As the digital landscape of the internet has evolved, what used to be a diverse range of software options has congealed into a few major names. While smaller and more esoteric options exist, the former level of free competition among all challengers is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. We saw this effect in how Google transformed internet searches, and how systems like YouTube essentially monopolized the online video space. Now, with Unreal Engine, the same change could be coming in the realm of video games.
What is Unreal Engine?
Starting thanks to the work of Epic Games founder Tim Sweeney in 1995, the original Unreal Engine debuted with the Unreal game in 1998. For the time, this engine was incredibly advanced, offering powerful and flexible tools that the industry was sorely lacking. Though the engine’s use in major titles arguably played second fiddle to ID Software’s id Tech 3 engine, as popularized by Quake 3, the first Unreal engine was still a hit in games like Deus Ex and Clive Barker’s Undying.
Over the years, and then decades, each new iteration of the Unreal Engine would up the ante, reaching ever further into the greater gaming market. With the creation of the official Unreal Development Kit for Unreal Engine 3, Epic’s creation was already an industry mainstay. Many of the biggest games from the Xbox 360/PS3 era turned to the Unreal Engine, driving international hits like the Batman Arkham series, Bioshock Infinite, Borderlands, and Gears of War.
Today, even games not traditionally thought of as 3D, such as Dragon Ball FighterZ, utilize Unreal for its potential. The capabilities have extended so far that major media franchises like Star Wars have adapted the system for their live-action releases, as noted by Polygon. This engine, combined with Epic’s money-printer also called Fortnite, has granted a level of financial security that few others in the industry can boast.
What Necessitates a Change?
In simple terms, the reasons for the need for and the success of Unreal Engine come down to complexity and cost. When games were simply 2D or 3D, it was relatively simple for companies to create engines from scratch. Eventually, the reliance on advanced physics simulations and graphics systems like ray tracing and volumetric fog became prohibitively expensive, so third-party engines became a safer bet.
In software, this approach has become increasingly common as the different forms of entertainment evolve. In online sportsbooks, for example, services like Sportingtech have adopted similar methods in their development of iGaming platforms. Like Unreal, these utilize modules and flexible tools, while also being simple enough to cater to customers of all skill levels. Lowering the barriers to entry in this way encourages competition, and helps the little guy succeed where complex software might otherwise have left them behind.
In 2022, there aren’t many studios left that pave their way in engine creation. Though there are other names in the gaming space, such as Unity, this concentration could prove to be a positive development. History is full of examples of publishers and developers forcing proprietary engines over superior solutions, with effects that can slow development at best, and ruin entire series at worst. As reported by Destructoid, stagnation in this rapid industry can spell disaster, which a new age of simple and evolving engine tech can hopefully overcome. As for Unreal Engine, don’t be surprised to see it become the driving force behind much of the new gaming generation.