that games are a fast growing market. While it’s been true for a while now, it’s only doubled down in recent years, following the amount of time people spent indoors due to the pandemic.
We spoke to Stefan Baier, Chief Operating Officer at Streamline Media Group and Sameer Pitalwalla, Business Director for Southeast Asia and India at Epic Games about all the ways to grow a game in the current climate.
From the increased expectations of gamers to the variety of tools provided by companies like Epic Games via the Unreal Engine, it looks like the days of roughing it in your garage all by yourself are done for if you’re trying to put out your first game.
This interview is actually an excerpt from The Brave Room, and you can check out more ways to listen to it over on our coverage of the episode.
According to Stefan, there’s been a big uptick in appetite for games, with players generally having higher expectations for every new game as it comes out.
“Player expectations have become quite high, ironically you can make games that are smaller nowadays and get away with it”, Stefan says. “But the polish and level of sophistication of the gameplay, good frames, doesn’t crash, have increased a lot. Games need to have some kind of online capabilities, run well, be cross-play, be on all platforms, all that requires you to have your manpower in order to serve the demand of modern players”.
With all these standards, Stefan says partnerships are a necessity to make a game that meets everyone’s expectations.
“So for example Unreal has invested in systems like EOS, Epic Online Services that we are very familiar with as well and have partnered on that. It’s really understanding where the gaps are still to enable cross-play, to enable convenience for the players like consistency save game, friends list, that the next phase, the idea of the metaverse and crossplay is part of that. The convenience that players expect from games but comes at the cost of the developer so you have to partner to make that happen”, he says.
Of course, it also helps to smoothen out many of the most time-consuming parts of game development. Developing human characters, for example, is an incredibly tedious task for any game with a high-fidelity visual style.
Thankfully, Epic Games covers developers looking to develop for Unreal with various tools, like the previously announced MetaHuman creator, which lets you create any number of humans for your games. With the brunt work
“That is what we are hoping for as well at Epic, the whole idea for democratizing our tools like Unreal Engine to allow indie developers with smaller studios to the same quality of tools as larger developers”, Sameer says.
“The longer-term trend is probably that the tools will become even more democratized. And the difference between getting access to technology between a large studio and a small studio will become even more legible. If you look at tools like the Metahuman creator today, tools like those that need that kind of fidelity would cost millions to do and yet you can log on to a web browser today and create a character, download it and program it in Unreal Engine’s editor and get access the same kind of fidelity that anyone else could afford after a couple of million dollars threshold”, he continues.
“Like what happens with Youtube and the media, similar sort of patterns will happen with video games as well but I don’t think it will be at the scale of those large AAA titles because those teams will still need huge teams globally developing for years. But a new IP that’s good can become a big hit and I think that will become far less rare because of the democratization of tools in general”.
Considering tools like Metahuman creator are free to use, Sameer also says we could have one more avenue to look up for on the up and up- that being user generated content.
“I think a large part of creation will be happening with user-generated content. Users will have the same tools that creators do I can see a lot of studios heading in that direction”, he says. “Once you have the core product, your users then begin to use the same cool as you to build your own games. I especially see that in the case of these RPGs where you feel the need to make new characters and users can create new characters in that world and new IPs to that world. I think you’ll see users become acquainted with this tool and that will be the big change”.
Advice For Indie Devs
Sameer also highlighted Epic Games’ own commitment to helping more people make the games they want, with a three-pronged approach.
“I think you need three enablers, access to talent, access to capital, and access to knowledge. We have a great network of game companies that we connect these to, second is the access to capital we have given through the grant and third is access to knowledge which has been the biggest gap so far since the editor and the engine is not always easiest to use especially is the small team but that is why we have given them free training in this entire region”, he says.
“Anyone who wants to learn Unreal Engine, we actually give them a live tutor and have these people sit with them and take them through the paces of the engine and make sure they understand how to use the engine. So yeah, those are the three places that typically people have had problems taking the leap and we have tried to find a way to reduce friction in all three of them either by making it free in the case of a mega grant to incentivize them into taking the first leap forward”, he adds.
