id Not Licensing id Tech 5

A disappointed developer, yesterday.

id’s Todd Hollenshead has told Eurogamer that they will no longer be licensing out their tech, starting with id Tech 5, for third-party developers. Unless their game is published by Bethesda. While it’s perhaps not unusual for a publisher to hold onto their own tech, it seems a long way from id’s past to keep their new middleware to themselves. The company has a rich history of not only licensing out their engines, but then releasing them as free software after a few years. However, this change comes after the company was bought by ZeniMax, owners of Bethesda, in 2009.

Hollenshead told Eurogamer,

“It’s going to be used within ZeniMax, so we’re not going to license it to external parties. It’s like, look, this is a competitive advantage and we want to keep it within games we publish – not necessarily exclusively to id or id titles, but if you’re going to make a game with id Tech 5 then it needs to be published by Bethesda, which I think is a fair thing.”

It seems like perhaps an ideological shift for a company that went to great lengths to license their current tech, and make their older technology available for both modders and developers, as free software. Although, of course their not licensing now doesn’t mean they won’t share in the future. But this does still seem to demonstrate a change in attitude. When I spoke to id’s John Carmack for PC Gamer in July 2008, before their acquisition, about their releasing their previous tech as free software, he told me:

“Well that’s really been my pet thing since the very beginning. For a long time it was very much the rest of the company shrugging, throwing up their hands, saying, ‘Well, John wants to do this, so I guess we’ll do this.’ But I was really happy several years ago when Kevin Cloud, one of my old partners, finally came up and said, ‘You know, that probably all was a good idea.’ Everybody had the doom scenarios of, ‘Oh, that’s helping our competitors, they’ll take things, it’ll make it easier for them to compete with us in the future.’ And I really don’t think there was any of that. The people that are our competition, they’re smart enough to do things on their own. So I do think it wound up being a purely positive thing.”

While it make look as though Carmack’s comments contradict Hollenshead’s regarding competitors, Carmack was of course talking about their previous tech – letting the competitors have access to the source code to see how it was made – while Hollenshead is talking about the current tech.

It of course also means there’s to be none of the exciting creativity that’s resulted from the popularity of Epic’s Unreal 3 engine. We won’t be seeing any Make Something id Tech 5 competitions, for instance. It seems a real shame to lose out on all that potential. And an odd choice by ZeniMax who will be losing out on all those piles of licensing money.

Does this change anything for the release of Doom 3 code? Presumably since it was developed before the company was with ZeniMax (which always sounds like it should be big pharma to me), id will retain control over it. And it was certainly Carmack’s plan to release it if he could. The quote continues,

“There are so many cases of people who learned programming like that, or worked on doctoral theses based on that, or used that as resumes to get into the industry, or just created wonderful things. I am very happy that several other companies have done similar things with their source code. If anything it’s getting a little bit more challenging these days, as the budgets of the titles get larger, everything consolidates under larger corporate headings, and you get the lawyers involved, there is a lot more worry about what if somebody said, ‘You infringed on our patent, and here’s proof. You owe us a whole ton of money.’ But I can say it’s almost certain we will wind up releasing the entire Doom 3 code base once Rage ships. So unless I’m somehow forced to abandon the practise, it will continue.”


  1. Will Tomas says:

    Real shame, this. Big corporations suck big time. Why did id sell out again?

    • the affront says:

      Presumably so that Carmack could fund his space flight venture. He was talking earlier about how fun it was to actually turn potential customers of his Armadillo Aerospace company away if what the customer wanted did not align properly with the ultimate goals of the company because he now had enough capital to do so after selling id on the QuakeCon “Rocket Talk” (also with Richard Garriott talking about his flight, and still running, although about to end I think, and much more interesting than I thought it would be – probably worth it to watch later if you missed it).

    • Navagon says:

      It makes me laugh. id do ‘too much’ licensing and people complain about them having sold out. Now they’re not licensing out their tech left and right and people accuse them of having sold out.

    • BAReFOOt says:

      It’s right in the text: “as the budgets of the titles get larger, everything consolidates under larger corporate headings”.

