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Mike Capps joins Unity

Ex-Epic Games president serving as internal advisor to former rival, discusses the future of engines and the present of VR

Former Epic Games president Mike Capps is now working for the competition. Unity Technologies today announced that Capps has signed on to be a part-time internal advisor to the executive and R&D teams.

Speaking with GamesIndustry.biz about the move, Capps echoed Unity's emphasis on democratization. However, rather than a one-way trend, he saw democratization as somewhat cyclical, an ideal that must be regularly renewed and reapplied.

"[A]s engines become more and more full-featured, is there an opportunity for engine developers who have less featured but easier-to-use engines?"

"When I talk about democratization--I still don't understand what Unity is saying yet because I'm just learning--but when I talk about it, there's sort of an assumption of the level of complexity of tools you're making freely available to people," Capps said. "That level of complexity keeps going up, and the trick is to find a way to make it easily and cheaply accessible to people in terms of user experience as well as pricing models. We had fully available, free, open-source game engines available 10 years ago, but they just didn't help you that much through the process of creating a functional product. But over time, better tools become available more cheaply, and you repeat. Democratizing what's here now is great, and ideally you make those things better, then you make sure that is accessible, easily available, easily understood, and easily used by more and more creators."

In the engine market, customers generally want their tools to be more powerful, easier to use, and cheaper. While companies like Unity and Epic push hard to deliver on all three fronts, Capps wondered if there might be room at some point for a different approach.

"It will be interesting to see as engines become more and more full-featured, is there an opportunity for engine developers who have less featured but easier-to-use engines? Does Project Spark become the sort of engine that people want in the future? Word processors are an end user tool; they're not a power-user tool. There are very few power users in the word processing space. Do we see that transition someday [with engines]? I think it's possible. Just like anyone can make a Facebook page, would you hope that at some point anyone can make their own virtual reality space? That'd be great, and perhaps that usability trend is the one we see continue most as these sorts of tools become consumer tools instead of power user tools."

Lest that be taken as his new employer's position, Capps then added, "But I don't know, that's me wildly speculating without knowing any of Unity's plans."

"VR is going to be best-served by extremely high fidelity experiences. If you combine immersion with realism, you can make such a special experience..."

One thing that's definitely in Unity's plans is virtual reality. The company has been on board with VR since before the Oculus Rift Kickstarter, and just yesterday it announced it would have a dedicated VR track at next month's Unite conference in Amsterdam. Capps is similarly supportive, but cautions that it may take some time before software arrives that truly shows off the possibilities of the tech.

"VR is going to be best-served by extremely high fidelity experiences," Capps said. "If you combine immersion with realism, you can make such a special experience, and that often requires high-tech teams with high budgets. But right now it's too much of a risk as a platform. If I'm making a $50 million AAA game, I'm probably not building a VR version of that for any reason other than press. That entire market is such a risk. So it's those more agile, smaller teams that are able to take the risk on a small market, or even a non-existent market, if they're not in it for the reason of selling lots of $60 copies. They'd rather create something special and share it with people. Will that change? Only as that market matures, and you see larger installed bases where those big teams can take the risk.

"I think the first wave of really usable VR applications and experiences is absolutely going to be coming out of the demoscene and the really small developer who's going to build something really cool soon that works really well," Capps said. "It's going to be a while before you see Call of Duty running on virtual reality headsets for any reason other than some hacker put it on. Maybe Sony will be the difference-maker there, I'm not sure."

Capps begins his advisory role with Unity this month, starting with a trip to Copenhagen. His duties are expected to have him devoting about a week each month to the company.

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