At the 2020 DICE Summit in Las Vegas Tuesday, Epic Games founder and CEO Tim Sweeney was blunt about the current state of the video game business, and what the game industry needs to do see real growth in the decade ahead.
Tim Sweeney opened the Dice Summit game event in Las Vegas with a call to make the industry more open and liberate it from the monopolistic practices of platform owners such as Google and Apple.
“Over the years, we’ve seen a lot of precedents announced as ground rules of industry. We need to step back and take stock of them,” Sweeney told the crowd. “Over the next decade, we’ll see the continuing trend of gaming becoming first class social activity. Games are as much a communication platform as an entertainment experience.”
As a result, Sweeney said that games have become major platforms for discourse, “whether we like it or not.”
“As an industry, we’ll have special responsibilities we’ll have to take very seriously,” he said.
Sweeney also noted that games are becoming an “economy of their own,” noting examples such as Minecraft and Fortnite.
Though player spending in Fortnite was down in 2019 from 2018’s record $2.4 billion, the free-to-play game still generated $1.8 billion last year, topping all other titles.
Another feature that Sweeney sees as the future of gaming is cross-play, the ability to play games with other players regardless of the platform they are using.
“What we all really want and need to accept is equal access to all customers and give up our attempts to create our own private wall guard or private monopoly,” said Sweeney. “In Fortnite, the player who spends with friends plays for twice as long and spends more money. Cross-platform is the future and we all have to do our part.”
Turning to the “bad and the ugly” aspects of the industry, Sweeney noted the “customer adversarial model.”
“We have businesses that profit by doing their customers harm,” said Sweeney. “Facebook and Google have been one of the leaders in this … They provide free services then make you pay for their service in loss of privacy and loss of freedom.”
Sweeney said it was “critical” to move away from adversarial models for the games and tech industries at large.
Stressing the need for mobile platforms to “open up” for publishers to freely put their products on their marketplace, Sweeney said his company had tested the current system by submitting Fortnite to the Google Play store. “Fortnite was rejected … just because it used a different payment method than was supported,” he said. “That needs to change, and it will change.”
It’s no secret that Sweeney has personally butt heads with Google recently. Sweeny did not—and still does not—agree with the Google Play’s 30/70 revenue split so the company opted to not release the game on the storefront and instead circumvented the store by offering a game download directly from Epic’s website. “What we have in the case of Android is a fake open platform,” he said, calling its practices “devious.”
Sweeney called Android a “fake open system” for putting up barriers in front of users when Epic Games wanted to enable players to sideload Fortnite directly from the Epic Games site, rather than through the Google Play store. Sweeney said that Google put up “scary” pop-ups in front of users about the risks of sideloading (viruses, malware) and other steps that users had to engage in order to get Fortnite on Android. Epic also had “tough discussions” with Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo to make Fortnite available as a crossplay title (meaning you can play against people on other systems, and your progress, items, and so on are available regardless of device) across the platforms.
He also railed against Apple’s App Store cut, which is also 30 percent, calling that ratio “completely decoupled from any cost equation whatsoever” when compared to other businesses in other industries that build huge margins on a tiny fraction of that share.
The Epic Games Store, on the other hand, takes an 12 percent cut, a share that Sweeney said Epic could “build a very profitable business around.”
He also emphasized that players should have the ability to buy a game on one platform and own—and play it—across all devices on which it’s available with other people no matter what platform they’re on.
“Cross platform and cross platform ecosystems are the future,” Sweeney said.
He also took time to target lootbox-based design and pay-to-win models, asking the roomful of developers at the Vegas-based DICE, “What do we want to be when we grow up?…Do we want to be Las Vegas, or worldwide, highly-respected creators of entertainment products that customers can trust?”
Sweeney eventually merged his open market perspective into commentary about game companies’ role in the current political discourse in U.S., coming to the conclusion, “we as companies need to divorce ourselves from politics,” particularly when it comes to player discourse and content creation.
“We have to create a very clear separation between church and state,” he added, saying that “there’s no reason to drag divisive [politics] like that into gaming at all.” He also laughed at the notion of someone allowing political affiliations to dictate where they might buy a chicken sandwich, a not so subtle reference to fast food chain Chick-Fil-A’s past anti-gay political contributions and commentary.
“We need to respect gamer rights and freedoms,” said Sweeney. “…We’re all going to have to be steadfast in fighting for these things.”
(Sources: VentureBeat, GamaSutra, IGN, THR)