      But the much more important thing here is:
      and you get the lawyers involved, there is a lot more worry about what if somebody said, ‘You infringed on our patent, and here’s proof. You owe us a whole ton of money.’
      And that’s why the media reproduction and artist extortion terrorist mafia’s delusional “IP” mental cancer disease is so deeply and utterly wrong and evil, from its stinking devilish rotten core, to its fake lie-filled fraudulent skin.

  2. Kast says:

    So this would suggest ZeniMax a confident the revenue from id and Bethesda’s own tech 5 games alone will recoup the costs from developing the engine. That’s pretty ballsy, given how long they’ve spent working on it – Doom 3 was initially released on PC in August 2004 and XBox in April ’05.

    • Navagon says:

      Not necessarily. Bethesda have published other titles outside of those produced by its own development teams. Take Splash Damage’s upcoming Brink for example. It just means that a developer (like say Gearbox) would need to use Bethesda as a publisher for any Tech 5 games they develop.

    • BAReFOOt says:

      @Mo: That’s your deep argument? He’s “wrong”? Well, that’s easily refuted with at “No, you’re wrong!”. But since I won’t let you drag me down to that level of liberal arts major logic-lacking Apple cattle^Wcustomers, I’ll give you some facts:
      The iPhone is basically only consisting of lock-in, wrapped in bling. Which makes it the enemy of every sane freedom-loving human, who’s not controlled with a bag of glass pearls.
      Its technology and features are ridiculously outdated and lacking, so that only retards and people in depraved markets like the US, could ever see it as anything but a overpriced piece of pointless jewelery.
      And as you may know, the only point of pointless jewelery, is to show off. So it’s just like what the golden necklace and Gucci sunglasses are for those cheap people with too dark tans and plastic body parts, but for hipsters with their seemingly „anti-everything normal“ but actually fully-drifting-in-the-big-stream behavior patterns. .

    • BAReFOOt says:

      Oops, that should have gone in the thread below.

  3. Bowlby says:

    id Tech 5 looks incredible. Kotaku has this video up of Carmack, God love him, showing off RAGE on an iPhone 4 – a goddamned iPhone – and declaring it knocks anything the original Xbox could produce out of the water. The man’s a genius.

    • negativedge says:

      What is the point of playing a complex 3D game on the iphone?

      Oh that’s right, there is none. It’s so people can show of their phone to their friends and then never use it again.

    • Bowlby says:

      I know, but don’t you admire the technical accomplishment behind it?

    • negativedge says:

      I don’t make a habit of admiring useless frivolities, no.

    • Arathain says:

      I don’t think producing an engine so powerful and efficient you can run it on a smart phone is a useless frivolity. I think it’s a testament to the cleverness of its coders, and an excellent opportunity to produce interesting games for multiple platforms.

      When we’re talking about tech for games where does one draw the frivolity line anyway? I’m here for the cool shinies. This is cool and shiny.

    • negativedge says:

      It’s not a worthless frivolity when it starts doing something worth caring about. If this is actually the real tech 5 engine pared down, rather than something built from the ground up for the iphone (not sure on that, myself), then it stops becoming useless when id shows us a solid engine with intelligent scaling abilities up and down the hardware chain. That could lead to some things. Porting random game x to some platform no one will ever want to play it on isn’t going to do a whole lot for me in isolation. And hey, even the scaling thing could be pretty pointless if id is just going to hoard the tech for Rage, Doom, and Elder Scrolls.

    • Robert says:

      Here: link to

      I prefer holding judgement until I know what it is.

    • Mo says:

      negativedge seems to believe that people purchase iPhone games purely to “show off” their devices.

      negativedge is wrong.

    • Tei says:

      “I don’t make a habit of admiring useless frivolities, no.”

      Technology and Science is just frivolties, till a point a usefull way to use these prior frivolities is discovered.

    • negativedge says:

      People don’t purchase iphone games to show off their phones, no. They purchase iphone games like this to show off their phones.

    • ffordesoon says:

      What is the point of playing a “complex 3D game” on the iPhone?

