Helsinki Hub: An Epic Evening

Text by Giorgos Riskas and Roope Sorvo, photos by Casimir Kuusela & Epic Games / Dana Cowley

The IGDA gatherings of 2019 started off with a bang with a great event sponsored by Epic Games. The seminar featured a talk by Tim Sweeney, the CEO of Epic Games, at the Aalto School of Business campus in Helsinki, that attracted a capacity audience of 600 attendees.

Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney. Photo  ©  Epic Games / Dana Cowley

Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney. Photo © Epic Games / Dana Cowley

The first part of the seminar revolved around Fortnite, an online multiplayer battle royale game that has enjoyed massive success since its release in 2017,  with an active user base of roughly 200 million players. Sweeney went through the whole history of the title, from its inception as a game jam project to its current status, and shared his insight about what made the title successful.

According to Sweeney, one of the defining factors was changing the monetization model to Free-to-Play without forcing the players into pay-to-win mechanics. A decision that not only changed the fate of the game, but  transformed the fate of the company. The game’s cross-platform availability was also an important reason for the constantly growing user base. However, it came with the cost of a very demanding process of optimization and maintenance, since the updates are always released simultaneously for all seven supported platforms.

Finally, Sweeney talked about the social aspect of the game by sharing some impressive statistics about players’ interactions and preferences. According to the research, the majority of Fortnite players spend time with their real life friends in the game which leads to even higher engagement, asserting the game was more like a social media app than a hardcore gaming title.

For the next topic, Sweeney talked about the launch of the Epic Game Store and explained how the technology that Epic Games offers expands beyond the game industry. Epic Games Store is a new digital distribution platform in the vein of Steam, the creation of which was brought on by a need of more competition in the field. Besides the storefront, the Epic Games platform aims to be an “opposite of a walled garden”. They have an emphasis on cross-platform, cross-service cooperation, sharing technology and assets between developers, with transparency being their key philosophy. A prominent part of this platform revolves around Epic’s Unreal engine, which makes real time graphics for all kinds of industries, ranging from sports cars to architecture in addition to video games.

Sweeney answering questions from the audience. Photo by Casimir Kuusela

Sweeney answering questions from the audience. Photo by Casimir Kuusela

The last part of the seminar was devoted to a Q&A session in which Sweeney answered, as he promised, any questions that were directed to him. In some of the most interesting answers Sweeney shared his insight about blockchain in game development.

“It’s a great tool for tech and research, but a long way from becoming a game development tool,” he said, adding “Due to the propensity of fraud it would be inadvisable to use blockchain in mainstream game development”.

When asked about the future plans for the Epic Games Store, he answered that the emphasis is on quality over quantity and the system of paying Unreal Engine royalties will remain as it is. That is, taking 5% of the game’s revenue in royalties, regardless of the success of the title. “It is the most equal approach and provides a more even playing field for smaller developers,” he said.

Before the seminar reached its conclusion, Sweeney gave a shout out to Epic Games Helsinki, a recent addition to the Epic family. It started as a collaboration with Kamu, a local anti-cheat development company that Epic acquired last year. “While it’s not a huge operation, it will grow steadily over the next few years,” he said.

The gathering was scheduled right after the seminar in the familiar location of Maxine where developers networked and socialize, while playing two games that were in the demo corner.

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Chain Lightning is a fast-paced mobile game developed by Origame Studios using Unity. The three-piece team (coder, artist and a marketer) have been working at the game on-and-off since September, and plan to release it for mobile devices in a few months. A demo version is already available at Google Play.

Oceanhorn 2 is an action RPG game inspired by the classics of the same genre and it has been in development for by Cornfox Bros for the past five years. The game is a good example of what the Unreal engine is capable of when it comes to mobile gaming, since it will be released on iOS. The official release date of the game has yet to be announced.