After the release of Lumberyard 1.2 I feel that it is time to draw some lines and make a serious picture of the game engines' landscape, this because I believe that the other players will need to revise completely their licensing and pricing approach to be able to keep up with Amazon.
Let's start by quickly picturing this new beast engine for those that didn't look into it yet. The very first question is: "Is this CryEngine?" The answer is "not just that, it's an improved branch of it". Basically this is the full pre-GDC-2016 CryEngine, stripped of some legacy dependency, plus AWS, Twitch, Double Helix and the ability to publish not only on PC and consoles, but also on iOS and Android and to manage FBX assets and a better, lightweight UI/2D interface.
Lumberyard is indeed a AAA+, well established and improved game engine, funded and maintained by Amazon AWS and Amazon Game Studios, therefore, because of its obvious market positioning from a technical standpoint, what become key factors are two other elements:
- Price tag
- Licensing restrictions
Amazon gives Lumberyard to the world in full source code and for free, no royalties and no strings attached but one: in case your product needs a web service backend then you must use Amazon Web Services. That's it, no other restrictions beside the obvious liability exclusions about medical devices and the like. So, how this is different? Why I define this a game changer? Because this is not just 100% free, not just royalty free, not just released with the full source code, but also any developer can actually create any type of application! That's right, anything, no licensing strings attached! This is a brand new revolutionary approach, never seen before in the game engines' space.
In Lumberyard's terms of service there are no restrictions about the type of application you can make with the engine, and that is strongly maintained in their FAQ:
Q. Can I use Lumberyard for non-game purposes, such as architecture, simulations, and animated movies?
A. Yes, please do.
This is something completely new in the engines' space, something that will generate a shift toword Lumberyard unless other engines make substantial changes. Let's have a look to the other main players.
In CryEngine 5, Crytek has implemented a free policy (pay what you want and no royalty) and they now give the source code as well, but they impose a huge legal limitation, the worst on the engines' market:
2.4. Restrictions on Use: Crytek reserves all rights not expressively granted in this Agreement. Without limitation, Licensee shall not:
- use the CryEngine for the development of any product other than Games, including without limitation:
- military projects
- simulation (technical, scientific, other);
- Serious Games.
That's right: you can create games but not any of the non-games that can actually make you some real money! If you want to do so then you have to pay a special license to Crytek, and that is all but cheap! Basically they don't allow you to make what you want with the engine.
And what about Unity? Beside the fact that is not really free and that now they are moving to subscription only model, they don't release the source code and they have legal restrictions similar to those imposed by Crytek:
Streaming and Cloud Gaming Restrictions
You may not directly or indirectly distribute interactive Licensee Content by means of streaming or broadcasting where Licensee Content is primarily executed on a server and transmitted as a video stream or via low level graphics render commands over the open Internet to end user devices without a separate license from Unity. This restriction does not prevent end users from remotely accessing Licensee Content from an end user device that is running on another end user device.
Embedded Software Restriction
You may not directly or indirectly distribute Licensee Content installed on more than 1,000 electronic devices or systems if such Licensee Content provides the user interface or primary functionality of such electronic device or system without a separate license from Unity. This restriction does not prevent you from distributing Licensee Content pre-installed on personal computers and consumer electronic devices such as mobile phones, tablets, televisions or set top boxes as long as such Licensee Content does not provide the user interface or primary functionality of such device.
You may not distribute or publish any Licensee Content in connection with any Gambling Activities without a separate license from Unity.
So Unity Technology and Crytek don't want you to make gambling games nor other profitable non-games unless you pay them another type of quite costly license. At this point we are left with the last but not least one in the restricted circle of AAA+ game engines: Unreal Engine 4.
UE4 is free and comes with full source code, but it also comes with royalty on the gross earning produced by the apps made with UE4, so is not free at all. And what about the restrictions? Here as well we find a similar situation but only excluding gambling:
You may not engage in any activity with respect to the Licensed Technology, including as incorporated into a Product, (1) for any gambling-related activities or Products (as defined by law in the jurisdiction of use);... ... ...
The take out from the overall picture is, in my opinion, that there is no reason to stick with CryEngine, UE4 or Unity unless they change their licensing and pricing approach.
Sure, Unity Asset Store is great, but also crowded with a lot of irrelevant items, often really old, and it's no longer an unique selling point: UE4 and CryEngine both have a similar marketplace now, quite nice ones I have to say, and Lumberyard will obviously have one as well, and at that stage it will position itself as the #1 game engine, at least this is my opinion 😉