What a day. This week is devoted (yet again) to checking out game engines – the buy costs, the add ons, the licensing fees, the tech support, the communities, and whether or not they’ll support TerraX’s specs. It has actually been a pretty dynamic experience so far but I’m bone weary from juggling the boards, salespeople, and tech data from 8 gazillion different possible approaches to the game engine.
We had a 4 pronged approach to checking out game engines – sales, community, costs, and support. While we’re still in the midst of gathering data, I have learned enough in the process to safely say the following:
Salespeople mean well but…
Us: “Hi – we’re looking for a game engine for an MMO.”
Sales: “Our game engine has some super examples of released games… (lists 3 single player FPS games)
Us: “Those are great but I’m looking for a game engine that supports MMO’s. Can you give us any examples of your engine in a MMO build?
Sales: “Sure! (sends 2 links that 440 on us).
We got a lot of very lovely screenshots and YouTube videos, and waves of emails going back and forth. This kept up until The Phone Call which was basically the salesperson actually running numbers for initial buy, licensing, and launch percentages. The very best of the salespeople had tech data for us and were able to run different scenarios – the not so great relied heavily on YouTube and a lot of graphics in their emails.
Community is overall an astounding source of data regarding an engine but…
You do have to do a lot of reading. A lot. You need to read threads completely on the forums, check out the independent user sites, and make sure that you answer the myriad pm’s and emails that come your way when you start asking about their game engine. The best communities were the larger more commercial game engines and the worst were the indie ones. This surprised me greatly as I would have thought the opposite. Hero had a stellar community and one fellow that pm’d me with some serious compare and contrast details while Unity had a forums member who decided I was unqualified to ask about game engines because he didn’t like how I asked about them.
The best part of this process has been talking to the communities and the worst part has been talking to the communities. The larger game engine communities seemed to understand that the process of making such a large decision involves a wide range of people within a company and the smaller game engine communities seemed to be much more likely to hop into debates about unlikely scenarios or in the case of the Unity guy, crawl the web and pull out random items to wave as proof of my unfitness.
Whatever game engine we use we’re going to be neck deep in the community. We’re not isolationists and I see nothing wrong with using the tried and true talent already in place in a game engine’s community as a pool to hire from and a resource to learn from. Just reading through the threads on various issues and workarounds is invaluable and anyone that says a real game team would never stoop to interacting with a game engine community clearly does not understand the amount of sheer work involved in building a MMO. After spending serious time wading through forums and sites created by users and dev’s of game engines I value the members of a game engine’s community enormously.
Costs ranged widely and...
We found open source engines that were free but likely to cost more in programming hours, smaller indie engines that had buy fees but no launch fees, ones with licensing fees and no launch, all the way up to full on buy fee plus license fees plus launch fees. Add ons, update fees, and a myriad of other options make the costing process intricate at best and truthfully it’s a moot point in some ways. We need to have a game engine that can support TerraX and we need to have the engine balanced against the overall finances of the game so that we can pay back investors and make enough to plow back into the game for the first expansion.
The overall cost of the engine (initial buy + licensing + addons + expansion fees + support fees + launch %) has to balance out between what we can afford and what we need for the game. While we’ve encountered one engine that is out of our price range the rest are not and at this point it’s more about the tech of the engine and the level of support and quality of the community more than the price.
Support is quite consistent as far as what is offered.
Support seems to be offered in levels, with access to the dev’s at the far end of the process. Most game engines offered a knowledge base, then the community if that did not work, then access to dev’s via forums, then actual access to dev’s. Some engines had pay for access programs in place, others focused on pushing the forums/community as the best way to get support. A few salespeople pushed hiring someone that knows their engine extremely well as the best means of “support”. It seems to me that if we’re paying 40k for your game engine then my team should be able to reach a dev on the phone…
Sales, community, cost and support. It’s a lot of research and truthfully, we’re not at a point where we feel comfortable making a decision yet. That means... you guessed it. More research.
Is it wrong of me to dream of an independent game engine creator floating down from the heavens with a NDA in one hand and a video of their perfect game engine in action in the other?