If you‘re an indie developer or hobbyist interested in creating your own games, you may be wondering – is the Unity game engine really free to use?
The short answer is: yes, Unity does have a completely free tier you can use with no royalties or transaction fees. However, once your projects reach a certain scale, Unity also offers paid options with more robust features.
In this detailed guide, I‘ll cover everything you need to know as an indie developer about using Unity for free versus paid versions. I‘ll provide plenty of insights and data so you can make an informed decision for your needs.
Can You Really Use Unity Without Paying?
Let‘s start with the most important question – can you truly use Unity without spending a dime?
The answer is yes, Unity does provide a free Personal tier! This allows anyone to download the engine and start building games solo or in small teams at no cost.
According to Unity‘s own published plans, the Personal license has no royalties or transaction fees. You keep 100% of revenue earned from games published on this free tier.
However, there are some reasonable restrictions:
- Intended only for individuals or very small teams (less than 5 developers).
- Your company or team must have less than $100K in funding over the last 12 months.
As long as you qualify, you can publish and sell games commercially with the free Personal license. No money whatsoever goes to Unity.
So for indie developers and hobbyists getting started, Unity Personal provides plenty of capability to build and distribute games at no monetary cost!
"With Unity‘s free tier, small teams and solo developers can start turning game ideas into reality without worrying about engine costs or revenue sharing."
What Do You Get with the Unity Personal Free License?
Now that you know Unity Personal is legitimately free, what exactly is included in the engine at that tier?
The great news is that you get access to the full Unity editor and core engine capabilities even in the free version! Here are some highlights of what you can access:
Complete Engine Functionality
You can build 2D, 3D, VR, AR and any other type of game supported by Unity with no limitations on engine features. Things like physics, graphics, animation, lighting and more all work.
Robust Editor & Visual Workflow
The full editor is provided for visually building and debugging games through Unity‘s user-friendly interface. You don‘t lose any editor functionality.
Access to Asset Store
You can browse and purchase assets like art, textures, scripts, plugins and more from the Asset Store just like Plus/Pro users. This allows leveraging existing tools.
You can publish games on all platforms from Windows/Mac to mobile and consoles. No restrictions on publishing or distribution channels.
C# Programming Language
You have access to code in C# to create scripts and behaviors, like any Unity project. No limits on what you can program.
Cloud Build Services
The basic but highly useful Cloud Build service integrates with GitHub/GitLab for automatic building your game online.
Thousands of Learning Resources
You get access to all of Unity‘s top-notch tutorials, example projects, documentation and more for free to learn the engine.
So as you can see above, you receive nearly the full Unity feature-set with Personal. For most solo developers and tiny studios, this free tier will provide everything you need to build and publish professional-grade games.
"Unity Personal may be free, but still provides a shockingly robust set of tools, resources and functionality for indie developers."
What Key Features are Limited or Missing in the Free Version?
While Unity Personal provides tons of functionality out of the box, there are some key features and components that are limited compared to Plus/Pro tiers. These include:
Limited Multiplayer – You only get basic networking capabilities for connecting multiple players. For online games you‘ll want to upgrade.
Reduced Access to Source Code – The ability to directly modify engine source code is restricted.
No Dark Theme Interface – You need Plus or Pro for the polished dark editor theme.
No Splash Screen Service – Adding custom launch screens requires an upgraded license.
Minimal Cloud Diagnostics – Less cloud-based analytics and performance data to improve builds.
Lower Build Queue Priority – Free users get lower priority when building online with Cloud Build.
No Visual Scripting Support – Advanced tools like Bolt and Shader Graph require paid tiers.
Slower Support Response – Free users get lower priority responses when requesting technical help.
So there are certainly compelling reasons to upgrade from Personal eventually, like smoother multiplayer features. But the free version remains very useable for smaller solo projects.
"Unity Personal lacks certain advanced features like top-tier networking and visual scripting. But the core engine capabilities deliver plenty for new developers."
Can You Sell Games Built with the Free Version?
A common and important question developers have is – can you sell and monetize games built using the free Unity Personal license?
The short answer is a resounding yes! Unity places no restrictions on the ability to sell or otherwise commercialize your games as long as you qualify for the free Personal tier.
There are no royalties to pay or ad revenue shares required with Unity. Once your game is built, you are free to sell it on any platform or your own website and keep 100% of proceeds.
This makes Unity‘s free offering extremely generous compared to other engines that take revenue cuts or force trial limits. As long as your team and funding remain small, you can leverage Unity‘s powerful tools to sell games commercially.
According to Unity‘s guidelines:
"You are permitted to sell interactive content, applications and games created with Unity Personal, without royalties or revenue share, subject to the terms below."
