The big picture: Epic is opening up its robust development kit for scaling games across platform to third party developers. This will hopefully open the doors for more player interactions across game platforms... provided that Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft play nice.
One headline that has seemed to crop up over and over again this year in gaming news is cross-play, or allowing gamers to play with each other regardless of platform. Most of the news centered around Sony's reluctance to allow cross-play with the other consoles on Fortnite, a reluctance that turned to acceptance soon after.
Fortnite developer, Epic Games, is announcing that they are allowing access to its suite of cross-platform tools to other game developers for free.
The development kit contains Epic's online services as well as integration with its own Unreal Engine and the highly popular Unity game engine. Epic's cross-platform services will also feature a range of tools including the ability to sync player profiles across platforms including in-game purchases, cross-platform voice chat, as well as party formation and matchmaking. Sony notoriously forced PS4 owners to create new Epic accounts if they wanted to play Fortnite on other platforms.
That last point is important. Epic says that its tools support all seven major platforms (Windows, PS4, Xbox, Switch, Android, iOS, Mac) but only "to the full extent each platform allows per-title". This means that platform holders such as Sony, Nintendo, or Microsoft still retain the ability to block some or all cross-platform features.
Successfully launching and operating a live, online game requires a suite of services that go far beyond the functionality of a traditional game engine. These services are expensive to build, test and harden in real-world conditions, but once operational, are relatively inexpensive to scale to more games and more users.
At Epic, our goal is to help game developers succeed. Throughout 2019, we’ll be launching a large set of cross-platform game services originally built for Fortnite, and battle-tested with 200,000,000 players across 7 platforms. These services will be free for all developers, and will be open to all engines, all platforms, and all stores. As a developer, you’re free to choose mix-and-match solutions from Epic and others as you wish.
This news is just one more in a string of stories about Epic's expansion into other business ventures. Just recently, the company launched its own digital storefront for games that allows developers to keep 88 percent of the money earned. That's a tempting deal that has siphoned a few developers from Steam already. On the other hand, many PC gamers bemoan the addition of yet another launcher they have to install on their computers.
The meteoric success of Fortnite has allowed Epic to scale the game to almost every gaming platform out there. That kind of scale demands robust tools to allow players to seamlessly transition from platform to platform. Opening these cross-platform features to other game developers will hopefully spur more games to play nice across platforms.