      Um, being able to play a “complex 3D game” on an iPhone. Because the iPhone is a game system, and “complex 3D games” can be played on it. If you have an iPhone, and you play games on it, what’s the point of not playing a “complex 3D game” on it, assuming it’s good and fun to play? I play games on my iPhone just as much as I play games on my DS or PSP. You know why? Because fun games are fun games are fun games, and screw hating on a given platform just because it doesn’t gel with your idea of gaming.

      Now, you could argue that there are no good “complex 3D games” on the iPhone. You’d be wrong, but you could argue that. You could argue that the touchscreen interface isn’t good for visually complex games because your fingers obstruct your view of the game screen. Again, you’d be wrong, but less so; it is an issue for iPhone devs to consider. But to insist that Carmack’s demonstration was “pointless” because nobody uses their iPhone to play games is not just asinine, it’s factually inaccurate. The iPhone is introducing a new audience to gaming, and if they see that something as attractive as Rage is on iPhone, they might want to try it. Granted, they might download it initially just to show off, but if the game gets its hooks into ’em, then id has a new fan. The only way it’s pointless is if that doesn’t happen even once, and I can promise you it does happen, because I’ve seen it happen. So no, it’s not pointless.

      Also, if Carmack can port Rage to iPhone, he can port it to Android. Would that be “pointless” too?

      That said, it is a shame that they’re not licensing their SDK, because if the tech is scalable enough to run on an iPhone just as well as it runs on a PC (give or take some shaders), then there’s nobody in the industry who wouldn’t benefit from it.

    • ARMLESScorps says:

      @ Bowlby link to

      now THATS impressive

    • TeeJay says:

      How much detail can you get on a 3.5-inch @ 960 x 640 resolution screen at 30fps? At what point does increasing visual complexity, sublety and detail become “pointless”? Even with my nice BenQ 24″ screen @ 1920×1200 there are some games which have fancy technical effects which can either make virtually no visual difference or can even make the game look worse (for example various motion blur, bloom and depth of field effects).

      (Leaving aside the whole issue of the whole list of games that while highly visually polished, are utterly boring, empty and characterless, full of generic design, repeating content, lacking humour and lacking in fun gameplay.)

    • Sir Derpicus says:

      People have been making incredible techdemos for years.
      What makes this one special? other than than the fact carmack made it.
      If this is all real then it’s incredible, but all I’m saying is that indoor environment is an alarm bell for a tech demo if I’ve ever seen one.

  4. Armante says:

    Seems fair enough. Now id’s no longer it’s own beast, and ZeniMax is bankrolling them, I can understand ZM would want to hold on to what they view as theirs.
    Still, lots of money to be made by licensing out an engine, right? But id no longer needs to, I suppose.

    Times, they be a-changing..

    • Warskull says:

      Yeah, but it seems like they could make more money if they got back into the engine market. ZenMaxi’s developers don’t really make mind blowing games. However, id has a history of dominating the engine market until they slipped up with tech 4. Seems like you could make a small fortune if you displaced the Unreal 3 engine as the dominant engine.

    • Armante says:

      True. The Unreal3 engine is being used far and wide. Why exactly did id’s tech 4 fail to grab market? Too expensive? Complex?

    • Optimaximal says:

      It was just ahead of the time and didn’t scale down well to baseline hardware.

    • Starky says:

      And the toolset was horrendous. Powerful yes, but you’d need a year just to teach your team to use it.

  5. HexagonalBolts says:

    Openness, openness, openness. If you want to succeed in the age of the internet look at a current concept and see how you can blow the walls off it, rather than seal it in.

  6. qrter says:

    This decision comes across as quite cynical, as if Zenimax/id is saying “our tools are fantastic, but we know our games aren’t that fantastic, so we’ll have to rely heavily on the tech to sell them, not the actual creativity bit”.

  7. jeremypeel says:

    Now what’s the point of this sodding company?

  8. Dante says:

    On the plus side this suggests we might actually get Bethesda games running on a decent engine for a change.

  9. airtekh says:

    I really can’t see the advantages they gain by doing this. Surely they get money from licensing the engine to other developers?

    The people who going to lose out are us, the gamers. As bloody usual.

