Editor’s note: Ray Davis, general manager at Epic Games, spells out in detail how a new pricing model for the company’s industry leading Unreal Engine 4 technology and other developments sets the stage for its future. WRALTechWire Insider John Gaudiosi delivers the story.

SAN FRANCISCO – Epic Games had its largest booth ever at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. Over 24,000 game makers, investors, analysts and media made the annual trek to the trade show. Epic’s booth was packed throughout the convention, thanks in part to its new $19 per month subscription model (plus 5% royalty) for Unreal Engine 4 game development.

The Unreal engine is one of the world’s most popular, used across multiple platforms and by many of the gaming industry’s top leaders. Its latest version of Unreal 4 is delivering improved graphics, faster performance and many other advances.

Ray Davis, the general manager at Epic Games, talks about what this new business model means for the company and explains how the Unreal Engine 4 helped Oculus VR impress GDC attendees (including Facebook) in this exclusive two-part interview.

  • Can you explain the differentiation between this new business model for Unreal Engine 4 and the Unreal Development Kit that was unveiled a few years back for Unreal Engine 3?

We were really excited about the success we saw with UDK and we were looking at how we could get the entire source code out there as well and make all the new features widely accessible. Hopefully $19 a month is affordable to all kinds of developers out there, whether they’re aspiring to make games or just want to tinker in their spare time. With the 5 percent royalty we felt like that’s a much more reasonable way to do things because we only see success if you’re having success. We believe with the power of Unreal and its tools that you’ll be able to create better games more quickly.

  • Speaking of creating quicker games, how have you designed this engine to speed the development process for bigger teams?

Blueprint is our visual programming system. It’s a built-in and integrated fully into the toolset. You can actually trade and deploy an entire game all in Blueprint. You do not need to write any C++ code. That being said, if you’re a programmer there’s a great interaction and for larger teams we find that it’s a great prototyping tool. Designers can iterate in their spare time and then present a fully working prototype that the programmer can look at. It’s better than any written design doc, so from all scales it’s really impressive.

  • What does Blueprint open up for aspiring game makers?

We’ve always been really surprised with what people who are not programmers are able to accomplish with it. I think a lot of people understand or have the ability to be programmers even if they’re not interested and with Blueprints it’s you know the Dragon draw and you’re linking things together and you’re seeing it all in a visual way that for some people they’re just – it works for them in a way that text base setting doesn’t and it’s been really impressive. Some of technical artists for example Tappy Chicken part of some of the free content we give as a reference, you know, one of our technical artists he on a whim one night four hours later all in blueprints he’s create this homage and it’s great. Yeah.

  • How does Unreal Engine 4 help Epic’s internal workflow when developing games?

Even as a prototyping tool for designers being able to fully realize it and iterate in real-time without actually waiting on a programmer to implement some features and some of the functionality, that’s been huge for us. That even goes back to early days with Kismet when we were making Gears of War. We found it immensely helpful and it allowed us to hire designers without necessarily having to hire programmers at the same rate. With the power of Blueprint there’s no part of the engine that you really can’t touch and modify, so the potential is limitless.

  • Can you walk through some of the different demos that Epic has created to help new developers with this technology?

As part of our launch we include a wide spectrum of content to showcase, whether it’s Blueprint or the material system. There’s a lot of good content to help you in your first moments creating something that looks cool and hopefully gets you excited about what you can accomplish. We also have an entire series of video tutorials outlining things, whether you’re a programmer or level designer or artist. They cover all aspects of how to get you started and get you comfortable with building new games.

  • One of the playable demos is a cool shooter.

We use it as a great way to just proof if you want to go make a shooter, here’s a great template. You can start from blank, or here’s some pre-existing content for you to use.

  • The Unreal Engine in the past was known for shooters. How has Unreal Engine 4 opened things up for different games?

The team really did a great job re-evaluating every aspect of the engine when we made the choice to Build UE4. Anything that was specific to a shooter, we re-factored in such a way that now if you want to make a top-down game or a 2 ½-D game, you can. Anything’s possible from that point and the engine isn’t getting in the way. Instead, it’s making it easier to prototype whatever you want.
Unreal Engine 3 launched and then seemed to evolve as the industry changed with mobile and free-to-play. How have you designed UE4 to take advantage of mobile, HTML 5 and all these different game spaces?

It’s really exciting times for game development. There are so many options out there, so many devices and huge diversity. From our point of view, we want Unreal to be a viable option for any platform that developers want to go after. Most importantly, you can build it on PC and deploy it to iOS or Android or HTML 5. All these things become easy. You don’t have to recreate your content. You can easily scale to whatever device you want to go to.

  • What excites you as a game developer when you look at the industry today?

One of the most exciting things is there’s a lot more people and a lot more things going on, especially compared to when I started out way back 10, 15 years ago. There are tons of new ideas every day. I’m always impressed from the indie developers and even by the large next gen consoles, and all the VR stuff. There’s just a tremendous amount going on on all fronts. It’s really exciting.

[EPIC ARCHIVE: Check out more than a decade of Epic Games stories as reported in WRALTechWire.]