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Epic moves to shake up how games get made

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Unreal Engine 4 demo (Credit: Epic Games)

Epic Games, whose Unreal Engine has powered some of the biggest video games ever made, is making some major changes as we begin a new console cycle -- and it could have a ripple effect on the rest of the industry.

The developer unveiled a new pricing strategy for its cutting-edge Unreal Engine 4 at the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco on Wednesday, abandoning the traditional licensing model for a flat monthly fee and a small percentage of any retail sales.

That might sounds like a lot of insider hooey, but it could have a huge impact on the games you're playing in a couple years.

Up until now, anyone who wanted the graphically-impressive Unreal Engine had to pay a big up-front fee to license it. often in the hundreds of thousands - or millions - of dollars. Under the new model, they'll pay just $19 per month and a 5 percent royalty on revenue.

That likely won't impact triple-A game makers (who can still purchase a license and forgo the royalty), but it opens up the field for independent and mobile developers, meaning apps could be a lot better looking soon.

Epic founder and CEO Tim Sweeney told GDC attendees that as the industry has evolved, the company had to rethink its business model.

"The Unreal Engine remains an awesome venue for building high-quality games, but we've realized we haven't covered the depth of what the engine is capable of," he said. "The future of the engine is really inspired by a lot of the changes in the game industry."

The move also pits Epic against Unity, whose engine has been a de facto choice of indie and app developers. Unity was used to create several well-known titles, including Temple Run, Plague Inc., Rust and The Room Two.

"It's a bold step for Epic but we think it's an appropriate one given the changes to the game industry," Sweeney said. "It's grown into an open and democratic [place]."

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