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Epic's Mark Rein

The effervescent middleware man on Unreal's future, and why mobile is increasingly important

One of the games industry's best-known figures is also one of its most-travelled - Epic Games VP Mark Rein puts in a remarkable number of miles heading to various events around the world, evangelising about the company's Unreal Engine - one of the reasons why it's proven to be such a popular purchase for many developers.

At last week's GameHorizon in Newcastle, UK, we caught up with him to talk about the company's ongoing business philosophy, and why mobile is playing an increasing role in the future of games. Why do you make the time to come to events like GameHorizon and other regional English conferences, given some of the deals you must be making back at home?
Mark Rein

The first year I guess they invited me, and I hadn't been to this area - we had some licensees near here that were using Unreal technology. So I just came to see what it was like and I just found it really fascinating. There's a lot of people here talking about really smart things, it's a little different than what you're going to hear at GDC and other conferences. And I just think they're talking about the issues of the industry... plus it's a nice place and I think they do a really good job. I was talking to Carri Cunliffe who heads up the conference about the importance of a chance like this for UK developers to meet big international fish, especially given the loss of the tax breaks. Is there another way for them to do that, or is pressing the flesh still vital?
Mark Rein

We launched the Unreal Development Kit pretty much with the idea of making the engine accessible to everyone, outside of just modders who already had a particular game, and to make it easier for people to get our technology, start playing with it, and start to build something that could be the precursor to that conversation.

We're easy to approach - you can always email me, I answer my email. I don't think it's really the only way you can meet, but the face-to-face interaction can spawn ideas, has spontaneity, you can see someone's idea of what they're doing. A bunch of times I'll come to a conference, someone will be on their laptop, show me their game idea... So I don't think it's the only way, but it's a way, and it's a good way. Word has it that you handle almost all of this stuff, the licensing and the sales, yourself... Is that a quality control thing?
Mark Rein

I hope you heard that in a good way... I just love the industry, I love games, I love games developers, I'm very fond of the whole process of development. I used to be a programmer years and years ago, I never wrote a game or anything like that, but I have a huge amount of respect for people who do. I just wanna touch 'em all [laughs]. I just want to play whatever role I can in helping everybody succeed. That means personal contact. Why do you think there aren't more developers in Epic's situation - why have relative contemporaries like id and Bungie largely stayed as pure studios and not gone down the massed licensing route to the extent you have, almost to the point where you're trying to be a games industry unto yourself?
Mark Rein

That's a good question. I definitely made that conscious decision to be a middleware company, not just a game developer. And that takes a certain amount of effort, and considerable expense and... that was just in our DNA. I don't know if you're aware of this, but our very first game shipped with an editor, in 1991. That was just what we did.

Everybody talks id and Doom, and that started modding, but our fans started doing mods for ZZT long before Doom was even an idea. So that's just our DNA, we just want to share our tools and technology, we invest a lot of the money we make from our games into them, and hopefully that brings revenue from there as well. I just think it's not just something you can do lightly.

Alec Meer avatar
Alec Meer: A 10-year veteran of scribbling about video games, Alec primarily writes for Rock, Paper, Shotgun, but given any opportunity he will escape his keyboard and mouse ghetto to write about any and all formats.
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