Crytek explains why a complete overhaul of its engine and a fresh focus on community sets the company up to run a marathon, not a sprint
CryEngine has changed.
The fifth iteration of the high-end games engine, launched at GDC earlier this year, introduced DirectX 12 support and a new low-overhead renderer, and improved on its particle and advance cloud systems – but it’s not just functionality that has undergone the biggest transformation.
CryEngine V marks a new beginning for Crytek as it attempts to make its technology more accessible than ever – a move that business development director George Scotto (pictured) tells us is an ongoing effort.
“We’re still making changes to the editor, improving the UI to make it more intuitive,” he says. “We have a pretty sizeable team that’s dedicated to improving the workflows, the look and feel, just to make it easier for any developer that’s used to using any tool able to get in and actually start developing right away.”
This isn’t just for the benefit of established users. Crytek is keen to attract new studios from around the world, and it’s targeting studios with a lower profile than those best known for building games with its engine.
“We’re not focused on growing the high-end business right now,” says Scotto. “We’re focused on growing the grassroots effort. We’ve been tailoring our conferences and meetings with indie developers to provide them with workshops, assistance to get going.
“The key is showing them ours is not just a powerful, high-performance engine – it’s also accessible to the masses, and not just in terms of the pricing and business model. We’re still developing this engine to be a high-performance, great-looking engine but we’re also showing that any developer can use our tools to make amazing games.”
After implementing a new C# interface, Crytek found itself working with a number of devs that previously used engines based on the programming language, such as Unity. As a result, several of these studios have ported their game from Unity to CryEngine – and, Scotto points out, with minimal support needed.
Simply opening up the engine isn’t enough to instantly have indies flocking to your business. Crytek has also had to improve on the way it reaches out to and interacts with these studios.
“A lot of feedback we received was based on us perhaps not doing a good job explaining what our tools do, or that certain features exist,” Scotto explains. “There’s been a communications gap.
“So we’re talking to our community a lot more and, for the first time in our history, openly sharing the roadmap, which is a big thing for us.”
As well as this direct communication, Crytek is improving how studios can reach out and solve their own issues with the engine; a big emphasis since the launch of CryEngine V has been making the online documentation more accessible.
“There’s actually thousands of documents already in the system but it was never presented well,” Scotto admits. “That’s been a big focus for us. We have a growing documentation team that is working very closely with the development team to ensure that not only is the documentation easy to read, but it’s updated properly.”
Video tutorials are a priority, to the point where Crytek hired someone from the community for the job; Colin Bishop was brought into the fold after creating video lessons of his own thanks to his knowledge of the engine.
“We want to empower the community to create documentation and tutorials on their own, so we’ve done a lot of work with them,” Scotto continues. “If they create a feature, or they’re an expert in a certain area, we’ve reached out to them and had them provide us with documentation or even videos.”
Can we be the No.1 engine? I don’t think so, but we can be a healthy competitor.
Crytek prides itself on having the most powerful engine when it comes to VR. In fact, most of the enhancements made for CryEngine V were geared specifically towards virtual reality.
“That’s obviously been our focus in 2016 – we’ve gone very big on VR performance,” the firm’s George Scotto confirms. “We’ve really pushed the envelope in VR. You can see that with our titles like The Climb, which is an Oculus exclusive, and Robinson: The Journey, which is a PlayStation VR launch title.”
The firm is also keen to establish CryEngine as the benchmark for virtual reality. Crytek is helping a firm called Basemark with its new VR Score programme to create a tool that will help end users quickly identify whether their PC is ready to run virtual reality titles.
For Scotto, it harks back to the engine’s early successes when internal Crytek titles were used as a benchmark for high-end PC gaming.
“There was always the saying among PC gamers: ‘Can it run Crysis?’”
The final major change this year has been the business model. With the arrival of CryEngine V, Crytek dropped the $10 subscription it introduced in 2014 and adopted a ‘pay what you want’ approach.
“People think it’s a bold move,” Scotto says of the response so far. “We don’t believe in taking people’s revenue. We didn’t think people would like us taking five per cent of their revenue. I know that’s a strong point for Unreal, but if a game is very successful that’s a revenue stream you don’t want to lose.
“Committing people to subscriptions, which Unity always did, was also not something we wanted to do any more. We think this is a good model: the platform has to develop over time before we see a large revenue stream coming from it. As long as we continue to make the experience enjoyable and the engine powerful yet easy to use, eventually people will pay us more money.”
Herein lies the central objective for all Crytek’s changes this year: to establish CryEngine as more than a tool, as a development platform. The firm wants devs to join in with its evolution, communicate and share ideas with fellow games makers, and potentially hire and work with each other on projects.
“We’re trying to show them the real value of the engine,” Scotto says. “People are fair. If people respect the company, the brand, if they see value, they will pay.”
There are some that will argue these are efforts to catch-up with leading rivals Unity and Unreal. However, Scotto insists that direct competition with these two is not Crytek’s priority.
“We’re not looking to win the sprint, we’re looking to win the marathon,” he explains. “Each engine has a strength. Competition is healthy, and there’s plenty of room for companies to carve out a niche and become successful or own a particular vertical of the engine business.
“Our focus is to grow market share, and to that end we’re making it easier for people to access and improve the experience. Can we be the No.1 engine? I don’t think so, but we can be a healthy competitor. The market’s big enough to accommodate that.”