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What separates CryEngine from its competition?

Crytek's Carl Jones explains the company's attitude toward engine development and toward the new user base it's gotten thanks to the accessibility of its new $9.90-a-month subscription.

Christian Nutt, Contributor

June 6, 2014

8 Min Read

Last week, Crytek launched the subscription version of CryEngine. At $9.90 a month, it undercuts Unreal Engine 4's $19 a month drastically -- before you even take into account the fact that Epic will take 5 percent off the top of your revenues if you launch a commercial project using its tools. It turns out that's not the only big difference between the two packages. One significant difference is that with CryEngine, you must license WWISE if you want a full-featured audio solution, an added expense. CryEngine doesn't yet build to mobile, though that's coming "very soon." Perhaps the biggest difference, though, is the difference between the two companies' attitudes toward their developer communities. Gamasutra spoke to Crytek's Carl Jones, its director of business development, to find out more.

Software as a Service, or Crytek isn't Epic

Crytek, Jones says, is offering a true software-as-a-service solution, and intends to remain in total control over engine development -- which he contrasts against Epic's total openness.

"At the core, Crytek is building advances in that engine and controlling where that engine goes -- that's where we think we get the best results from."

"If you're only looking at the game engine, the game industry, the two are quite comparable," says Jones. "What we're offering is more of a business option for developers who want to commercially make a game, and do it in a manageable way. It is quite a distinct thing." "At the core, Crytek is building advances in that engine and controlling where that engine goes -- that's where we think we get the best results from," Jones says. "What CryEngine is, is driven by Crytek's games and developers -- it's a result of that work. We're confident that we can push high-end further than anyone else by taking that approach." He says that, by contrast, Epic is "open-sourcing" Unreal Engine 4: "They're obviously then charging for that, but their fundamental strategy is, 'Let's open-source the engine.'" Whether or not that's true, it is clear that Epic is encouraging developers of all stripes to play with its source code and will incorporate useful changes into the stable builds it distributes. "We're really looking forward to opening that up to the wider community, with thousands or hundreds of thousands of programmers, to use it and contribute," Epic's Tim Sweeney told Gamasutra in March. Crytek will decidedly not be taking that approach. Still, Jones promises that Crytek will be responsive, and is already implementing feedback gathered since the launch last week. "We'll do it based on the feedback and demands from our community," says Jones, but Crytek's engineers will be the ones making the decisions about the direction of the engine.

The Engineering Question

While Unity has a core team of around 150 engineers, and Epic has around 100 concentrating on Unreal Engine 4, Jones says it's hard for him to compare -- because while there are only around 50 engineers working directly on the engine, every Crytek project across its eight studios has its own engine R&D team, and "every single one of those games is delivering technology back into the engine."

"Every single one of Crytek's games is delivering technology back into the engine."

For example, Xbox One launch title Ryse brought forth a number of improvements: "all the character rendering improvements, skin shaders, new ways of rigging and animating characters, as well as the camera control, we have all those new features in there," says Jones. Meanwhile, Crytek USA's new game, Hunt, will result in "some really state-of-the-art procedural content generation tech" in the engine closer to the game's release, once its code base stabilizes, which will generally be how additions work. Is he worried about other developers using tech Crytek pioneered in their own games? "That's not a reason we'd hold anything back," says Jones. The only parts that won't be included are solutions so "hardwired" to a specific game that even Crytek wouldn't want them in the engine's general code base. Another potentiality is that "we would hold back code where it might create security risks," such as server code. "We would never hold back a feature just for ourselves," says Jones.

Learning from a New User Base

Jones says the company will be active in addressing user feedback -- and notes that the requests Crytek has already seen since going subscription differ from those it gets from its triple-A licensees. "I think it will change our approach," says Jones. "We listen to our community and give them back what they want." One major piece of feedback that has already gone into the engine is that developers don't like paying royalties -- something Crytek had tried in the past, when it released a free version of its engine. "We got very good pickup from that, but as soon as people were trying to move into a commercial space, it got very complicated. It became pretty clear to us that people didn't like that royalty model, and they would be happy with something else," Jones says. As for the WWISE situation, Jones says to expect an update on that in the future, but he offered no further details on what that might be. (There is a reduced-feature version of the audio middleware package included with CryEngine for free.) However, a big change is that "very soon" the mobile version of the engine will be available to subscribers. It was used to develop Crytek Budapest's The Collectables, which released in March. Crytek is courting high-end mobile projects, and is "not going to pretend it's going to work on low-end mobile," says Jones. The goal, however, is to make it "as smooth as possible" to publish projects to mobile using the engine, including making it easy for developers to put CryEngine-based PC and console projects on mobile devices. The subscription engine will also be able to build for consoles, Mac, and Linux in the future, too. "They will just follow a different path to launch it on the different devices," says Jones. "All these platforms we're going to add in, in the future."

Tied to Steam

Most interesting -- or scary, depending on whom you ask -- is how tightly the company has integrated its engine with Valve's Steam service. Steam is the only place to subscribe to CryEngine, and Jones explains that this is a very deliberate move.

"There are many things around building a game people wanted to have... and the best place to do that is Steam."

Choosing Steam to distribute CryEngine allows for an "end-to-end service to developers that we knew we couldn't do ourselves," says Jones. "If not the only place, it's certainly the best place." Steam is where developers are "talking to their gamers," and "showing them what they're working on" as well as "getting people to work with them" and, ultimately, "going through the Greenlight process and releasing their game on Steam." "There are many things around building a game people wanted to have, and from an ideal perspective we'd put the engine out in a way, and in an ecosystem, where that was available to developers, and the best place to do that is Steam," says Jones. "Maybe the only place to do that is Steam." "As we work more with Valve, and as we update our engine, more people will see more around this concept," Jones says. Upcoming next is an asset store for the engine, which will also be handled via Steam.

More Changes Coming

Jones is well aware that CryEngine has a long way to go to become an engine that will satisfy all developers. In fact, at launch, "there are a few things we knew we'd get demands for," he admits. He knows that developers want "more source code access" to "major parts of the engine" such as CryAction and CryInput, for example, and that came in an update today. New subscribers are also "looking for more samples, more content to almost mod from, which is quite different from what we got from the bigger projects," Jones notes. "What we're hearing from the community is more about, 'Give us a starting point, we need some help,'" he says. That is coming too -- Crytek will distribute full game projects with the engine in the future. Jones points out that CryEngine already has accessible world-building tools -- "easier than any other engine" to his mind -- and visual scripting tools, but he's also aware that the tech has a reputation for being hard to work with. To that end, Crytek is "spending a lot of time" working on increasing the engine's ease of use, Jones says. The goal is to become a "more democratized engine," he says. "I can't claim we came up with that idea in any way -- just look at Unity."

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