Q&A with Epic Games and NVIDIA on the NVIDIA Edge Program

dana_fredEpic Games and NVIDIA recently announced the NVIDIA Edge Program, an initiative by both companies to recognize and reward outstanding individuals and teams in the development community by providing them with top-of-the-line hardware to enhance their work. The first recipients of the NVIDIA Edge Program were announced last week. Learn more about the winners here.

ESA spoke with Epic Games Senior Marketing Manager Dana Cowley and NVIDIA Director of System Software Fredrik Liljegren to discuss this exciting, new collaboration.

Responses have been edited for brevity but not content.

Q: Could you tell us about the NVIDIA Edge Program and how this partnership came about?

Fredrik: I think it was primarily driven from the Epic side. I started my relationship with Epic at the end of last year when I became the key contact for Epic inside of NVIDIA, and Dana presented this program to me. Dana can come in with more of the history of the program. After Dana presented it to me we discussed it internally with a lot of people and we felt it was a great way to promote great content out there and highlight both NVIDIA GPU technology as well as Epic’s Unreal Engine.

Dana: While NVIDIA is tackling much more than just computer graphics these days, we designed this program to focus on exactly that. About a year ago, we were talking and looking at the overlap of each of our bespoke programs, such as our Unreal Dev Grants, which we’ll talk about later. Fredrik has programs he can speak to as well. Bottom line, we realized there is a lot of overlap in the types of initiatives, team profiles, and content that we find interesting. For example, now that Unreal Engine has been out in the wild for free including full source code for a couple of years, we’re seeing many small teams making great use of the engine and they’re leaping ahead. They’re making beautiful games with high production value and they’re shipping them and being very successful. The biggest challenge for developers, though, at least from what we’re hearing, is that they desperately need enhanced visibility and marketing for their work, and so this program is designed to help provide that and to reward them for creative and technical achievement.

Q: Why did you come up with this initiative? Do you think there is a growing need to support existing talent in the video game industry?

Fredrik: As Dana explained, discovery is becoming a big issue with these smaller developers. With Epic’s decision to provide the Unreal Engine for free, more teams are able to make better projects with bigger toolsets. With better hardware from NVIDIA they can create very cool-looking stuff, but how do they get this stuff in front of people and how can we get these teams exposure? We wanted to help them with this through this initiative and partnering with Epic seemed like the natural way to go, given our deep relationship.

Q: Could you elaborate on the application process? How can interested members of the video game industry participate?

Dana: Anyone interested in participating can simply share their content on social media on sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and they can tag our channels @UnrealEngine ‏and @NVIDIAGameDev. We’ve specified that folks interested in this program should use NVIDIA’s developer channel because it’s focused on developers in the interactive 3D space, with special emphasis on game developers. At Epic we track all the folks who share on social media with the channels tagged, and then we collate, review, and curate the content. We then hash out nominations, which is always tough because there’s so much great stuff out there. We then share info with NVIDIA and we all roll out our respective publicity to recognize the work and then we get shiny new GPUs into developers’ hands. It’s just that easy.

Q: How long does the program run, and what details can you share about prizes?

Fredrik: The program is scheduled to run for a year, so from July 2017 to June 2018. We’re considering expanding the program if it’s deemed a success, but for now it’s a 12-month program. From NVIDIA, the three monthly winners receive a GTX 1080 or a GTX 1080Ti graphics card.

Dana: Naturally, we’ll throw in extra little gifts on the Epic side, like Unreal Engine merchandise and such. We ship these beautiful GPUs in large NVIDIA branded boxes, and our team packs in lots of goodies. The recognition is important to these teams, too, and we get that. We promote them on social media, blog about them, and spotlight them in our weekly Unreal Engine livestream every Thursday, which airs at 11:00 a.m. PDT (2:00 p.m. EDT) across YouTube, Twitch, and Facebook.

Fredrik: NVIDIA does the same. We promote in the applicable channels on social media or other channels, like our blogs, to give the exposure we think is necessary for these teams to be shown more than they usually are.

Q: Do you have any plans to follow up with the winners to continually support them?

Fredrik: As Dana said before, we both have other programs we run currently. We have something called the NVIDIA Indie Spotlight, which offers similar exposure to upcoming developers, but we created the Edge Program to continue helping out smaller teams. If the winners or the applicants who come through the NVIDIA Edge Program might benefit from either of the other programs we recommend they apply to them, and while it’s not a guarantee they will be accepted it is more likely they’ll be considered for these other programs as well.

