Epic's Mark Rein Slams Episodic Gaming

During the Develop Conference in Brighton today, Epic Games VP Mark Rein delivered a keynote about the economic issues of next generation development, and the outspoken executives had some harsh words for the growing trend of episodic game content. "IÂ’ve heard a lot of insane talk about episodic content," he said. "Very little of it makes any actual sense. ItÂ’s a broken business." Rein believes that the nature of episodic development will lead to too much repetition in games.
He explained, “Customers are supposed to buy half a game for $20, then wait six months for an episode? When I put a game down, I want to try a new one. Episodic games that offer faster turnaround will inevitably be using a lot of recycled content, walking through the same environments and shooting the same enemies with the same weapons.”

He said that episodic games could never compete will full-priced products. “They’re competing against massive marketing budgets. Distribution without marketing is worthless. You can’t buy retail marketing with a wholesale price of $15.” He added, “Full-price games have a cohesive start, middle and end.”

In fact, stated Rein, the games industry already operates on a proven episodic model as illustrated by the industry's frequent spinoffs and sequels. "What scares me is people betting their business on making money out of this [new episodic model]." Companies such as Valve and Telltale Games currently have business plans with a heavy emphasis on episodic content.

Some of Rein's statements were reportedly criticized by the keynote's audience. "Mark, you are a dinosaur, you are wrong," said one attendant, according to Next Generation. Another pointed out that Rein's company's flagship product, Unreal Engine 3, is heavily geared towards high-end, high-budget game development, and his comments regarding episodic content may be biased and self-serving. Rein noted that Epic offers an Xbox Live Arcade model for its engine. Indeed, Naked Sky's upcoming Live Arcade and PC title RoboBlitz uses Unreal Engine 3. However, based on a Naked Sky press release regarding the game, that situation may not be particularly common. "Next-generation game engines like Unreal Engine 3 use very large textures which make the 50MB requirement essentially impossible to meet with existing technologies," reads the statement; the developer avoided the problem by licensing technology to procedurally generate textures rather than have artists create them ahead of time. This is similar to techniques used in Will Wright's upcoming Spore.

Rein also reiterated a common opinion of his that Intel has been a prime factor in the decline of the PC gaming market by way of its widespread adoption of integrated graphics solutions rather than dedicated cards. "Intel is evil, we need to kick its ass," he said. "The difference in price in offering better graphics chips is negligible. You couldn’t buy a meal for that price. We’re talking five bucks.”