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Tim Sweeney (game developer)

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Tim Sweeney
Tim sweeney GDCA 2017.jpg
Sweeney at the Game Developers Choice Awards 2017
Timothy Dean Sweeney[1]

1970 (age 49–50)
OccupationVideo game programmer and developer, businessman
Known forFounding Epic Games
Creating the Unreal Engine
AwardsAIAS Hall of Fame Award (2012)[2]
GDC Lifetime Achievement Award (2017)[3]

Timothy Dean Sweeney (born 1970)[4] is an American video game programmer, billionaire businessman and conservationist, known as the founder and CEO of Epic Games, and the creator of the Unreal Engine, a game development platform.

Early life

Sweeney was raised in Potomac, Maryland, the youngest of three brothers. At a young age, he became interested in tinkering with mechanical and electrical devices, and stated he had taken apart a lawnmower as early as five or six, and later built his own go-kart. He became interested in arcade games when they began to become popular in the late 1970s, knowing that like the mechanics devices he took apart and repaired, there were those that had programmed the games in the machines. Though the family got an Atari 2600, Sweeney was not as interested in the games for that, outside of Adventure, and later said he had not played many video games in his life and very few to completion.[5]

At the age of 11, Sweeney visited his older brother's new startup in California, where he had access to early IBM Personal Computers. Sweeney spent the week there, learning BASIC and establishing his interest in programming; while he had had a Commodore 64 before, Sweeney was much more taken by how easy the IBM PC was to use. When his family got an Apple II, Sweeney began in earnest learning how to program on that, trying to make Adventure 2 in the spirit of the Atari 2600 game. Sweeney estimated that between the ages of 11 and 15, he spent over 10,000 hours teaching himself how to program using information on online bulletin boards, and completed several games, though never shared these with others. He also learned from his brothers concepts of entrepreneurship, making a good deal of money as a teenager by mowing lawns for wealthy residents in the area for half the price of professional services but far better than he was making at a local hardware store job.[5]

Founding of Epic Games

Sweeney attended the University of Maryland starting around 1989, where he studied mechanical engineering,[4] though he was still fascinated by computers.[5] Around this time, his father, who worked for the Defense Mapping Agency, gave him an IBM Personal Computer/AT.[5] Sweeney established a consulting business, Potomac Computer Systems, out of his parents' home to offer help with computers, but it never took off and he shelved the company.[4] Later, Sweeney had the idea of creating games that could be sold, programming them at night or over weekends outside college work. This first required him to create a text editor based on the PASCAL language to be able to program the game, which led to the idea of making a game out of the text editor itself. This became the basis of ZZT. He let college friends and those around his neighborhood to provide feedback, and was aware it was something he could sell to other computer users. To distribute the game, Sweeney looked to the shareware model, and wrote to Scott Miller of Apogee Software, Ltd., a leading shareware producer at the time, for ideas on how to distribute ZZT. He revitalized Potomac Computer Systems for selling ZZT, fulfilling mail orders with help of his father. ZZT sold well enough, a few copies each day that came to about US$100 per day, that Sweeney decided to make developing games his career. Recognizing he needed a better name for a video game company, he renamed Potomac Computer Systems to Epic MegaGames.[4]

Sweeney giving a presentation at the 2016 Game Developers Conference

Following ZZT, Sweeney started working on his next title, Jill of the Jungle, but found that he lacked the skills to complete this alone. He formed a team of four people to complete the game by mid-1992.[5] For continued development, Sweeney sought out a business partner for Epic MegaGames, eventually coming to Mark Rein, who had just been let go from id Software. Rein helped with growing and managing the company; due to the company's growth, Sweeney did not end up getting his degree, short by one credit.[4] Sweeney would later work on the Unreal Engine, used in the 1998 first-person shooter Unreal and multiple other video games.[6][7] With the success of Unreal, the company relocated to North Carolina in 1999, and changed its name to Epic Games.[8] Sweeney has filed several patents related to computer software.[1]