Dana: That’s exactly right. As part of running this program, because we are constantly sharing our thoughts about this amazing content, some of the applicants will naturally funnel into NVIDIA’s Indie Spotlight and also into Unreal Dev Grants, which is basically a no-strings-attached cash grant. We see teams making awesome stuff with Unreal and we send them money and don’t tell them how to spend it, we see potential and want to help folks get a leg up. In addition, here at Epic as part of daily business with the engine, we’re constantly making introductions for developers and potential partners which also gives our team exposure to potential projects deserving of more support. It helps feed the ecosystem. At Epic we also help independent developers by sponsoring Indie MEGABOOTH, Train Jam, IndieCade, Boston Festival of Indie Games, the list goes on.

Q: Are your respective organizations involved in other similar initiatives to foster the next generation of video game engineers and designers?

Dana: We have a community spotlight section in our weekly livestream along with features on the Epic Games launcher where people access our products and can see highlighted community content. We also have an #EpicFriday sizzle reel which goes out once a month, and that often is heavily stacked with student-made content. In addition, we have a wonderful education community, with many leading schools and extremely talented students engaged. If anyone is interested in being featured in our official content or through these programs, interact with us on social media! We also have a Work In Progress forum that’s really active, and we’re always on the hunt for promising new content there.

Fredrik: Our other program, NVIDIA Spotlight is a marketing support program, and the application process is a webpage people can go to and apply. We also have a team of content managers that monitors tons of different channels for cool content and reaches out to teams we want include in the program. NVIDIA Spotlight is a free program where we offer marketing support so while there’s no cash grant or hardware directly associated with the program, it might come with expanded partnerships. Its primary focus is to help teams get more exposure for their projects.

Q: What advice would you give to young people who want to build a successful career in the video game industry? What skills should they be investing in now?

Dana: There are lots of ways we’re looking to foster and help the next generation of game developers. We’re very involved in shows like the Game Developers Conference (GDC) and E3 – including the ESA College Game Competition – where we stay plugged in with up-and-coming developers in our community. We also have a very large user group network through Meetup where we have team leaders on the ground all over the world helping foster conversations and solving problems. We also have our UE4 Jam series (#ue4 jam) which just concluded for the summer, with more than 120 games made. While we’ve already announced those winners, I always encourage people to simply jump into the tools and experiment. Don’t try to learn everything at once but focus on one area before mastering another. At some point you should come into a game jam and join up with a team and see where it makes sense to be a contributor. Figure out where you best fit in, work on a project, and even if you’re working remotely, ship a game!

Fredrik: Yeah that’s very good advice at the end there. I think that there are so many opportunities today given what Epic and other engine suppliers have done: giving away fantastic tools like Unreal Engine for free so that people get this awesome toolset to experiment with without any upfront cost. Then it’s up to you to find the area you feel most comfortable in. Is it in programming, design, sound, or something else, and then start working with other people. You have this tool where you can create very good-looking stuff very easily and I would just say get engaged with the local community and with local games clubs or hackathons. It’s a great way to get started and Epic provides a lot of information through their community pages on how to get going. There’s just so much opportunity today and it doesn’t have to be game design necessarily I don’t think. Some of the NVIDIA Edge recipients you’ll see are in the pro space and also some are more artistic related. With the hardware we supply and tools from Epic, people can express themselves not only in games but in other areas as well.

Q: Do you have a favorite game that you like to play?

Dana: My personal favorite is the Animal Crossing series. I absolutely love the world, the characters, and the sense of discovery. I am dying for Nintendo to announce a Switch version.

Fredrik: Given my active travel lifestyle, I have to admit I tend to play on mobile these days. So I play a lot of the shorter more competitive games like Clash Royale, which I really enjoy especially because I was a former collectable card fanatic. I am actually checking out Epic’s most recent game Fortnite to see if it’ll hook me which it’s doing so far.

Dana: [Laughing] Thanks for the plug! I didn’t want to have to do it but yeah we’re really excited for Fortnite’s launch. It’s been an amazing week.

That concludes our Q&A. Do either of you want to add any final thoughts?

Fredrik: Given the simplicity of applying for the program, if you’re creating any kind of content on the Unreal Engine, put it out there on social media. As Dana explained, it’s super easy to participate and we want to see as many people get involved as possible. Show us your content!

Dana: Absolutely and just to reiterate, I know that folks look at NVIDIA and Epic and think some of this is unattainable but we have these very friendly teams all working together on this. We’re looking to help these talented smaller teams get the visibility, recognize their great work, and open doors to new opportunities.




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