Unity is one of the most popular game engines used by hobbyists and professional developers alike. The Unity game engine provides a user-friendly interface and workflow that allows developers to quickly build 2D and 3D games.
But is Unity actually free for students to use? Let‘s take a look at what options are available.
Unity Student Plan
The good news is that Unity offers a free Personal version for individuals and small studios. This includes the full-featured Unity Editor and rendering engine.
Unity also provides a special Unity Student plan that is completely free for students. This gives you access to the same features as Unity Personal, with no revenue or funding limits.
To qualify for the Student plan, you must:
- Be an enrolled student at an accredited academic institution
- Use Unity for non-commercial game development, educational, or research purposes
- Verify your student status with Unity
Once approved, you can use the Student plan on any personal device for projects related to your coursework.
What‘s Included with the Student Plan
The free Unity Student plan gives you these capabilities:
- Full-featured Unity Editor
- Built-in rendering, physics, animation, audio, UI, networking, and other engine features
- Ability to create 2D, 3D, VR/AR, and mobile games
- Asset Store access (some assets Unity‘s clearing house for 3D models, textures, plugins, editor extensions, and other content created by developers)
- Cloud Build (build and deploy your games online)
- Multiplatform publishing
- Access to Unity forums and documentation
- Limited live training sessions
- Basic license support
The Student plan does not include:
- Unity Teams (collaboration tools)
- Priority support
- Custom Splash Screen
- Revenue and funding limits ($100K/year for Personal)
But overall, you get access to the full engine and features needed to learn and build games for class assignments or personal projects.
Signing up for the Student plan only takes a few minutes:
- Go to Unity‘s signup page
- Create a Unity ID if you don‘t already have one
- Click "Start My Application"
- Fill in your name, email, and details about your academic status
- Upload verification documents like your student ID, transcript, or enrollment letter
- Unity will review your application and activate your Student license if approved
Once approved, you can download the Unity Hub and Editor to start developing games and simulations.
Free vs Paid Plans
How does the free Student plan compare to Unity‘s paid options?
Here‘s an overview:
|Features||Core engine||Same as Personal||Plus cloud services||Advanced tools|
|Support||Forums only||Limited live training||Plus forums||Email & phone|
|Splash screen||Unity branded||Unity branded||Customizable||Customizable|
As you can see, the Student plan matches the free Personal plan in capabilities, just without any revenue or funding restrictions.
The paid Plus and Pro plans offer additional services, features, and support levels that become more relevant as you launch commercial projects. But the Student plan is ideal for learning at the beginning.
Here are some examples of how the Student plan can be used:
- High school and college students completing game development course assignments
- Computer science/engineering students building technical demos and prototypes
- Independent learners creating games as side projects and portfolios
- Student game jams and coding events like Ludum Dare
- Classroom demonstrations and interactive applications for teaching
- Research projects and experiments with 3D, physics, AI, etc.
As long as you meet the eligibility criteria, you can use Unity Student for a wide range of educational purposes without limits.
Monetizing Student Projects
A common question is whether you can sell games made with the Student plan.
The short answer is yes, you retain full ownership of your games and can monetize them. Unity‘s licenses do not claim any rights or revenue share.
However, once you start generating more than $100K annually, you need to upgrade to a Plus/Pro plan. At that stage, the Student plan is intended for learning rather than full commercial release.
But many successful titles like Among Trees and Next Floor got started on free versions of Unity. You can leverage the Student plan to prototype and test game concepts before upgrading for a full launch.
Other Game Engines
While Unity is beginner-friendly, it‘s not the only free game engine students might want to consider:
- Unreal Engine – More advanced 3D capabilities, C++ focus
- Godot – Lightweight 2D/3D open source engine
- RPGMaker – Specialized for 2D RPGs
- Construct – Drag and drop 2D game creation
- GameMaker – Simple coding-optional tool
- Pixel Vision 8 – Retro-style limited 8-bit games
Each engine has different strengths, so evaluating your needs and coding experience can help determine the right fit. But Unity is a solid starting point for most student developers.
How Does Unity Make Money?
If the Student plan is free, how does Unity Technologies make money?
Unity employs a "freemium" model with monetization coming from two main sources:
1. Paid subscriptions
As users scale up professional projects, they upgrade to Plus and Pro plans with added services and support. Less than 1% of studios generate over $100K where the Student plan limitations apply.
2. Operational tools
Additional offerings like Unity Analytics, Multiplay game servers, Vivox voice/text chat, deltaDNA player insights, and Unity Monetization. These enterprise-level options have separate licensing costs.
By keeping the base engine free, Unity makes adoption easy. They monetize advanced usage while still allowing smaller projects to benefit.
Coding in Unity
You don‘t need to be an expert coder to start using Unity, but some programming knowledge will help. Unity uses C# as its primary scripting language.
Here are some tips for getting up to speed:
- Take beginner C# tutorials on YouTube or sites like Udemy, Pluralsight
- Start small by modifying existing Unity project scripts
- Learn basic concepts like variables, functions, if/then logic
- Use visual scripting with Bolt or Playmaker to minimize code
- Follow step-by-step project tutorials to see how scripts are structured
- Attend a game jam or programming workshop at your school
The key is being familiar with core programming concepts so you can start applying them for game mechanics, UI, events, etc.
Ease of Learning
How difficult is Unity for complete beginners to pick up?