Help from publishers aside, Stefan also reminds smaller indies to not be afraid of pulling each other up, too.
“Let me put it this way, sometimes when you’re working as a small developer with the larger companies, there’s a perception created that there’s a scarcity of opportunities like there are only a very few games you can participate on, there are only very few games you can work on a project on but that’s not really to. There’s more than enough to go around for everyone. There are so many players that want to have a creative experience, there could be a lot more opportunity for collaboration between the studios than there is”, he says.
It’s not just for your small garage developers, either. There’s a lot more to being an indie developer than making passion projects, sometimes you’ll have to take jobs for bigger studios to pay bills- and Stefan says it helps to share the knowledge with each other rather than thinking every other studio is out to steal your meal ticket.
“I think there is an increase in understanding that there is this wealth out there and to capture it effectively you do need to work together and the good thing is having a shared technology space with the Unreal Engine is tremendously helpful so you do help each, you do advise each other and just trying to make sense of how the market is operating so it just increasingly happening, the two collaborating together, going well I’m gonna focus on the main product, you guys are focusing on the porting, we can all share and benefit from this, that is going to be a thing in the future because the independent studios, they can’t stay indie in some sense, they have to be mature enough to work with each other and then also they have to look at which one of them might mature some infrastructure into being a down publisher. That is where it is all going right? I think the next five years will show a lot of progress in that regard in the region”, he continues.
Make A Game That Plays Well
There’s also the thing about the visuals- with more games being able to pull their visuals from the same source, that means they’d need more than pretty faces to stand out from each other, as Stefan explains.
“What’s also interesting is that it also has a counterintuitive effect on player expectations. By democratizing to the level where the graphic fidelity, like where you can go to an asset store and get a mega asset and there’s just like, the pixel perfect things like this. The arms race for super high-end graphics is fizzling out which is nice, since a couple of years ago there was this implication that every game has to be like the best characters, you must have 30 characters with modelers working on it for years”.
“There’s value in that but there was almost an expectation that it needed to look like this, the next Gears of War has to look like this, the next has to look better but now because graphics are such a high standard by default, you can make a Roblox and the players will be fine. Years ago they would have judged it and say ‘this looks like crap’, why would I play this but nowadays this totally acceptable. Whatever you want to do, you can get away with it as longs as it’s polished”, Stefan says.
Instead of worrying about making every character look like a 30-million-poly supermodel, Stefan reiterated that now games can be measured on more intuitive factors- like the actual player experience, such as letting multiplayer games actually work when you try to play with friends.
“Anything goes nowadays as long as it has crossplay and online. It’s more important nowadays that it’s convenient for me and I can connect with my friends, that’s what matters. You don’t have to put the graphics to the maximum and that is super liberating. It’s kind of counterintuitive to the mega projects, like not every project has to be 1 million dollars, you could tell a super emotional story to tell, you can tell it with less, it doesn’t have to have to best graphics. It could take 5 years to make this, what’s gonna be the best fit for that kinda title.”, he says. “Hopefully, that liberation will be embraced by the industry, why make one title with that story when you could make 5 titles to tell different stories”.
Making A Game With Value
At the end of the day, games are a creative endeavor. While there is a business side to it, its core is one of ideas- a game can’t stand out without a strong idea at the center of it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a financial juggernaut like Fornite or an indie darling like Undertale, unless your game has something interesting in it people just aren’t going to appreciate it and you won’t see your game growing to any notable heights.
In a sense, that’s why the idea of lowering the barrier to entry is so enticing- with services like MetaHuman Creator you could spend less time worrying about the technical stuff and more time refining those ideas to make something truly special.
Our thanks to Stefan and Sameer for the insight into how to really push forward game development. Don’t forget to check out the whole episode for more of their insights.