Epic Games is celebrating its 20th year of making hit game franchises like Unreal, the $1 billion Gears of War franchise, Infinity Blade for Mac mobile devices and the upcoming Fortnite.

With its global headquarters in Cary, Epic has watched as the Research Triangle has emerged as one of the leading hubs of game development in the country, if not the world. Its development engine, Unreal, is used across virtually all game platforms and by customers worldwide.

The game developer recently sponsored the big party in Las Vegas for the game industry gathering called D.I.C.E. (Design, Innovate, Communicate, Entertain), in tandem with Epic founder Tim Sweeney’s induction into The Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame.

This coming week, Epic will be making headlines with new developments to be announced at the Game developers Conference.

Jay Wilbur, vice president of Epic Games, explains how Epic ended up in North Carolina and discusses the advances of Unreal Engine 3 technology in this exclusive interview.

What has remained constant when it comes to Epic Games over the past 20 years?

Quality. If you look back over the past 20 years, you see Epic attracting the highest quality people. Many are still with Epic, where we are creating the highest quality tools and games.

How did Raleigh become the major base for operations for the company?

In the beginning, Epic was a virtual company. Our developers were scattered all over the world. As we approached bigger, more complex projects, it became clear that having everyone in the same place was a requirement. Towards the end of Unreal Tournament’s development, we decided to pick a location for our virtual office to settle down. We opened up a suggestion box for employees to propose cities.

After researching the top five or so candidate locations, we settled on Raleigh. Raleigh had, and still has, many great things going for it: a great cost of living compared to expensive cities like LA, San Francisco, and Chicago, not to mention fantastic infrastructure, awesome culture, great food and mostly warm weather.

How have the offices Epic has established around the world impacted the company and enabled it to remain independent?

Since the release of the Unreal Engine back in the late ‘90s, Epic Games has maintained two solid revenue streams, the first from our games, and the second from our engine licensing business. The latter is what helps us weather the uncertainty of game development. A developer without a quality revenue stream like our engine business is typically beholden to their publisher for milestone advances. If a milestone deliverable goes into overtime, there’s a chance the developer could run out of money. That’s not an issue at Epic. Our engine license business and financial discipline give us the means to bridge those milestone gaps and never rush a product to market. When given the choice between right and right now, we go with right. Our licensing teams in China, Europe, Japan and Korea allow us to do more, and we had success in these territories before opening these offices. Since planting our flag in these markets, our sales have seen pronounced growth.

How has the Unreal Engine technology evolved over the years to expand to emerging game platforms?

I think my business partner, Mark Rein, had the best response to this question when asked about Unreal Engine support for the Wii. He said something along the lines of: Unreal Engine requires a certain level of hardware capabilities to make our pipeline and tools work–and we work on the ones that do. The second Nintendo releases a piece of hardware that can run our engine we’ll be on it like water on fish.
The same can be said for most any other capable platform. When Apple shipped an iPhone capable of running Unreal Engine 3—we were there. When Sony announced their awesome handheld PlayStation Vita—we were there. The list goes on.

What do you attribute to the success that Unreal Engine has had over the years?

Epic Games is a game developer who understands what it takes to make games. We actually develop the Unreal Engine in concert with the development of our games. We must be doing something right. Our licensee teams have used Unreal Engine technology to make some of the most popular games of our time. And, our game engine has won more awards than I can list off the top of my head.

That’s not to say Unreal Engine is the magic solution to making great games. It’s not. Game development is a complex art and science that requires creative and engineering talent, organization, business acumen, intuition and sometimes a bit of luck. The Unreal Engine provides developers a firm foundation on which to build their game.

What opportunities do you see in the mobile and casual online gaming spaces?

This is a very exciting space. The hardware spec on mobile devices is on a rocket ride. Every year, sometimes less, a new awesome piece of hardware hits the marketplace. It won’t be long before the power in the plastic in our pockets will exceed the power of the plastic currently in our living room. It’s my belief the experience we have on our mobile devices can be as satisfying as the experience we have with our living room gaming devices. The games themselves will be different given the numerous form factor and input methods. Epic has invested much time and effort bringing Unreal Engine 3 to capable mobile devices and developing a killer game IP with Infinity Blade to provide an example what can be done here. Stay tuned — we and our licensees are just getting started.

Where do you hope Epic Games is 20 years from now?

I see us continuing to do what we love to do and have been doing these past 20 years. We’ll just be a little but older, and hopefully, driving nicer cars.

[EPIC ARCHIVE: Check out a decade of Epic stories as reported in WRAL Tech Wire by clicking here.]

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