Unreal Engine Could Be Next-Gen’s Big Loser

unreal-engine-4-headerWhat do BioShock Infinite, the Mass Effect trilogy, the XCOM series, the Batman: Arkham series, Dishonored and Spec Ops: The Line all have in common? If you read the title of this column, you probably guessed that these are all games made in the Unreal Engine.

Many of this generation’s most popular and most critically acclaimed games were made on Unreal Engine 3. While the next generation of console gaming doesn’t start for another four months, early plans don’t seem to involve Unreal Engine 4 which was the first next-gen engine that was previewed.

While we might give Nintendo a hard time over poor Wii U sales and criticize Microsoft’s former DRM policies, they might not be the big losers of the next generation. When the industry moves on to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, Unreal 4 could be the one who’s left behind.

Much to my surprise, I haven’t seen much analysis of a big shift in the industry’s development model. This generation has seen a sort of democratization of some game engines. The likes of Unreal, CryEngine and Source engines have been used by multiple devs and publishers rather than just inside the group of developers affiliated with a certain publisher.

frostbite-2-vs-frostbite-3The plan most publishers have for the next generation is to create their own game engines and use them for their as many of their games as possible. We see EA putting almost all of its games on the Frostbite 3 engine. Square Enix built the Luminous Engine exclusively for use by its own developers. Ubisoft has a whole pile of engines to use for its games.

At this point, 2K Games, Activision, Bethesda and Deep Silver are the only major publishers who haven’t made a big show of developing their own next-gen game engines. Granted, the biggest publisher of that bunch (Activision) has its own engine for the biggest game on the market (Call of Duty and the IW Engine) so it’s not like the biggest games and franchises are still Unreal Engine 4’s for the taking.

What about the next-gen prospect of CryEngine 3 and Source, you might ask? Well, Valve is working on the Source 2 engine which they’ll use on sequels to their games assuming GabeN has learned how to count to 3. For now, the original Source engine is being used as the backbone for Titanfall which is an Xbox One launch title. And it’s not as if Valve is too concerned about extracting money from people using Source when they have Steam to keep the company afloat.

CryEngine 3 doesn’t have much in the way of third-parties committed to using Crytek’s engine in a next-gen game. Ryse is the most prominently advertised next-gen title on CryEngine 3 but that’s being developed by Crytek. Presumably, Homefront 2 is next-gen and there will be another Crysis game coming eventually. While not a console release, CryEngine 3 is the backbone for Star Citizen which is obliterating all the crowd funding records having racked up over $14 million in funding.

fortniteWith both Source and CryEngine still getting supported in the next generation on consoles, where does that leave Unreal 4? Epic Games themselves are the only big developer who are confirmed to be working on an Unreal 4 game with Fortnite coming out later this year. I guess it’s not much worse than CryEngine 3 in that regard but there are many more CryEngine 3 games in the pipeline than Unreal 4 games.

This could be a bit of an early panic moment for Epic Games and Unreal 4. While we don’t have a lot of next-gen games confirmed, it seems as though there haven’t been any major next-gen games announced for Unreal 4. If Epic can take comfort in anything, it’s that the number of Unreal 3 games peaked last year and the number of games on Unreal 3 trended upwards since the console was released.

The problem is that everyone and their mother made games on Unreal 3 but it seems as though the big publishers are moving on to their own engines and leaving Epic twisting in the wind. They have to hope that the likes of 2K, Activision, et al. are still willing to do business and use Unreal 4.

For now, though, it’s Unreal 4, our first look at next-gen graphics, that could miss out on the next generation.

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