When Epic Games fist started licensing its Unreal Engine internationally, the duties were split in two: Mark Rein took Europe, and Jay Wilbur tackled Asia.
While Wilbur still ultimately oversees licensing in Asia, his job has become a lot more manageable now that Epic has dedicated offices in China, Japan and Korea, all of which can handle the day-to-day business deals and the support calls.
Gamasutra recently took the rare opportunity to speak with Wilbur in depth about the challenges of taking Unreal Engine 3 international, the different needs and interests of each region, and which emerging markets to watch out for.
A big part of your business is providing support for those who use Unreal Engine 3, do you see different support needs by region?
Absolutely. What we see in North America and Europe is that developers tend to gravitate towards our email support, our mailing list support, our wiki pages, our online support, and demand less facetime. Whereas our counterparts in Asia, Japan and Korea, they have more of a need for facetime. There's more personal interaction there, literally face to face interaction with our support teams.
Part of the reasons we are a success in those marketplaces is because we made the commitment to put those support boots on the ground. We recognized the need and what it would take to satisfy the marketplace, and fulfilled it, and we were rewarded by that.
Is that essentially why it's necessary to have these satellite offices? For facetime?
One of the reasons. It's also difficult and personally taxing on a person in the U.S. having to make so many trips over to perform the duties of a licensing manager. Imagine flying to Tokyo or Seoul or China ten, fifteen times a year. At the beginning it sounds like a lot of fun, but I have a saying: the first 100,000 miles are great fun, it's a great adventure. The next 8.5 million miles suck. After a while it becomes taxing.
So literally having those people on the ground, they're fresh, they can communicate in the native language -- not only on a support level, but a licensing level. They understand the local business customs, whereas somebody like me, I literally had to be trained. It was baptism under fire: what hand to use, how to greet somebody. The different things that just come natural to someone who is local to the marketplace.
Something we've been hearing from Japan a lot lately is a feeling that they're behind the times compared to Western developers. Do companies like, say, Grasshopper Manufacture come to you because they want games that appeal to Western gamers specifically?
That's one of the reasons, yes. I think it's recognized throughout the Japanese marketplace that in order to be truly successful as a game developer, they need to make games that appeal to both the Japanese and the Western audiences. And with Unreal Engine 3, you can create any game you want with Unreal Engine 3, really your imagination is the only limiting factor. And talent, obviously. So the games made with Unreal aren't necessarily inherently Japanese or inherently not Japanese.
I don't think it's fair to say that Japanese developers are licensing Unreal Engine just because they want their games to be Western, though that may be one of the reasons that they come to us. I hadn't really explored that. I think it's more along the lines of the many benefits that Unreal Engine provides to a developer.
Typically when I think of Japanese game development, I think of them kind of sticking to their home country.
Yes. Rightfully so in Japan, and for that matter in Korea, they're very proud developers. Japan is the birthplace of the marketplace, so they own the right to be very proud about what they do. But I also think that there's a business side to our marketplace. And when we sit down with a developer and show them Unreal Engine 3, show them how streamlined the tools are, how fast it is to iterate ... I think that message resonates globally.
Have you noticed that national pride toning down as time goes by? Are Eastern companies more open to work with you now than they might have been in the past?
In the end I think it's primarily a business decision. I think that developers are looking at the risks and rewards of making video games, and as we look now, some of the bigger games, there's a lot of risk involved. So whatever a developer can do to eliminate some of that risk, save some money, get high quality product to market faster, just makes sense. Like I said I think that's a global message.
Now that you've set up shop in Japan, does that also improve your relationship with the two Japanese console makers to make it easier to develop for them?
Yeah a little bit. We're closer. But we've actually been pretty close to our friends at the Japanese console manufacturers for a long time, even before we had boots on the ground in Japan. It makes it a little easier because we've got people in the same time zone who can coordinate with them in native language. But for the most part our relationship with those folks is as strong as it ever was.
We've talked about licensing the engine under what I'm guessing is the traditional model, but are you seeing international adaptation of the free UDK program as well?
Yes. Interestingly enough when we first released UDK, for the first several months of its life outside of Epic, Seoul was the leading city in number of downloads.
Why Seoul? Why do you think they were so hot on it?
I really can't answer that! I can remember talking to Ray Park, who is our territory manager in Seoul, when the numbers were coming in. I asked Ray that very question and he said he didn't know, maybe Koreans are just smarter than everybody else. [laughs]
You've probably got some interesting data at this point, internationally. From Unreal's perspective, are there any regions to watch that seem to be getting sort of hot with development that we might not have noticed otherwise?
The two markets that I'm watching are the Middle East and Brazil. Brazil has been up and coming for a while. It's a great marketplace, and their hardware spec is now lifting to the point where they're digging into some really high quality games. And the mobile space is exploding there.
And the Middle East is generally a marketplace that's ignored by the West. There's a lot of quality developers there, there's a lot of Middle East lore that we as Westerners don't know. We know Ali Baba, Prince of Persia, you know, Aladdin, but there's so much deep IP and lore there that needs to be explored. So those are a couple of the marketplaces that I've been paying attention to and talking to developers there.
Do you see Epic expanding to those regions?
Right now no, I don't. Right now it's more along the lines of me going over, shaking hands and kissing babies and establishing the relationships with developers. Who knows? At some point it might make sense to do something, but right now it's helping the market grow and establish, and then once it does grow and establish, then we probably will have those discussion about whether we should go in and set up shop locally.