Unity uses a component-based workflow that simplifies development compared to traditional game engines. Key advantages:
- Intuitive visual interface and editor layout
- Drag and drop prefabs, assets, configs rather than coding everything
- Great documentation and learning resources provided by Unity
- Asset Store marketplace offers lots of ready-made art, animations, plugins
- Supportive community forums to get help as you go
While some complex topics like shaders and optimizations have learning curves, Unity enables rapid prototyping to bring ideas to life. The hands-on nature helps build knowledge incrementally.
Some great places for students to learn Unity skills include:
- Unity Learn – Free tutorials and courses
- Official manuals – Searchable documentation
- YouTube channels – Video tutorials & walkthroughs
- Unity forums – Ask questions and find answers
- Unity Student Ambassador program – Community of mentors
- Campus clubs – Join or start a game development club
- StackOverflow – Solutions to common issues
- Unity Survival Guide – Beginner 5-part course
Following tutorials builds practical experience and turning to forums helps overcome roadblocks. Unity provides many free resources to smooth out the learning process.
Example Student Games
Don‘t just take our word that Unity is beginner-friendly – here are some cool games students have created with the engine:
Pinchberry – Cute hybrid platformer/shooter made for a game jam at USC.
Soul Flag – Stylish 3D adventure game built by a small team at DigiPen.
Long Haul – Play as a truck driver in this multiplayer simulator (Michigan State University).
Fowl Ball – Wacky local multiplayer game where chickens fight to take control of a ball.
Transmission – Atmospheric sci-fi narrative game created by students at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
These represent just a fraction of the awesome projects generated by academia. With some dedication and teamwork, you too can go from zero experience to shipping fun titles.
An important question for students – who owns games created with Unity‘s software?
The good news is you retain full rights and IP ownership over any original content – characters, code, artwork, story, etc. Unity only licenses you their engine technology.
Per Unity‘s EULA:
"You own your content. You‘re free to use the Unity software to create interactive 3D and 2D content, animations, designs and application user interfaces. Everything you create belongs to you."
Just ensure your school approves of any commercial use. But otherwise, students can use Unity games in portfolios or sell them with no revenue sharing.
The primary languages used in Unity are:
- C# – Modern object-oriented language great for intermediate developers. Used for most gameplay code.
- Boo – A Python-inspired language that offers fast prototyping, but not commonly used.
Visual scripting tools like Bolt and PlayMaker also give a coding alternative using a node-based workflow. This is preferable for less technical team members like artists or designers.
Prototyping & Learning
Why start with Unity as a beginner over more advanced engines like Unreal?
A few advantages that make Unity ideal for prototyping and getting started:
- Lower learning curve to build basic gameplay mechanics
- Faster iteration and testing possible without needing to optimize
- Visual scripting options allow games without coding
- Asset Store provides ready-made art assets to use instead of creating everything
- Forward and deferred rendering modes to suit different game types
- Simpler UI framework and tools compared to Unreal
- Resources optimized for indie developers with smaller team sizes
Because it‘s used across mobile, consoles, and PC, skills transfer easily. While not as graphically rich as Unreal, Unity offers more versatility.
The ability to rapidly prototype makes trying out game concepts and mechanics much easier. This lets beginners get tangible results sooner, which fuels motivation.
Once you‘ve built experience shipping student projects, advancing to pro tools like Unreal becomes an easier transition. Think of Unity as a ramp that eases you into professional game development.
What happens once you graduate and want to release your student game commercially?
If revenue remains under $100K annually, you can continue using the free Unity Personal plan. This avoids any interruption.
But if you expect to exceed that threshold, migrating to a Plus or Pro plan ensures uninterrupted access to engine updates, support, and cloud services.
Upgrading is simply done through the Unity Store – all your projects and assets seamlessly carry over. There‘s no need to start development over from scratch.
For most hobbyist developers, the free plans are sufficient. But releasing polished commercial games on multiple platforms eventually demands more capabilities. Unity‘s pricing model scales to any stage of growth.
Don‘t just take our word for it – here‘s what educators have to say about using Unity in academic programs:
"Unity has enabled us to integrate cutting edge commercial game engine technology into our curriculum. Student engagement and project quality have never been higher thanks to Unity‘s versatile tools."
– Steve Engels, Game Design Professor, Florida International University
"By adopting Unity early on, our computer science students graduate with professional-level skills that allow them to hit the ground running in game studios. It‘s been invaluable for jumpstarting careers."_
– Olivia Sanchez, CS Department Chair, Otis College of Art and Design
"Having Unity freely available has expanded the diversity of students able to access game development opportunities. We‘re empowering future creators who may not otherwise have a chance to explore this field."
– Sahir Virani, Founder, Games4Change Student Challenge
Educators widely praise Unity for its beginner-friendliness combined with professional-level capabilities. This versatile toolset equips students with skills that readily apply to industry.
Game engines might seem intimidating for beginners, but Unity provides an accessible toolkit for aspiring game developers to get started.
Leveraging the free Student plan allows individuals to get hands-on with practical game projects. While limitations exist once you release commercially, the Student license is ideal for prototyping concepts.
With robust features, tutorials, and an engaged community, Unity helps smooth the initial learning curve. Building a portfolio of student games gives you the experience needed to excel in gaming.
So don‘t wait – download Unity and start bringing your ideas to life today as the next generation of creators!