  10. Aerozol says:

    Someone else will step into this niche for sure.
    Hopefully someone just as awesome/ with tech just as good, but it will happen for sure. They’ve tried to tighten up what might have looked like a weakness to the corporate execs, but I think it’s just opened a door for others.

  11. wyrmsine says:

    Pretty weird – it’s not like id ever made money on stories, after all.

  12. negativedge says:

    No one licensed tech 4, anyway. Epic essentially has the entire engine licensing market, largely because Unreal 3 is console friendly. Kind of sucks, since I really hate Unreal 3 stuff, but not exactly a real change from, oh, the last five years or so.

    • Arathain says:

      Given the apparent quality of the tech it seems odd not to want to compete with Unreal.

    • negativedge says:

      Source and even id tech 4 kick the shit out of Unreal 3, didn’t really help them.

    • Armante says:

      does explain why all Xbox360 games started looking so much alike – same engine, same lighting system etc. Wouldn’t mind seeing id’s new tech running on xbox/ps3 just to see how well it can run and how good it can look. If Carmack can run it on an iphone for goodness sake..

    • deimos says:

      Don’t hate the tech/engine, hate the developers who failed to use the engine.

    • Hey hey hey says:

      Good point. In addition I distinctly remember a quote from one of the Id guys to the effect, “we are too small of a company to really focus on licensing our engines out”.

      People seem to be underestimating how much money it takes to support a product like a game engine. Id made a strategic decision a long time ago to not get into this market.

      Also, this has nothing to do with Caramack’s open sourcing of his older engines. People hear are jumping on this aspect of the story, but really it’s comparing apples to oranges. They very well may stop open sourcing their older engines in the future, but I don’t think it will have anything to do with them not licensing their current engine to third parties. In fact, it may help them open source engines faster, as they will no longer have to wait for agreements with third party companies to end.

  13. Bru says:

    Anyone have that picture of games based off Quake technology lying around? Lots of companies got their start by licensing id tech. Seems a shame that they would do a complete reversal on an idea that they helped pioneer in the gaming world.

    I honestly don’t think this decision was a good business decision.

  14. innokenti says:

    Hmmm, I reckon this is no awful terrible thing. It just looks like ZeniMax might be looking to try and use the engine as a way to attract developers to their flag. Given the way they are going… seems like a worthy attempt.

  15. Fazer says:

    They’re afraid of software patents infringement? Damn American patent system, I hoped it wouldn’t affect games :-/

  16. ZamFear says:

    It seems a bit odd to cut off a source of revenue like that, but I wonder how much they’re actually losing here.

    For reference, see how many games were made using id tech 4…
    … and compare to the number of games using Unreal 3.

    • Moni says:

      It’s hard to say by using Id Tech 4 as a benchmark. Unreal had a big advantage because Id were quite slow getting the console version of their engine out, and when they did release it, it was either not good enough or it was too fiddly for third-party developers to make it look good (I think it was because the lighting had a very specific look).

      Id Tech 5 is very different because it’s running cross-platform already, and they’ve learnt their lessons and they’ve made something that’s very artist oriented. The mega-texture thingie effectively gives artists free-reign, resource-wise.

  17. Zetetic says:

    I’m not quite sure why you think that id Tech 5 won’t be part of the normal id opensourcing effort in due time? There’s no real evidence of that in the Eurogamer article whatsoever unless you insist on an overzealous reading of ‘licensing’.

    All that Hollenshead seems to say is geared toward to paid, expensive, commercial (if you want) licensing. I don’t even see that it prevents a ‘Make Something id Tech 5’ competition as you suggest; what it would mean is that the competition would likely have to involve a right of first refusal on Bethesda’s behalf at the very least, or more likely the competition would have to be run such that Bethesda was prepared to take on publishing the winner.

    Anyway, certainly there’s not even an implication, to my eyes, that in the fullness of time that id Tech 5 won’t be made freely available.

  18. Diziet says:

    I can’t say I care too much. It’s been almost a decade since anything significant came from ID if not more, definitely in terms of gameplay and possibly tech too.

