"There is a purity and simplicity to saying, 'What do we think is the right thing to do,'" he tells me. "And, 'How do we restore having a direct relationship with the people who play our games and use our technology?" "We became part of the big industry machine," Meegan says. "I think there are good things about that, but there are also a lot of things that prevent you from doing the right thing by the people who use your technology." What are the things, I say. What are the problems with the infrastructure? What has Epic done wrong? Meegan pauses, and answers carefully but, I don't think, disingenuously: "Any time you are balancing complex relationships, or you have a lot of people who are all trying to accomplish slightly different goals, it is an extra layer of sort of distance and abstraction between you and gamers, or you and developers," he says. "We wanted to stick a really simplistic approach: If we were on the other side of this, what would we want to have happen?" "We said," he continues, "'We need to make it accessible, so that everybody can use it, and it's not just the tool of well-funded large teams. We need to make it easy to use, we need to support platforms, we need to be really generous, and make sure we succeed when developers succeed -- so we don't front-load the cost, and then we have an incentive.'" "If we're going to have a subscription model, then let's make it so that if you don't like it you can cancel without any penalty, at any time, and you can keep using the engine, if you're a student, or you're an indie, and you don't have the funds to pay every month," he continues. The Unreal Engine 4 source code is also now available. "It's risky," says Meegan, "because we're putting ourselves out there." What does it feel like, I ask. I don't really often ask that of tech execs, at least not expecting a real answer. "It's a little scary," Meegan says. "We... have to become vulnerable in a way, and we have to be willing to put ourselves out there in a way we haven't in a long time. We've gone through a period where everything felt very managed, and we had to let go of that, and be willing to be vulnerable and take risks." Is it going to be hard to re-learn and understand a new audience? Meegan shakes his head gently: "We're game developers. The gap is small. We make games every day, and many of the people who work at the company do all sorts of their own projects," he says. "It does feel like we're going back to our roots." Meegan says he sees the company's founder, Tim Sweeney, as 'the original indie.' At the company headquarters is a wall of Sweeney's work through the years, Meegan says, dating back to the time when Sweeney programmed his own games, did all the art, wrote the manual, released his work as shareware. Sweeney loves to show the wall of history to visitors -- it's important, then, for him to remind everyone that at some time, he put floppy disks into a mailbox, he alone. Since then, the company has made, over the years, a painstaking investment in good code, Meegan believes. The company's been quiet the last couple of years because of a redoubling of that investment -- "as we looked at how we get the engine out to everybody, we felt we should play to our strengths," he says. "Philosophically, we believe that if we're generous and we provide value to people, that value will come back," he continues. "The biggest challenge that we recognize is that we have to earn the trust and respect of the people who use the tech... to scale it in a way that it works for a whole lot of indies is a different challenge. That's now, for us to contemplate and it will keep us honest, but we get up every morning and we are all incredibly psyched to come to work." It takes deliberate effort to adapt a company and a product that's historically focused on big teams and triple-A and make it suitable for the new climate, says Meegan. He says the company's "first effort" -- the Unreal Development Kit -- has been a learning experience. "We didn't do everything right," he says. "I'd say we were still between worlds, and we weren't able to make it available in a way that was realistic to anyone, and it wasn't easy to use. So we learned from that." The announcement of a new direction has seen a tremendous response, Meegan says. Since then, according to social media, execs have been falling asleep on couches and staying up all night to answer emails. "Now it's time to earn that trust," he adds. There's a long pause. "I think," he says, "sometimes it's about the bell you're not ringing. The transition we've been through, reinventing the way we operate and think, had more to do with, 'We're game developers'... Obviously we have Fortnite in development, we're going to be bringing that out relatively soon, and we have more games in development behind the scenes." "But we're taking the same approach we're taking with tech: humble, a direct relationship with players... humble, and bringing people together." To find out more about the nuts-and-bolts, tech and business behind Unreal Engine 4, don't miss Gamasutra's interview with Tim Sweeney.
"We became part of the big industry machine. I think there are good things about that, but there are also a lot of things that prevent you from doing the right thing by the people who use your technology."
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The humbling of Epic: A giant turns around
"It's strange to see Epic Games humbled," Leigh Alexander writes, as the company shifts its strategy for Unreal Engine 4. In this Q&A with VP Paul Meegan, she uncovers why those changes are happening.