The ex-Borderlands CEO is making a significant investment in UEFN development

Barnyard Games head of production Mark Cieslar faces a major challenge when creating games (or “islands”) in Unreal Engine for Fortnite: he has no idea where his ball is located.

This issue presents a quandary for a game development studio like the one behind Mega Golf Fun Zone. According to a recent conversation with Game Developer, the ball used in Mega Golf Fun Zone cannot be altered by Barnyard Games in their developer tools. While they can facilitate player interactions with the ball, they lack the ability to make changes to its physics when constructing golf maps.

Cieslar expressed his desire for better control over the ball, exclaiming, “We constructed a golf game, yet we have no jurisdiction over the ball or its whereabouts. We are incapable of pinpointing the ball’s location in our game, a peculiar situation for a game centered around sinking a ball into a hole.

While such a challenge might befall amateur developers working with modding kits, Cieslar and Armstrong are industry professionals. Armstrong, a former lead on the Borderlands series, and Cieslar, previously a technical chief at Daybreak Studios, have fortified Barnyard Games with $3.4 million in initial funding to produce games for Epic’s creator platform.

Related:New dev Barnyard Games formed to produce games within Fortnite

Despite the challenge of a missing ball, this is precisely the type of predicament Cieslar, Armstrong, and their team are eager to tackle right now. Why? Because they genuinely believe that the platform’s short development cycles and integrated Fortnite player base provide a secure haven amidst the volatile state of the game development sector.

Barnyard Games aims to release modest titles on a monthly basis as opposed to massive games every five years

Cieslar and Armstrong take pride in their previous game projects, but when reflecting on their experiences, the exhaustion stemming from prolonged game development or prototyping periods is evident. “All the projects I’ve engaged in spanned over five years of development, with an additional two to five years post-launch,” mentioned Cieslar. “One’s career has limited such endeavors.”

Contrastingly, Armstrong shared that it only took a few weeks to brainstorm solutions and advance Mega Golf Fun Zone to a stage where full production could commence. When the team delved into another game concept by Cieslar, they managed to prototype it in a week, leading them to realize it wasn’t a viable commitment.

Five games made by Barnyard Games

Armstrong emphasized the trade-off in development; Fortnite demands expansive, brightly lit environments. Weaponry, health metrics, and character velocities are fixed (temporarily), compelling developers to design games within these constraints. Armstrong suggested, “This limitation fuels creativity. Without endless possibilities, one is forced to think more creatively.”

The ability to swiftly iterate and learn what games are feasible within these boundaries renders the constraints less confining.

Armstrong’s description might resonate with modders or developers from the Flash game era. Armstrong initiated his gaming career by contributing to the Quake mod Team Fortress. He swiftly contrasts the present user-generated content frenzy with the modding culture of the ’90s and early 2000s, emphasizing how the mod landscape shapes the popular games seen on platforms like UEFN and Roblox.

Businesses inspired by the modding era often aspire to recreate the Team Fortress or Defense of the Ancients phenomenon—moments when a mod evolves into a standalone game. However, each of these mods originated from iterating on preceding popular mods. Without keen observation, the plethora of popular PvP islands in the Fortnite creative sphere may seem as monotonous as the myriad tower defense offshoots found in the custom games category of Warcraft 3.

Barnyard is betting that within that sea of simplistic islands lie the foundations of larger games. Armstrong mentioned that the studio is experimenting with Fortnite‘s discovery tools, steering clear of mainstream trends, with the aspiration of creating something “innovative and captivating” in that realm. He noted, “It’s a risky strategy, but it’s the one that pays off,” highlighting that despite the risks, he and his colleagues are “enjoying themselves” in a year that many others are not.

Epic Games must solve monetization and discovery challenges for developers to secure stability on UEFN

The earnestness with which Armstrong and Cieslar discussed the hindrances they face while creating Fortnite Islands matches their enthusiasm for the benefits. Contrary to the “creative constraints,” these hurdles do not automatically translate to advantages merely by altering one’s perspective.

Firstly, the evident limitation of tools. Developers on UEFN are unable to craft their own firearms, are confined by the fundamental movement speeds and animations of Fortnite, and clearly cannot track down those elusive balls.

Secondly, the challenge of discoverability. Epic’s rival platform Roblox has received criticism for morphing its game marketplace into a pay-to-win visibility maze, while Fortnite‘s Islands risk being overshadowed by creators who comprehend how to manipulate algorithms. Armstrong observed, “I’ve encountered some truly captivating creations that are unfortunately buried due to inadequate thumbnails, failure to captivate the audience instantly, and absence from algorithmically chosen tabs that influence success.”

Lastly, Epic Games’ monetization model for developers crafting Fortnite Islands is not yet stable. Armstrong trusts that UEFN’s development team is fully committed to establishing a developer-friendly ecosystem, but he perceives reluctance on the finance side regarding risk-taking. The present glaring flaw, as he highlighted, is that Epic essentially “double-dips” with its engagement-driven monetization scheme.

The current scenario involves Epic Games allotting 40 percent of net income from Fortnite to developers involved in the Fortnite ecosystem. This equates to a 60 percent share for Epic and 40 percent for a seemingly substantial pool of developers.

In theory, this 40 percent should represent a considerable sum for third-party creators; however, this is not the case. Epic gains from this pool by considering its own Fortnite islands, including the Battle Royale mode, as part of the ecosystem. Epic’s rationale states that the initial 60 percent of revenue covers the costs of “servers, customer service, back-end development, fraud protection, and all the things needed to run this ecosystem,” with the earnings from the 40 percent pool funding future game projects.

Armstrong believes this model deters many adept developers from participating. He proposes that Epic lower the revenue split with creators to 30 percent, while excluding themselves from the pool of beneficiaries. This adjustment, according to Armstrong, would entice professional developers to engage, as profitability becomes a viable outcome.

Nevertheless, Armstrong and Cieslar remain positive about Epic’s vision for game development based on Fortnite. In their perspective, they prefer grappling with the discoverability issues of a new platform and the uncertain revenue model over laboring through extended cycles to compete on PC or consoles.

Epic, Roblox Corp., and other firms offer what developers crave: platforms with established audiences and user-friendly tools enabling easy game access with a single click. The swiftness with which they enhance their technology and establish effective monetization mechanisms will dictate their aptitude to provide a stable foundation for budding studios.

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