So what is the most profitable title yet for Epic Games? Surprisingly it's not anything in the Gears of War franchise. It's not even one of the many Unreal titles offered on multiple platforms. Don't even think about Bulletstorm. In fact, Epic's most profitable game is...
Infinity Blade on iOS, co-developed by Chair Entertainment.
Of course, that's based on man hours versus revenue. Still, it shows that the mobile platform -- whether it's iOS or Android -- is highly profitable. But now the studio is starting to agree with Crytek in that the future of gaming will be fueled by the free-to-play microtransaction structure. That means future titles could be free to download, install and play, but premium content will be offered for a price.
"I agree that this is going to be the way that almost all games will be distributed worldwide," said Tim Sweeney, CEO of Epic Games, during GDC Taipei's second keynote. "All these western developers spending 30 million to develop these games for dedicated consoles - all of these companies are going to be invading the Asian markets within the next five years or so and they'll be free to play, worldwide, global products. ... The only way to survive is to go global."
However he also admitted his surprise in seeing how fast smartphones and tablets are improving. Agreeing again with Crytek, Sweeney expects to see tablets approaching the performance level of current generation consoles in the near future.
"We expect DirectX technology to be widely available on these mobile devices in the next few years," he said. "We're also seeing an interesting thing happen in terms of the overall development pattern globally."
Naturally Sweeney talked up Unreal Engine 4, saying that Epic had a whole new set of goals when developing the engine. For Unreal Engine 3, the company spent 4 years building Gears of War and the technology at same time -- it was developed primarily for consoles. But with the new engine, Epic wanted to increase the level of visual quality, yet also increase the performance and efficiency, thus reducing development costs.
"The tools investment is paying off. Artists are able to build content more productively than before," he said. "And with the Unreal Engine as a whole, we found it's much easier to scale down from high end to low end devices than in this generation. We expect to be able to build games that can scale from a smartphone to a high end PC. ... We expect an unprecedented amount of content portability for the future."
This is where the free-to-play aspect comes in: develop a AAA game with very little overhead, and then offer it for free. Thus, players will come in and spend money on content, fueling not only additional development, put paying for the studio's original investment. Providing a streamlined engine not only saves money in the long run, but pushes the game out a lot faster.