Tech Behind Hit Games Comes to iPhone

Originally published December 14, 2010

By Ian Sherr

The technology behind hit videogames such as “Batman: Arkham Asylum“ and “Gears of War 3″ is coming to iPhone and iPad game developers this week, in another sign that mobile gaming is booming on Apple‘s platforms.

Epic Games is planning to release an updated version of its game-development tools, known as the Unreal Development Kit, to the public Thursday. The kit, which is free to download, will include new tools to create high-quality graphics and animations on iOS, effectively simplifying and speeding up the development processes for games. Epic doesn’t charge license fees to tinker with the kit nor to make free games. But, if developers want to sell their apps, they have to pay a $99 licensing fee and 25% royalties after the first $5,000 in sales.

“Apple’s App Store is the most vibrant market for mobile gaming,” said Epic co-founder Mark Rein. “If you’re going to make a game for a mobile device, and you want to make the most money, you’re nuts not to make it for iOS.”

Over the past few years, Apple has added technologies to improve the visual capabilities of the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. It also has marketed games heavily in both advertising campaigns and in its stores. The Cupertino, Calif.-based electronics maker also hired prominent videogame maker Graeme Devine last year to help manage relationships with top game makers, such as Epic. Devine recently left Apple to create his own games for the company’s mobile devices.

Apple has sold more than 125 million devices using its iOS operating system, strongly competing against the Nintendo DS, which has shipped roughly 135 million units, and the PlayStation Portable, which has sold more than 62 million units.

The results of building on the Apple platform have been good so far for Epic, too.

The company recently released “Infinity Blade,” a fighting game that Mr. Rein said could help usher more games with high-end graphics to iOS. Industry pundits have already pegged Infinity Blade‘s sales at more than $1.5 million in its first four days on the market. Apple’s Game Center social network lists more than 300,000 users playing the game at $5.99 a pop.

So, what about Google‘s Android operating system?

Mr. Rein said he largely agrees with id Software‘s John Carmack, who recently outlined his concerns about the Android platform in an interview with Ars Technica. Among them: the wide variety of Android phones available on the market makes writing applications that can work across the board challenging, and Google‘s Android Marketplace doesn‘t allow for applications above a certain file size, a definite problem for both Infinity Blade and id Software‘s “RAGE,“ which are rather large downloads.

But, Mr. Rein said, he expects Google will come up with solutions to those problems over time.

(Published December 14, 2010, in The Wall Street Journal Digits Blog, here.)