Epic Games has a problem.
But it's the sort of problem that could probably make better use of air quotes than an exclamation point.
The game developer, engine builder and publisher's "problem" is it has too much of a good thing.
Epic Games, once a company known for one game and one tool, finds itself awash in new games, new services, new opportunities and it doesn’t want to squander any of it.
Fortunately, Epic Games also has a solution, and his name is Donald Mustard.
Worldwide Creative Director
Mustard, founder of Chair Entertainment, started working for Epic in 2008 when Chair was acquired. Since then, he and his company have produced a steady stream of solid, though improbable hits like throwback platform action game Shadow Complex and the wildly popular smartphone series, Infinity Blade.
Two years ago, Mustard, alongside acclaimed director J.J. Abrams, announced Chair's next project: Spyjinx, a still mysterious game that promises to deliver a "unique mix of action strategy gameplay, dynamic world building and RPG character development."
And then about a year ago something else happened: Epic quietly promoted Mustard to worldwide creative director of Epic Games, an entirely new role at the company.
"I now oversee our entire game portfolio," Mustard told Polygon in a recent interview. "Five years ago we were a one-game studio. We primarily focused on Gears of War. We would work on one game at a time and our engine stuff.
"Now we've shifted to games as a service model and really engine as a service."
As the company worked through the transition to its fourth evolution, Epic suddenly found itself facing the task of not just publishing a game, but giving it life and continuing to evolve it. It wasn't just one game anymore, either.
"We have six games in development and we're becoming much more globally focused on game development," Mustard said.
Putting someone in charge of keeping an eye on the expanding portfolio of games and the teams running them became a necessity.
"We needed to have someone looking at the entire portfolio to make sure each fit into the more holistic vision of what our portfolio should be," Mustard said. "I was blown away, when I really started digging, with all of the teams, with the level of talent and amazing ideas these people have."
Mustard said the first step in his new role was to organize all of that.
"I work with each team to make sure their vision for the product was streamlined and clear," he said. "Like we do at Chair."
Mustard sees Battle Breakers, a smartphone and PC game announced yesterday, as a good example of his work at Epic now.
"It began life with a very, very small team," Mustard said. "Two or three people had this cool idea for a gameplay loop on mobile. They started developing on that. Then they started applying meta mechanics to it. And they kept playing it over and over and it evolved from there.
"When I got this position it was still in a prototype stage. As I was talking with the different teams this prototype bubbles up. We realized that when we release Spyjinx, which is a very big, very ambitious mobile game, we wanted to make sure our pipeline process for soft-launching, running a beta as a live service, was as good or better than anyone out there. I didn't want Spyjinx to be our first swing at that."
So about a year ago he kicked the prototype team into high gear, gave them more resources and helped push that concept into what would become the full game.
Powering the Unreal Engine
Part of Mustard's role, it seems, is to make sure Epic's portfolio continues to show off the diversity of what the company's Unreal Engine 4 can do.
But his personal philosophy, he said, is more about clearing away obstacles for talented developers and then getting himself out of the way, too.
Epic's new approach to game development paired with Mustard's guiding hand is about to deliver a big year for the company.
"We’ve got Robo Recall then Battle Breakers," Mustard said. "We’ve got huge evolutions for Paragon that are going to be coming out in the next six months. We have some big announcements for Fortnite and Spyjinx."
Polygon asked Mustard for a quick rundown on where the company's six games are right now and this is what he said:
- Battle Breakers is currently live in the Philippines in a soft launch with expectations for it to be released soon in both Australia and Canada. The company is hoping to release it worldwide by early summer.
- Paragon remains in beta with more dramatic changes expected moving forward, including a complete overhaul of the game's card system and the release of competitive play. "We have a lot more to do, a lot more to learn."
- Fortnite is in closed alpha with news on the game expected very soon. "It's our blue ocean title. It's really found its groove."
- Spyjinx is likely to release later this year. "Spyjinx is pushing all sorts of crazy boundaries."
- Unreal Tournament remains in early development.
- Robo Recall should be getting some release news very soon. "It's very arcade-y, very over the top. It's all about how we can make you feel like you are Neo or John Wick."
"Ultimately, I see my job as empowering [Epic's developers] to do great stuff," Mustard said. "My job is to grease the wheels and make sure everything is running smoothly toward a larger vision."