Why do game companies build their own game engines?

Many videogames have been made with a proprietary game engine, such as Halo (Halo Engine), Serious Sam (Serious Engine), Skyrim (Creation Engine), Source Engine (Portal, Half Life) and so on…
There are a lot of game engines, with award-winning technology… Why spend a one more year to build a new game engine?

I know of at least five reasons:

  1. History: There weren’t as many good engines easily available ten or twenty years ago, so at the time, I had to start your own. Now, I already have a lot of content and know-how on the in-house engine, so the cost of switching would be too high.

  2. Capability: I want to achieve some overall gameplay effect that’s not available/possible in the current engines. For example, Unreal Engine doesn’t allow for deterministic simulation; networked games like RTS-es often need this. (Things like “engine too large” or “graphics requirements too high” or “my target is not supported” go in this bucket.)

  3. Economics: Either I have a dozen people working for free, and I can’t afford $240/month for licensing, or I plan to sell a lot, and I think 5% off the top is too much.

  4. Desire: I want to learn how to do it from scratch on my own. The goal here is not to ship the best possible game the soonest possible, but instead to learn programming/development/art/workflow.

  5. Competition: I want to license my engine to other developers who have the same needs as me, and I have some competitive advantage over other engines for this market segment.

Every engine involves compromises based on the developer’s requirements for the games they want to build. If the existing engines don’t support things they need to write the game they want, writing a new engine may be their only option. Engines can be modified, but that can involve a lot of work, to the point that it may be better just to write a new engine.

The typical license fee, per title, is about a million bucks.

That’s real money best invested in custom engine development in house.


As you say it’s award-winning technology and secret sauce the other guy does not have.

In my opinion the main reason are the fees that you have to pay, because all games that you mentioned made a lot of money and as the other already said, instead of paying it to another company, you can invest it into own stuff (developing a own engine) :slight_smile:

Wonder why DICE don’t license their engine like how EPIC does?

Can you all imagine how epic the frostbite engine in Battlefield 4 is? well I heard net code is buggy but the graphics is really top notch. Wonder if UE4 visuals are better than Frost bite?

Tons of reasons:

Core focus, if you only need to release to a limited set of platforms like PC / Console then you’d specialise the engine to deal with that. Issue with Unity and Unreal alike is they are spread thinly across multiple platforms, trying to deal with the shear amount of complicated tech to allow things like open worlds and specialised toolsets like city building procedural generators is tough when you have to try and get all the bugs fixed for android and IOS.

You’ll know the engine inside and out, you don’t have to learn the API your development team made it. If any changes / upgrades or bugs need fixing you can tackle it quickly and / or give training to teams who use it.

Some times it can be cheaper to do so, Source code for Unity is expensive and I gather waving the fee for Epic isn’t dirt cheap either…

It’s good for marketing, showing off what your AAA all powerful rendering engine can do will bring excitement. Yes we all know games are more than OMG GRFX, but it does attract people… Look at CE…

@ Walking Dead

Simple, Dice don’t want to deal with all the expensive support and customer service costs neither do they want to bend to pressure for likes of Android and IOS which costs a fortune to implement and support. UE4 is not on the same playing field as Frostbite in terms of rendering tech, FB is truly amazing and the last I saw before I left they were doing some amazing partnerships and some truly next gen rendering tech. Not to say UE can’t catch up or exceed, there not a million miles away… Unity doesn’t have a chance…

Got to admit, the toolsets aren’t exactly pleasing to the eye… Efficient yes, ugly certainly :)… Not that you really care what the front end of the engine looks like.

From a developer response on reddit from a year or so ago: They use some expensive third party software to handle certain aspects which they cannot redistribute without paying a ton of money.

yeah if current FB looks this good one can imagine what their next gen stuff will be like.

I dunno everytime I see this video it amazes me as if its the first time I am seeing it. But who knows maybe UE4 might reach same quality as Frost bite through updates yeah?

If you guys could use frostbite 3 engine what game would you develop?




Mostly because the era haven’t come in time for them.

Appears to me that everyone relies on experience and do what worked before. Unreal Engine 4 seems trying to change that. Imagine how will look Unreal Engine in 2 years? Yeah… I doubt after 2 years people will do their engines anymore…

That’s why I’ve started learning UE4, because it seems as a good investment to learn. Something that will have presence today as well as the future. They just have to keep pushing the limits and everything will be fine.

Dunno. 1mln is not that much. It might be enough to hire 5 or 6 software enegineers/programmers for a year. Maybe.

Of course we are talking about creating AAA+ grade engine like UE4, CE3, Anvil, Dunia.

With such small budget you probabaly won’t be able to get even basics working. You be better off licensing existing engine for this money and focus on creating game.

I agree but on other hand… If you predict that your game will make enough money to make 5% royalty problem… Then I guess you have money to buy custom license or develop custom engine.
For rest of the people 5% royalty is good deal.

What I really see as big deal with UE4, is that the source is available very cheaply and for free if you are educational institution.

Internal tools like Frostbite or Anvil get tracktion inside big publishers/developers because there is much shared source and exntension (look how Bioware repurposed Frosbite 3 for RPGs, and now that work is available for everyone inside EA).

Now imagine UE4 in few years when people really start add features to engine via source access. Anything from rendering to new tools. Or in forms of plugins, so they can drop maintenance burden on Epic (;.

Crowd sourced development. I say, this is future (;.

Uh, Source was evolved from GoldSrc which was evolved from Quake 1 I believe.

Assuming that not every one is into doing the NextGen look our crew would have been more than happy with continuing our retro look using the idtech3 engine.

As an opinion how a game looks is a development decision of having the guts to push limits and not an engine limitation and there are plenty of examples that proves UE4 is up to the task. My impression is most games are five years behind as far as technology goes in general.

As for looks I suspect that once real time ray trace is figured out then we will all see something you could say is better.

There’s a similar thread on with some very good points:

Well I’m using the estimated cost of an Unreal engine license based on the license Epic put up as a prize for the do something Unreal contest. Add the amortized costs it’s going to be much more than that but know one will ever know as licensing details is one of those NDA things. Not a good idea to have companies running around blabbing how much they paid.

What it all comes down to, I think, is some bean counter using some kind of doing it cheaper software came up with some over complicated reasons and plans as to how to recover their development costs amortized over a five year period.

The upside though if not for the bean counter would there be a UE4 in it’s current form today? :wink:

I’m moving to wherever you are, even in the higher paid places within Europe you could hire 15 - 20 developers for a million a year. When I worked in AAA engine dev I got paid a fair amount, but nothing spectacular… I know exactly what they did with FB ;)…

Yes, it’s been my experience that software engineers are paid more in the US than in Europe (and much more than in Japan, for example.)

Separately: How good something looks is much more dependent on how good your artists are, than how good your engine is. As long as certain basics are solved (a good lightmap baker, a good shadowing solution, a good shader model, and a good character/animation art path) then you can throw talented artists at any problem and make it look great!

If I could spend $1M on programmers, artists, or an engine, I’d spend most of it on artists.

I disagree with that to a certain extent, yes you do need good artists that’s a given. But if were talking realistic 3D graphics, then it’s been available for over a decade and more if were talking off-line renderers. The tech in commercial high end modelling and film is extremely complex and it shows how good a cube and a lightsource can look.

Real time engines have always been the limiting factor and will continue to be until either hardware catches up or somebody finds a clever new way to do things. Obviously no accounting for sucky artwork though…

You can’t show great artwork in a bad renderer with poor tech and expect it to look good, neither can you expect a great renderer to look awesome with poor artwork. Like everything in games, it goes hand in hand…