  19. manveruppd says:

    2009 was quite a sad year, with both id and Bioware selling out… John Carmack is a freaking genius, and it would be amazing if kids learning to code could have access to his work like they did in the old days – I’m sure that it won’t just stop with them not lisencing their tech – I bet Rage won’t even be released with modding tools, just as Dragon Age 2 won’t be.
    Sad really, we’re seeing the end of a golden age in some ways.

    • The Dark One says:

      Uh, Bioware stopped being independent when they were scooped up along with Pandemic by Bono’s investment firm. Then they were sold to EA in 2007.

  20. JohnFreeman says:

    I don’t mean to be a jerk, but “their” should be “they’re”, by the way

  21. Diziet says:

    although their rage (id tech 5?) stuff is shiny. Just watched this demo from carmack, apparently on a iphone:

    link to

  22. says:

    Licensing a game engine is not really as simple as letting people pay you. Epic has a big infrastructure dedicated to supporting their engine, which includes patches and continued development, stable and highly usable tools, documentation and tutorials, technical support, a development community, etc…. id, by contrast, almost went out of their way to discourage people from licensing tech 4 because they didn’t really have any of those things.

    This move is not so much an example of ZeniMax corrupting an independent company as id admitting they aren’t really interested in marketing and supporting their engine to the extent that a company like Epic does.

  23. anon says:

    I have it on good authority that you’re not missing much.

  24. sink257 says:

    So… The Elder Scrolls V will be using id Tech 5?

    • SuperNashwan says:

      That’s what I want to know. Considering how little we know of ES5 it’s perfectly possible they’ll delay it to port whatever assets already existed over to a new engine, particularly with what MegaTexture would mean for large open world games.

    • kaday says:

      The problem with Tech 5 is because the lighting & shadowing is baked into the megatexture technology you can’t really run day/night cycles using it, which does kind of limit it versus most other game engines. I don’t think this was ever going to be a competitor Vs unreal in terms of 3rd party licensing tbh.

    • Zogtee says:

      Well, I certainly hope Bethesda can work at least some of the engine into their next TES game, because Goat knows they need better visuals (and animation and a shitload of other things).

      Also, haven’t id always been about engines first and games/tech demos second? When Romero and Carmack worked together, they produced some great things, but once the duo split up, both of them have fallen by the wayside and ironically, both of them are doing phone games.

      id are more or less dead. Their “recent” games have been pretty, but shite. I doubt Rage will go anywhere, but we’ll see.

  25. the_fanciest_of_pants says:

    Hey look! Another reason to be totally uninterested in Rage!

    Like I needed one.

  26. Mo says:

    “… it stops becoming useless when id shows us a solid engine with intelligent scaling abilities up and down the hardware chain”

    You know that’s what id tech 5 is all about, right? Intelligently scaling texture memory usage/quality depending on the visibility of polygons on-screen? Thus a perfect match for a resource constraint device like the iPhone.

    • Mo says:

      Reply fail. :( Was directed at negativedge a couple of comments down the page.

  27. rei says:

    ZeniMax hasn’t stopped Bethesda from giving out their old games for free, so I’m sure they won’t have a problem with id giving out their old engines for free. Old being the operative word.

    In related news, apparently ZeniMax just acquired Arkane Studios, so maybe we’ll see Arx Fatalis 2 in id tech 5.

  28. Megazver says:

    No one licensed id tech 4 because the engine couldn’t handle outdoors. It was only useful for an old-school dark tight corridor shooter and those went out of style by then. That got fixed a few years later but by then it was too late.

  29. Seamus says:

    What? So this is what Id’s ‘big announcement’ was? Rage on the iPhone? Dear lord…

  30. ftmch says:

    NegativeEdge: most appropriate nick ever.

  31. Metal_circus says:

    Excuse me, but I think this is bullshit. I think this is more than just issues with their competitors. Think of all the bedroom coders, level designers, modellers, everything, that can result from releasing this kind of stuff to the public. And of course, you can make money from licensing out the engine. I just don’t understand this move, even within a business context. For christ sake, Doom 1 is -still- being modified by very talented human beings. What a damn shame.

    It seems like they’ve taken an id tradition and spat on it, frankly. How disappointing.

