Tim Sweeney believes the forthcoming updates to the Unreal Engine, based on advances required by Fortnite, will lead to more than just additional battle royale games.
Yesterday we reported that Epic Games had to make several optimisations to the engine in order to power Fortnite's own battle royale mode, such as support for 100 simultaneous players and larger worlds with greater viewing distances.
These will be rolled out in the next two UE4 updates, but Epic's pledge to deliver these technical advancements to all developers "especially those building games with similar requirements" could serve to encourage more studios to jump on the battle royale bandwagon as the success of both Fortnite and PlayerUnknown's Battleground rumbles on.
Epic's free-to-play title has already attracted 7m players within a week, while Early Access smash hit PUBG has surpassed 10m players in its first six months. Since the latter took off, battle royale-style modes have been added to numerous titles - including Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto Online - with Brendan 'PlayerUnknown' Greene observing that there is already a multitude of clones emerging in the East.
PUBG developer Bluehole has specifically taken umbridge with Epic Games' entry into the genre, suggesting that technical support and solutions afforded to its own game (which is also powered by Unreal) could then be implemented into Fortnite, taking away any competitive edge. These fears are no doubt exacerbated by the announcement that Fortnite-based advancements to Unreal will be made available to all - but Epic's CEO stresses that this is about more than just battle royale games.
"In my view, the targeted effort within Epic to make the engine better for Fortnite Battle Royale was an awesome success that benefits everyone," Sweeney tells GamesIndustry.biz.
"The multiplayer optimisations benefit not only Battle Royale-style games, but all games with large player counts. The rendering optimisations benefit all games with large worlds, and there's a lot more in the works for future updates that will provide further benefits."
He also reiterated the firm's policy of sharing all of its technology with developers, something that has been most visible since the firm made Unreal Engine 4 - and even its source code - freely available a few years back. So while Bluehole may have called out Epic for benefitting from advances to improve PUBG, the same is true for any developer using the engine - including Epic itself.
"All improvements Epic makes to the Unreal Engine are available to all licensees for all of their products," Sweeney says. "They always have been, and always will be. This widely-shared technology base is the core reason why Epic's engine development work has had so much positive impact on the industry."
The rise of the battle royale genre is unquestionably the latest major trend turning developers' heads. Epic's decision to make this tech freely available to all studios may enable more companies to enter this space - something that will further frustrate Bluehole - but Sweeney says it's not Epic's place to dictate what developers can and can't make with its engine. While this neither condones nor encourages developers hoping to capitalise on PUBG's success, it does illustrate the awkward position engine makers find themselves in when trying to make games development more accessible to all.
"We provide the Unreal Engine openly to everyone, and support developers' creative freedom to build what they choose," he says. "It's up to players and the press to judge the merits of their work.
"For Epic to restrict or control developers' creative expression would be as bizarre and overreaching as if Microsoft Word restricted what ideas writers were allowed to express. We decided very early on that we'd never do such a thing."
The sharing of technology frees up more time for developers to focus on creativity, so any efforts that improve engines like Unreal can only work in studios' favour in the long-run. Equally, while the rise of more battle royale games may aggravate Bluehole, competition also drives quality and compels leaders like PUBG to keep innovating in order to maintain their advantage.