The games industry is presently at "an inflection point," Epic Games president Mike Capps has told Industry Gamers. Uncertain factors including digital distribution, the rise of mobile gaming and a focus on online play has lead the Gears of War 3 developer and Unreal Engine maker to ponder where things might be headed.
"If there's anything that's killing us [in the traditional games business] it's dollar apps," said Capps. "How do you sell someone a $60 game that's really worth it ... They're used to 99 cents. As I said, it's an uncertain time in the industry. But it's an exciting time for whoever picks the right path and wins."
Capps doesn't seem to view 99¢ apps as the death of $60 AAA games--not yet, at least--but more a big part of the many changes currently sweeping the industry.
"We have not been this uncertain about what's coming next in the games industry since Epic's been around for 20 years. We're at such an inflection point. Will there be physical distribution in 10 years or even five? Will anyone care about the next console generation? What's going on in PC? Can you make money on PC if it's not a connected game? What's going on in mobile?" he reflected.
"Tons of really scary things... It used to be, 'Well, of course PlayStation 3 will be successful because PS2 was amazingly successful.' But can you say for sure that you know everyone's going to jump to the next generation? I sure hope so--I'm going to try to make some great tech that will make everyone want to. But it's scary."
Epic recently unveiled an Unreal Engine 3 tech demo named Samaritan, a vision of what the developer "wants to see in the next generation of games."
The developer has already dipped its toe into games for Apple's magical portable devices. Unreal Engine now runs on iOS, and Epic has released the free tech demo Epic Citadel and $5.99 game Infinity Blade. While $6 is certainly less than $60 and Infinity Blade is indeed very pretty, it's still a big price ticket on a platform where 99¢ is considered to be the norm, and many happily subsist purely on games offered free in promotions.
Let's not forget that Epic Games made its name with shareware, the business model which routinely offered a quarter of a game to all for free. It's a far cry from the company's present way of doing business, where getting to play a game before release is a bonus, downloadable content is announced on launch day, and a demo can arrive six weeks after the game launches.
Whatever happens, with fingers in both tech and development pies, Epic is well-positioned to ride out the coming storm. Its tech is likely to be used by the next round of big fancy pretty games, both on consoles and mobile, and the company has a proven game development track record along with a fine established studio.
If industry changes sparked by competition from 99¢ apps mean one no longer waits for the inevitable mega-sale or DLC-packed Game of the Year Edition before buying a game, well, that'd just be the icing on the cake.