Conservation and philanthropy

Since the real estate collapse in 2008, Sweeney has used his fortune to purchase large tracts of land in North Carolina, with the intention of preserving biodiversity.[9] As of December 2019, he has salvaged 50,000 acres of forest land in the state,[10] including the Box Creek Wilderness, a 7,000-acre natural area that contains more than 130 rare and threatened plants and wildlife species.[9] Sweeney, who had paid $15 million for Box Creek Wilderness, donated the conservation easement to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, after winning a condemnation lawsuit filed by a power company who planned to build a transmission line through the land.[9]

Additionally, he has participated in the expansion to Mount Mitchell State Park by donating 1,500 acres to a conservation project.[9][10]

Awards and recognition

Wired magazine awarded him a Rave Award in 2007 for his work on Unreal Engine 3, the technology behind the blockbuster Gears of War.[11]

In February 2012, Sweeney was inducted into the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences (AIAS) Hall of Fame for changing "the face of gaming with the advent of the Unreal Engine and the commitment of Epic, as a studio, to bring both consumer and industry-facing technology to new heights."[2]

Sweeney received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 17th Game Developers Choice Awards.[3]

In 2019, he was named Person of the Year by British video game industry trade magazine MCV.[12] He was also a finalist in The News & Observer's Tar Heel of the Year award, which recognizes the contributions of North Carolina residents.[10]


According to Forbes, as of August 2020, he has a net worth of $5.3 billion.[13] However, Bloomberg estimates his wealth at $8.5 billion.[14]



  1. ^ a b "Timothy Dean Sweeney Inventions, Patents and Patent Applications". Justia Patents. Retrieved February 9, 2020.
  2. ^ a b Purchese, Robert (August 12, 2011). "Epic Games founder Tim Sweeney enters AIAS Hall of Fame". Eurogamer. Archived from the original on December 4, 2018. Retrieved December 4, 2018.
  3. ^ a b Chalk, Andy (January 20, 2017). "Tim Sweeney earns the Game Developers Choice Lifetime Achievement Award". PC Gamer. Archived from the original on December 4, 2018. Retrieved December 4, 2018.
  4. ^ a b c d e Edwards, Benj (May 25, 2009). "Features - From The Past To The Future: Tim Sweeney Talks". Gamasutra. Archived from the original on August 9, 2017. Retrieved August 9, 2017.
  5. ^ a b c d e Totilo, Stephen (July 12, 2011). "The Quiet Tinkerer Who Makes Games Beautiful Finally Gets His Due". Kotaku. Archived from the original on September 6, 2014. Retrieved September 6, 2014.
  6. ^ DeMaria, Rusel; Wilson, Johnny L. (2003). High score!: the illustrated history of electronic games. Computer Games. McGraw-Hill Professional. p. 300. ISBN 0-07-223172-6.
  7. ^ Stokes, Jon (September 15, 2008). "Twilight of the GPU: an epic interview with Tim Sweeney". Ars Technica. Archived from the original on May 3, 2012. Retrieved November 6, 2012.
  8. ^ IGN Staff (February 3, 1999). "Epic Sets up Shop". IGN. Archived from the original on July 13, 2017. Retrieved July 13, 2017.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  9. ^ a b c d Chávez, Karen (November 8, 2016). "Box Creek Wilderness permanently protected". Citizen-Times. Retrieved February 15, 2020.
  10. ^ a b c Eanes, Zachery (December 23, 2019). "Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney, Tar Heel of the Year finalist, changed video game industry". The News & Observer. Retrieved February 15, 2020.
  11. ^ "The 2007 Rave Awards". Wired. April 24, 2007. Archived from the original on August 24, 2017. Retrieved August 24, 2017.
  12. ^ "Here are your MCV Awards 2019 winners!". MCV. March 7, 2019. Retrieved March 14, 2019.
  13. ^ "Tim Sweeney". Forbes. Retrieved August 3, 2020.
  14. ^ "Tim Sweeney". Bloomberg. Retrieved August 3, 2020.


Further reading

External links