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What to do about Game Engines with Rez Graham and Bryant Francis: Game Developer Podcast Ep. 42

On today's podcast, we discuss a few hot topics in game engines: including Unity's bid to rebuilt trust with developers and the case for rolling one's own tech.

April 30, 2024

Music by Mike Meehan. Produced by Jordan Mallory.

Selecting an engine is an important moment in every developer’s journey towards finally shipping their game, but when is the right engine actually the one you make yourself? What are the downsides of throwing your lot in with an off-the-shelf solution, and what can happen when you depend fully on another company’s product to make your own? 

In this two-part episode of the Game Developer Podcast, Editor in Chief Danielle Riendeau finds the answers to these questions (and others!) by speaking with Rez Graham, senior AI programmer and Director of Game Programming at the Academy of Art University’s School of Game Development, as well as Game Developer Senior Editor Bryant Francis.

In late 2023, many developers found themselves in a nightmare scenario—Unity was to begin charging developers for the use of its engine on a per-user-install basis. To understand why this (eventually somewhat walked-back) change was so enormously impactful, and how Unity is still attempting to recover from the resulting fallout, Danielle spoke with our own Bryant Francis. 

“They clearly projected originally that they could introduce this fee and it could behave a certain way in their financials, and therefore they would be able to move forward with their business in a certain way. That was not the case,” Francis said.

Related:Interim CEO Jim Whitehurst explains Unity's product-led path to profitability

“They then spent the first quarter laying off about 10% of employees across the globe, and I believe that came out to about 1800 people laid off, which followed two years of cuts that came in a couple hundred at a time. So the job losses at the company for the last two years have [already] been significant.”

Later, in the second half of our episode, Rez Graham contextualizes Unity’s situation by looking back at another historic instance of leadership within the games industry.

“The CEO of Nintendo [Satoru Iwata], before he passed away, who famously took a pay cut rather than laying off a bunch of people,” Graham said, “I think that's the industry that we need, right?”

“Companies kind of don't realize, it seems like, that look – your most valuable asset is not actually the tech or any of that stuff, it’s the people,” he continues. “So why would you let those people go? You should do everything you can to fight for them. That includes better wages, that includes 'maybe we don’t crunch everyone for 200 hours.’”

Regardless of the circumstances that lead to Unity’s disastrous revamp, the resulting kerfuffle served as an important wakeup call for the developers that had come to rely on it: All that hard work could be gone in an instant, should the powers that be decree it.

Thankfully, Graham is a fount of knowledge when it comes to rolling your own game engine. Building off his half-hour talk at this year’s Independent Games Summit, The Case for Making Your Own Engine, Graham works through the issue of when/how to choose an engine (or not), the inevitability of fighting the engine that you did choose, the importance of understanding the underlying engineering that powers whatever you’re working with, and even a few cautionary tales from the MMO industry.

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