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Did you ever wonder why id Software treated game engine licensing business so carelessly? It always seemed so strange, that the company which made some of the most revolutionary game technology in the 90s never actually took this initiative a step further and started selling it to other studios more aggressively. As it turned out, there was never actually a goal to build a licensing business. In an old video interview with Gamespot, devoted to the id Software 20th Anniversary, John Carmack talked extensively about the company’s first steps in the new world of engine sales:
The technology licensing is something that happened almost by accident and against our wishes. After Wolfenstein 3D came out, people started pestering us (in my view!) about licensing the technology. And I didn’t want to be in that business and supporting other people, talking about our tech. We did some early work with our partners. It was really painful for me. We had to do a lot of hand holding and this was not what I signed up for. It’s not why I wanted to be a game programmer. I wanted to be writing new technology and make the next step.
However id Software still licensed some of it technology very successfully. Id Tech was used by hundreds of big studios to build some of the most successful games in history. Yet the studio never treated technology sales as a lucrative part of its business.
Eventually it got to the point when people started coming up with significant enough money to us. The early offers were so slanted on our side. We said: “Ok, you pay us all this money and you can have all of this. You can also have 8 hours of support! I will let you come and talk to me for a day and other than that you’ve got to figure it out on your own, cause I really don’t care. I don’t want to be doing this.
We wound up getting a number of people to do that. Initially through Doom and then more through Quake. And finally, probably more than any others, with Quake 3 licensing. But it was still not something that the company was really supporting. We were still trying to stay a small company. There was a lot of strong opinions about not wanting to bloat over the size. We thought it would ruin the character of the company. We never hired anybody to manage technical support, but we still had a lot of fabulous games, that were created with this technology.
And while the archeological evidence is buried very, very deep, it still gives me a little bit of pride to know that Valve’s titles and the Call of Duty franchise they have their distant ancient toots in the Quake code, that I wrote all those years ago. Certainly there’s very little of the original bits left in there, but it was the foundation that those games were build on.
We know the rest of the story. Id Software went to create Doom 3, Rage and ended up in the hands of Bethesda Softworks. And another FPS-factory Epic Games started licensing it’s technology to companies all over the world, creating Unreal Engine, which is now available for everyone almost for free. But Carmak seemed to have no regrets about it. He was perfectly fine when id has ended up.
Epic started taking licensing very seriously. They devoted significant resources to that market. And really they ate our lunch. They picked the market and put resources forward to address it and we kind of went our own way. I was producing my own technology and not perusing licensing. I really don’t have any regrets about that. It really wasn’t what I wanted to be doing at that time and still isn’t. I don’t have any real regrets over that.
Right now John Carmack is working for Oculus VR, developing some of the best technology for our virtual future. Do you think he made the right choice with the whole licensing business? Would you like to have an opportunity to use of the modern technology, powering the new Doom?