Epic Games today announced it will be releasing a free cross-platform networking software development kit (SDK) for games. The SDK will allow developers to leverage the same server infrastructure used by Fortnite, for free.
Players will use the same login as Fortnite and the new Epic Games store, so for many gamers no new account would need to be created.
Currently, VR developers can leverage each platform’s multiplayer networking system for free, but developing a cross-platform solution requires hosting or renting servers. For example, a developer can add multiplayer to an Oculus Store title for free. However, if they wanted their Oculus players to play with their Daydream players, they’d have to do this at their own expense. The same situation applies to Steam and PlayStation.
This leads many developers of multiplayer VR games to either release on only one platform, or to have separate multiplayer pools. But Epic’s solution could change this as it would give developers a free and reliable solution to scale their mulitplayer across multiple platforms.
The platform is planned to release for Windows in Q2 2019. In Q3 achievements and voice chat should be added, and support for macOS. Some time later in the year, matchmaking and parties will be added, as well as support for Android and PlayStation (as well as iOS, Xbox, and Switch). Though not mentioned specifically, Oculus Go, Oculus Quest, and Daydream headsets are Android-based devices.
In 2020 the company intends to add advanced features like anti-cheating measures and support for user-generated content (perhaps similar to Steam Workshop).
The SDK will be natively supported in Unreal Engine, will have a Unity plugin, and can be added to other engines with a C SDK. It runs on the same infrastructure used by Fortnite, hosted on the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud.
So why is Epic releasing this for free? It’s likely to entice both players and developers into their new Epic Games store ecosystem. If a developer uses the SDK their game will be already suitable for release on Epic Games, and all their players will need to create an Epic Games account. Along with the higher revenue share Epic provides to developers, this could make Epic Games a serious competitor to Valve’s Steam in the long term. For VR, it should simply make developers’ lives easier.