How Ironbelly Studios Is Targeting Success Inside the Unreal Engine Marketplace
If you’ve spent any time on the Unreal Engine Marketplace at all, you’ve likely seen or heard of Ironbelly Studios - a technical and creative service provider who caters to small, medium and sometimes large game studios around the world. While more and more vendors are moving into this space, the studio seeks to distinguish itself through the distinctive nature and high quality of its assets by creating stories surrounding each piece of content and then bringing those stories to life through its work.
Well, we recently caught up with Ironbelly Studios Founder Ryan Wiancko to discuss its impact on the Unreal Engine Marketplace, its process for creating new content and the obstacles and opportunities that exist as a vendor in the space today.
Q: Thanks for taking the time to chat! Ironbelly Studios has been a vendor in the Unreal Engine Marketplace for quite some time now. How did you get your start as a content developer?
Ryan: Thanks for having us! Being a part of the Marketplace community as a content developer has been such a great experience. We started with a roadmap to both meet the needs of people who have been developing for years and folks who were just getting started. Ironbelly has been working with indie game devs since 2009, so we also had a good sense of what was missing from the Marketplace. Once we got started, it was clear more weapons would be on the way.
Q: Ironbelly offers a wide variety of assets. Can you walk us through the content your studio offers?
Ryan: It all started with the 44 Magnum pistol, the first modern weapon we released. But we didn’t want to just put the model out without animations and arms. We created that standard with our first weapon, so going forward those features were going to be included in every pack.
Then it became clear that having multiple weapon types (pistols, assault rifles, SMGs) and offering three packs, five packs and variety packs was a better deal for the community. So our priorities shifted to packaging those up as quickly as possible. The first person arms development came about because of the community telling us, “we want different skin tones, how about female arms or what about medieval arms?” We listened, and created the arms as a standalone asset. We also jumped at the chance to offer first person hands for VR developers. And since we had Medieval arms, we needed to create Medieval weapons, right? Our progress has been shaped by demand, and also offering complete packs. It’s how we got to our FPS Starter Kit which in hindsight, we’ve really been working towards since day one.
Q: What would you say is the most unique aspect of your assets?
Ryan: That’s a great question. I feel like a proud parent so obviously I’m a bit biased here but I can wholeheartedly say that the quality and attention to detail in our assets makes them unique. We’re absolute sticklers for detail and getting things perfect, not only from a visual standpoint but also in how the mesh, textures and materials are set-up. I cannot tell you how many late nights have been spent embroiled in heated discussions on advanced PBR theory over here. From the get go, we made these packs with beautiful clean geo and textures that are a shining example of PBR done right.
I also have to mentioned that we’re the first content developer with an HTML5 demo called the Modern Weapons Library which leads users straight to the store. It’s a great way for developers to test out all of the weapons before dropping them into a project.
Q: How does your studio approach new content ideas? What goes into the decision to create a particular asset or pack?
Ryan: Well, we do a couple of things here to make sure we’re making content that people want. When it comes to guns for example, we look at modern shooters and research what the most popular weapons in those games are. Next, we reach out to the community with a list of ideas and let them vote on them. For the Medieval Weapons and FP arms, it’s a slightly different process but one that still relies heavily on community feedback.
We like to leave polls active so that the conversation stays open and the community can keep adding suggestions even after we’ve released one of the top voted weapons. So, if you’re reading this and want to go vote on a gun you’ve been needing, you still can!
Q: Modularity and customization are extremely important to many developers. What options have been included with your packs to promote customization?
Ryan: I completely agree with you about the importance of customization and it is something that has become a focal point for our assets. Instead of a gun being a solid welded mesh, each major component is separate and modular. Not only for modularity, but to allow all of the moving parts to be animated. We feel it’s key for people to get up close and see the guts of each asset. Moving forward, now that we have a solid library of weapons, we will be going back through all of our packs and adding more texture options, substance materials for customization and even sound effects down the road.
Q: What are some of the challenges your studio faces during content development?
Ryan: One of the biggest challenges is keeping up with the requests for new weapons, keeping 20+ packs up to date with each version of Unreal and thinking up new ways to add value to our packs. In the early days with only a couple of packs it was a piece of cake, but as the library has grown it gets more and more complicated to ensure that each pack works seamlessly with every other pack. On top of that, we need to make sure they are bug free. It’s been a challenge to ensure continuity across all of our packs as we’ve put more out there but we’ve learned a lot through various updates and improvements.
Q: As a vendor, how important is it for you to gather customer feedback in regards to both current and future content?
Ryan: Oh man, it’s pretty much the most important thing to us. If we aren’t listening to our customers and incorporating their feedback than we’re letting them down. Of course, it can be challenging to stay on top of requests for new weapons and added features if we haven’t already planned on creating that asset, but we try our best to keep up. There are of course some requests that we have to turn down, the most common one being for us to make all of our content free to the world. For the most part, we take steps towards meeting our customer’s needs and will continue to do so as we plan out the year ahead and the growing list of new weapons we’re working on.
Q: You have recently released your largest and most complete FPS weapons pack. What can you tell us about it?
Ryan: We did a poll a few months ago asking which types of weapons the community wanted to see included in a larger pack. It started the conversation about whether we wanted to include just weapons, or if folks would rather see first person arms, attachments and bullets included as well. The majority of responses showed that to add value to a “starter kit”, we needed to expand beyond just weapons. Animations and VFX are also included in the pack, and down the road we are planning on an SFX update to continue to add value.
From the start, our goal has been to level the playing field for indie developers. We feel strongly that this pack allows anyone who has always dreamed of making a video game to get started with animations, multiple LODs, nine weapons, seven attachments, 17 static mesh bullets and a fully rigged/animated set of nine first person arms. The arms included go beyond the set we include for free in each weapons pack, featuring different skin tones and sleeve textures. In the future, we plan to mix it up with different weapons combinations and new sleeve textures. I also have to mention that it's currently 50% off but only for a few more days.
Q: Thanks for your time! How can people connect with you to learn more about Ironbelly Studios?
Ryan: Thanks again for inviting us to chat with you and including Ironbelly Studios in the Epic Showcase. If folks want to connect with us, they can find more information through Facebook and Twitter and on our website www.ironbellystudios.com. You can also email us over at email@example.com with any questions.Cheers!