Epic Games, the creators of Unreal Tournament, Gears of War and the Unreal Engine, has earned something of a reputation over the past few years: It's not a studio making video games with the fervor it once was.
That reputation, perhaps unearned, is rooted in the slower pace at which the developers at Epic Games' headquarters in Cary, N.C. are releasing new titles. The company's only currently announced game, Fortnite, was revealed in late 2011, and Epic has been relatively quiet about its development. Epic has released new titles since then, including entries in Chair Entertainment's Infinity Blade series and Gears of War: Judgment, which was developed by People Can Fly, now known as Epic Games Poland.
But coupled with some high level employee departures, the closure of its short-lived Impossible Studios and an investment from Chinese Internet company Tencent, it seemed indicative of a shift in priority at Epic. Tencent's minority stake in Epic — it owns 40 percent of the company and League of Legends maker Riot Games — could be most reflective of its new direction.
At last week's Game Developers Conference, Epic Games officials, including CEO and founder Tim Sweeney, assured us the company is still in the game-making business and has multiple projects in the works, starting with the mysterious survival and building game Fortnite and other games using its Unreal Engine 4 technology.
"We're looking at the future of gaming from kind of a Valve or Riot point of view."
"We're building Fortnite, which is a bigger and way cooler game than we imagined," Sweeney said. "It started out as an internal game jam project at Epic and has grown over time. We have a combination of a great building game, an action-combat game and with some [light] elements of an MMO. We'll be saying more about that in the coming months."
Sweeney called Fortnite a game that will be shaped and improved over time in response to its players' feedback. It's also a game that represents something of a new direction for Epic.
"We're looking at the future of gaming from kind of a Valve or Riot point of view," Sweeney said, "[which is] making your games really accessible, being fair to customers and giving them a great value with a game that can be played for hundreds or thousands of hours.
"That's what we're doing with Fortnite and what we're looking at for everything we do at Epic, from the games side to the engine side."
Sweeney said a team of more than 90 at Epic are building Fortnite, which he praised as an "awesome, high-quality game," and that others at Epic are developing unannounced projects.
"We're also in the early development stages of a game that will continue the Epic tradition of pushing high-end, leading-edge graphics," he said. "We're working very close with Nvidia on new features and capabilities to bring things to the next level.
"We won't be announcing that [game] for a long time but we're continuing to be at the forefront [of graphics technology]."
Work on Unreal Engine 4 continues, and Epic Games is supporting that engine by building tech demos to "prove out the engine's capabilities and making some of those available on the marketplace in UE4."
Epic Games got out of the Gears of War business, officially, earlier this year, when it sold the property to Microsoft. Sweeney said the decision was a practical, but uncommon one, and rooted in the change in direction at Epic.
"We've gone through a long process of figuring out the games we're going to build at Epic worldwide in the future and we concluded that we weren't going to be building any more Gears of War," Sweeney said. "As much as we love the game, we're heading in a new direction.
"Much better to have Microsoft building Gears games than for it to be sitting on the shelf unused by Epic."
"The core Gears values are really tied to being big event-based, single-player console games with awesome cover mechanics and other things that really didn't translate into the future approach we were taking with online games, and competitive and cooperative multiplayer. Because we weren't planning on building any more Gears games we were just going to let that sit on the shelf for a decade or more, in case it had any future value to us."
Microsoft, however, was interested in seeing Gears of War continue, so the plan that made the most sense, Sweeney said, was to make the franchise "available to them completely unencumbered" through a sale.
"It was one of those rare moments when both Epic and Microsoft were able to make a business that was obviously best for the community," he said. "Much better to have Microsoft building Gears games than for it to be sitting on the shelf unused by Epic.
"Selling an IP like that is a rare thing. Most companies look at it as their crown jewels but at Epic we had a practical view of it: We weren't going to build it and we realized the world wanted more Gears of War."
What about the other Epic Games players want, like more Shadow Complex and Unreal Tournament? Sweeney said those properties may still have life at Epic, even though the company isn't actively — or, at least, officially — working on them.
"Chair is continuing their tradition of building cool mobile games," Sweeney said. "They're working on something that's really awesome and really new. More details will be coming much later.
"Chair was well into the cycle of designing a Shadow Complex 2 when we recognized the iOS opportunity and they moved over to building the first Infinity Blade. They thought through a lot of the design there, so that's something we continue to think about.
"Shadow Complex is very dear to Chair and Unreal Tournament is very dear to Epic. We don't have any immediate plans, but we see [those games] as things that could have a future."
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