Starting a new chapter: The future of Unreal Slackers

Unreal Engine has evolved significantly since I created a humble Slack chat in 2015. It's time for us to evolve, too.

Nick Pfisterer •
Starting a new chapter: The future of Unreal Slackers

On May 28, 2015 at 10:22 AM Pacific Time, I submitted a post to the official Unreal Engine forums inviting the community to join me in a new chat group called Unreal Slackers.

Why? There were already a few IRC channels and a Skype group. All of them were filled with knowledgeable people who, like me, wanted a chat-based alternative to the forums. A place to talk shop with like-minded people, discuss the latest news, and help each other tame the arcane beast that was Unreal Engine.

But I did not enjoy using IRC or Skype — and I was not alone.

IRC was reliable and had been around for decades, but many people found it challenging to set up and use, especially those who were not already seasoned IT professionals. Skype was more approachable, but it had a bloated interface that was plagued with ads and longstanding bugs. Let us not speak of the “Modern UI” version made for Windows 8.

Despite their flaws, IRC and Skype were both good enough to carry on a conversation. But what if people wanted to discuss a new Unreal Engine feature, and all you wanted was a little help with your material graph? You could come back later after the conversation died down. I suppose someone could have started another IRC channel or Skype group if the topic was popular enough, but what if it happened again? And again? Back to the forums, after all? There had to be a better way.

Along came Slack

Slack was the new kid on the block. It was intended for team communication, but people were adapting it to build communities around common interests — and it was easy to see why. Slack had a friendly interface. It was welcoming and easy to read. You could insert code snippets and screenshots inline. One group could have many channels, including private channels for the admins and moderators. Search was built in. There were nice mobile apps. The list goes on.

After participating in a few other communities on Slack, I knew that I wanted to create one for Unreal Engine — hence the “Slack” in “Unreal Slackers”.

The birth of Unreal Slackers.

The tricky part was inviting people. Because Slack was intended for team communication, you had to know someone’s email address to invite them. Thankfully, enterprising developer Guillermo Rauch solved that problem with slackin, a neat little app that generated a public landing page where people could enter their email address and get invited. Unreal Slackers would not have worked without it.

The first public landing page for Unreal Slackers, powered by slackin.

By the end of 2015, we had nearly 1,000 members.

A few months later, we had 2,000 members.

For a time, we thrived on Slack — but it wasn’t meant to be. In September 2016, for a variety of reasons, we migrated to Discord and never looked back.

Seven years later, I still don’t regret it. Unreal Slackers joined the Discord Partner Program early on, and they have been good to us. Unlike Slack, it was in Discord’s best interest that we succeed on their platform — and we have. We’re now approaching 100K members, and I have a lovely team of 15 moderators, plus a second admin, helping to keep things running smoothly. We have channels for just about every Unreal Engine topic you can imagine. But it’s hard to keep up. A lot has changed.

Unreal Engine has evolved

Here’s what Epic Games has shipped since the founding of Unreal Slackers:

Along the way, they acquired the following companies:

If nothing else, no one can say Epic Games has been resting on their laurels. We have certainly felt the effects of all this growth and change on our Discord server. What started as a community of game developers has grown to welcome people who work in film, television, live events, product design, architecture, transportation, healthcare, fitness, and more still. It is remarkable.

Unreal Engine has evolved significantly since 2015, and it is not slowing down. This is an exciting time to be a developer, but between everything Epic is doing and the amazing things people are creating, it is hard to keep up.

What if there was an independent website that could help you make sense of it all, and give you an easy way to stay informed? What if it was ad-free, respected your privacy, and was supported by you, the people it served?

Today, Unreal Slackers is evolving to fill this role.

A new way to keep up with Unreal Engine

As far as content goes, my vision is to make this website the best way to keep up with the Unreal Engine ecosystem. To me, that mostly boils down to three things:

If you prefer email, you will enjoy our new monthly newsletter. Time is precious, after all. Why spend it sifting through the mountain of information available online when you can have a convenient, curated digest delivered straight to your inbox once a month? You can subscribe for free starting today. The first issue is available now.

Now, about the name...

A new identity

It has been 7 years since we left Slack, and the name has confused newcomers on several occasions. I think it’s time to drop the “Slackers” and embrace a new identity that is more aligned with our purpose.

Starting today, Unreal Slackers will be known as Unreal Source.

Unreal Source is an independent publication dedicated to helping you keep up with the Unreal Engine ecosystem, written by me, Nick Pfisterer. These days I'm a freelance technical artist and independent game developer, but I've been working with Unreal since the Unreal Tournament 3 modding days. We've come a long way since then.

Our Discord server is the largest on the platform for Unreal Engine. It is still the best place on Discord to chat with other Unreal developers, and it's not going anywhere. More on that in a bit.

Let's talk about how I plan to keep this ship sailing.

A new way to show your support

If you want to support what we do, you can still make a one-time donation as always, but today, I am introducing a new way to show your support: paid membership.

Paid membership is the best way to help Unreal Source stay independent & ad-free. When you become a paid member, you will unlock the following perks:

While we may add exclusive channels to the Discord server in the future, I want to stress that none of the current channels on our Discord server will be restricted to paid members. The support channels, job board, Community Creations, and After Hours will all remain free for everyone.

If you believe in what I am launching today and want to see it thrive, please consider becoming a paid member. This will not work without your support.

Looking toward the future

Unreal Source is the beginning of a new chapter. I have a lot in store for this website, and you will probably see the design improve over time as I tweak things here and there.

We will continue to improve the Discord server along the way. I know a lot of you have expressed interest in community events like themed challenges, game nights, feedback sessions, and more. We’re working out the details of making those happen sooner than later. Nothing is set in stone yet, but I want to do something to celebrate when we reach 100K members.

Related: we recently had the pleasure of collaborating with Epic Games on a "MegaJam Office Hours" session where Unreal Engine evangelists joined us on Discord for a lengthy live Q&A session. It went really well, and we're now discussing the potential of hosting similar events in the future. Stay tuned!

Before I go, I want to thank all of my amazing moderators over on Discord for helping me keep the server safe and welcoming for all all Unreal developers, regardless of background and experience. I couldn't do it without you.

This community has brought me so much joy over the years. If you told me when I started a Slack group that it would become what it is today, I would not have believed you.

I hope I can return the favor to all of you, and I hope we continue to thrive for many years to come.