    • Seamus says:

      It’s not like they’re talking about closing the engine up completely. I’d severely doubt that Id would not release modding tools, and it seems to be Carmack’s thing to open-source his engines after a certain amount of time, which it still seems like they’re on track to do with Tech 4.
      The only thing that’s being ruled out here is commercial licensing of the Tech 5 source code to 3rd party developers, which is completely different. IMO it’s kind of a smart move, seeing as Epic have that market tied up, and have now become more of a middleware developer than a games studio Id most likely do not want to go down that road as a company and I for one totally respect that decision.

  32. ZIGS says:

    I guess this means Fallout 4 will use ID Tech 5 then

    • coldwave says:

      It will use Gamebryo as usual.

    • ffordesoon says:

      And how would you know that?

    • kaday says:


      Tech 5 looks great, but it is restrictive in some ways Vs other available engines (lack of day night cycle being the big issue). Given the freeflowing nature of Bethesdas games up to now it would be unlikely that they’d hamstring themselves using it. Although if they perhaps shifted their direction towards more story driven games (ala Mass Effect 2) and less open world then it’s possible.

      If anything I suspect Zenimax will want ID to develop an engine that is more versatile.

  33. rocketman71 says:

    This is just PR. Easy to say “we’re not licensing anymore” when you’re not licensing shit. Look here:

    link to

    Only Prey has used id tech 4 outside of id itself (yeah, I consider Raven and Splah like being id, thank you very much). Let’s not compare id tech 4’s sales with UE3, shall we?.

    Also, Rage for the iphone is a shitty surprise. Not as bad as “Portal 2 for the PS3” bad, since we expected more from Valve, but bad nonetheless.

    And Hollenshead is still a douche.

  34. Baboonanza says:

    There’s a lot of unnecessary doom-and-gloom in these comments.

    As someone else suggested, ZeniMax seem to be using this as a bridge to gain access to more developers Whether that works or not is anyone’s guess, but given it’s such a bold move you’d have to think that they are confident that the engine is superior enough to tempt people.

    And besides, it’s not like every decision is set in stone. Who’s to say they won’t change their mind in the future?

  35. frank_snow says:

    I have a strong feeling that pretty much everything is a “useless frivolity” until it becomes personally and directly useful to negativeedge.

    Innovation for its own sake? Bah, humbug!

    • frank_snow says:

      That should have been a reply to a comment waaay up the list.

  36. V. Profane says:

    Woo, Fallout 4 with a GOOD engine.

    • Frankle says:

      That was my immediate thought when I heard Bethesda bought Id. “Yay” I said “Finally a half decent engine for Fallout”? If your going to turn fallout into an fps then at least do it justice and make it all “Purty”.
      But I soon remembered that Bethesda will be making Fallout 4, which made me sad again.

  37. The Dark One says:

    Well, John, it’s not Doom 3’s code, but they just put up code for RtCW and Enemy Territory.

    link to

  38. The Dark One says:

    Well, John, it’s not Doom 3, but they just put up code for RtCW and Enemy Territory.

    link to

  39. y3k-bug says:

    How do you figure that?

  40. Pus Filled Sac says:

    Let’s hope it doesn’t follow the Doom 3 school of thought: good engine, horrendous game. Only Far Cry managed to cling on so desperately long with pointless level after pointless, uninspiring level.

  41. Zogtee says:

    All Doom games are 66% on Steam right now. Just sayin’

  42. reginald says:

    its a good thing Zenimax weren’t around 10 years ago, or we would’ve never got Half Life (and all subsequent valve games)

    which leads me to: if you don’t license out your new and interesting technology, you’re stunting the potential of newer developers. where would the industry be today if there was no Id licensing ? Call of Duty started on Quake 3 engine, Halflife on quake 2, Alice on Quake 3, etc. there are a lot of important games that exist on other people’s technology, and taking them out of the equation is bad for the entire industry.

  43. Anonymous says:

    Guys the article is wrong, what ID stands is that they DO NOT WANT to sell the engine, but they don’t say anything about engine’s modding capabilities. And decision to NOT sell the engine is very smart, cause if you look back at the money spend into developing this engine you’ll see that the energy put into would be in vane. Its like the Coca-cola keeping their recipe in a bank.