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Epic Responsibility

Epic's Mike Gamble on the challenges of looking after licensees and sticking to your strengths

There's no denying the huge influence Epic Games has on the industry. As well as developing major titles like Gears Of War for Xbox 360 and Infinity Blade for iOS, the studio licenses its Unreal Engine to both independent and AAA developers. Mike Gamble recently took on the role of European territory manager, who works closely with licensees.

GamesIndustry.biz spoke to Gamble at Epic's Unreal University day in London, where Epic developers offered hands on advice to those interested in Unreal technology.

GamesIndustry.bizWhy are events like today important?
Mike Gamble

It's really important that there's an ecosystem within the games industry generally, but with what we do. We build games and we sell engines, but in order to sell engines you've got to scale from grass roots right the way up to the AAA. To do that effectively you need to do that hands on, face-to-face stuff.

We're not doing it for charity, at the end of the day if you get these guys using our technology now, and used to using our technology, and liking our technology and liking us, then they're going to continue to do so. And a lot of them will go on either to work in the industry at developers, or they'll start their own developers, or they'll publish their own stuff, so it's an investment in the future. It's not purely because we're lovely people.

It's the way you have to do business now. You can't just fire and forget, there's got to be an element of nurturing the community that you're in, and supporting that community.

GamesIndustry.bizDo you feel a sense of responsibility towards smaller developers?
Mike Gamble

Absolutely. A lot of what I'm doing in Europe at the moment is working with the much, much smaller developers at the crossover point between amateur and professional where they're releasing their first product, digitally on iOS or whatever, pretty small stuff. And in a lot of cases these guys are not well experienced necessarily, but they're incredibly keen and incredibly creative, and we've got that experience quite beyond just the technical stuff. So yeah, there is a level of... responsibility might be over egging it a little bit, but certainly there's a lot we can offer and a lot that we like to offer.

GamesIndustry.bizHave you seen a rise in the number of those smaller developers?
Mike Gamble

Totally. There are a few things that have happened, talking for Europe in particular, we've had a really bad 18 months in terms of a lot of big studios going pop, but the fallout of that is a lot of those guys have gone off and created small studios of their own, and a lot of them are focused very much on staying small, doing the projects they want to do, self publishing wherever they can.

So there is a very vibrant community now, which is growing, of talent who are determined not to become so big that they go pop again, so that they can control their own destinies.

GamesIndustry.bizHow often do you refuse licenses?
Mike Gamble

There's an automatic level of filter that happens straight away the first time you're contacted. The process is kind of weird, clearly part of what I do and the licensing team do, because we're so connected to the industry anyway, so we're talking to developers and developers are talking to us, and so there's a level of pre-qualification there anyway.

Then we also have the web enquiries that come in and they fall in to three distinct categories. There's the guys that just write "knob" or whatever, there's a surprising number of those, why would you go to the effort? It's filling a void for somebody.

And then you have the students and we direct them to the UDK and the real start up guys who are not even set up as a company yet but the kind of cut off point for us is that we'll talk to anybody who is professionally set up as a registered company and has registered email, and can sign a legal document.

That's the first kind of barrier to entry. And actually to reply to that email and say "yes, provide us with this information and an NDA" and that again filters about 30 per cent of those enquiries because they don't understand what we've asked them or it's like "s***, NDA, what's that?" So that's another pre-qualifier straight out the gate.

So we very rarely get to the point where we're talking to a developer and we say no. Occasionally you get to a point where the business just won't resolve. They can't afford the license, we'll almost bend over backwards to try a licensing deal that works for a company, but we have some hard and fast rules about what we will and will not do. So there's a sliding scale, but outside of that sliding scale we won't go, and there are times when you just can't make a deal. But it's not that often it happens.

GamesIndustry.bizHow you balance the studio focus between supporting licensees and developing games?
Mike Gamble

It's a very different thing, because the way we support licensees is in a very specific and incredibly well honed fashion. So as such we don't have a support group.

So the game side of the company builds the games and the game technology, and the game technology is built for our games, and then comes out into the public domain as it were.

So it's kind of almost the opposite way round to some other engine developers who are building an engine, building a support structure and a sales force around that engine and then using it in house. It's kind of almost that turned around. The engine is built to build the games and it just so happens that that's really useful for a whole bunch of other people. So the fact that we have hundreds and hundreds of developers actually isn't as burdensome as you might imagine

.

And anecdotally around that is that I've recently joined Epic, six months, but I've been in the industry 16, 17 years and I've worked at Microsoft, publishers, lots of tech companies. And the structure and the process and the way Epic is runs is the most professional games company I have ever, ever worked at by a magnitude, by a serious magnitude.

The processes for dealing with everything, whether that be developers, external, internal, are absolutely honed to perfection.

GamesIndustry.bizYou were previously with Crytek, has there been much of a culture shock?
Mike Gamble

It's not a culture shock because I've known Epic way longer than I've known Crytek. We did stuff ten years ago, eleven years ago, so it's not been a culture shock from that perspective. It's actually been a real... well relief isn't quite the word, it's just been really nice to fit into a company where it works the way it should work.

We're making really cool stuff, and the environment is really encouraging for you to do that. Hence doing stuff like this. Basically it was my want to do this, and the company said yes.

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Rachel Weber

Senior Editor

Rachel Weber has been with GamesIndustry since 2011 and specialises in news-writing and investigative journalism. She has more than five years of consumer experience, having previously worked for Future Publishing in the UK.