So feel empowered to monetize your solo indie games anyway you choose when using Unity Personal!
"Unity places no limits on selling games commercially when using the free Personal license – a huge benefit over trial-based or ad-supported engines."
Can You Upgrade Later from Free to Paid?
As your games expand in scope and sophistication, you may eventually need some of the Pro tools missing in Personal. The good news is you can upgrade to Plus or Pro at any time!
Once you upgrade, you immediately unlock the additional capabilities like multiplayer, dark theme, visual scripting and more. You won‘t lose any work – upgrading is seamless.
In most cases you can simply pay the difference in license cost to upgrade rather than the full seat price. And upgrades are available month-to-month so you aren‘t locked into annual contracts.
So starting with free Personal does not paint you into a corner. Adding Plus or Pro capabilities down the road as your needs evolve is easy and encouraged by Unity.
Think of Unity Personal as an on-ramp that lets you dabble and publish smaller games at no cost. Then upgrade when the time is right.
"The power to seamlessly upgrade from free to paid Unity licenses keeps your options flexible as your skills and game projects advance."
What Do Unity Plus and Pro Tiers Offer?
Now that you understand the ins and outs of the free Personal tier, what additional capabilities come with Unity‘s two paid tiers – Plus and Pro?
Here is an overview of the key services and features unlocked by upgrading to Plus and Pro:
Unity Plus Highlights
Unity Plus is the middle tier designed for professional creators. Some key benefits over Personal include:
No Revenue Limit – Unlimited funding and revenue generation allowed.
Enhanced Cloud Services – Increased cloud build concurrency and storage limits.
Better Cloud Monitoring – Additional performance metrics and error insights.
Project Templates – Starter projects and example content to accelerate dev.
Improved Collaborate Service – Enhanced tools for team source control.
Plus licensing starts at $25/month per seat when billed annually and goes up to $40/month on monthly billing.
Unity Pro Highlights
Unity Pro is the top tier aimed at larger studios and enterprises. Some highlights versus Personal and Plus:
Premium Priority Support – Get faster responses when requesting technical help.
Custom Splash Screens – Easily configure branded launch screens and icons.
Visual Scripting – Leverage powerful visual scripting tools like Bolt and Shader Graph.
Dark Theme UI – Enable the improved dark editor theme.
Advanced Diagnostics – Extra profiler tools and debug capabilities.
Team Licensing & Management – StreamlinedAllocating and monitoring seats across large teams.
Unity Pro jumps up to $125/month per seat when billed annually.
As you can see, both Plus and Pro unlock real productivity boosts for professional game developers through expanded services, integrations and visual tools.
"For larger studios, the biggest draws of Unity Plus and Pro are the visual scripting support, customizable branding, and team management capabilities."
Will You Ever Need to Upgrade from the Free Version?
A fair question at this point may be – if Unity Personal already provides so much value, why ever upgrade to a paid license?
For solo developers and micro-studios first dipping their toes into game dev, Unity Personal may genuinely provide all the engine capabilities needed for early projects.
However, there are some common situations where upgrading tools eventually becomes highly beneficial if not essential:
Your team expands beyond 5 developers who need seats.
Annual revenue or funding eclipses $100k.
You want smoother multiplayer experiences.
You need to customize branding and splash screens.
Your game visuals benefit from shader/node graph tools.
Debugging complex optimized games demands more profiling.
Support response times are critical as launch approaches.
So in summary, as your games, team, and budgets scale, the extras in Plus/Pro really help smooth and accelerate development. But many smaller teams can delay upgrading for some time.
Evaluate your unique needs and only upgrade when Personal truly starts holding your specific projects back. Jumping tiers preemptively wastes money.
"While excellent for learning and smaller games, Unity Personal eventually hits limits for larger studios – but don‘t upgrade before you really need expanded capabilities."
Can You Use Unity Completely Free of Other Costs?
While the Unity engine itself does not cost anything to use, even when sticking with Personal there are some additional costs associated with professional game development:
Asset Store Purchases – Many developers buy 3D models, tools, code snippets and other assets from the store to accelerate dev time. These can add up faster than you think.
Hardware Investments – To use Unity smoothly for 3D games, a moderately powerful Windows or Mac is required. Likely a $800+ investment if you don‘t have capable PC already.
Team Member Salaries – For larger studios with engineers, artists, producers etc. on payroll, labor costs add up quickly.
So while accessing Unity technology itself is free, building a commercially viable game still requires substantial investments in talent, assets, hardware, marketing and more. The engine is just one piece of the overall budget.
However, for learning and hobbyists, Unity‘s free tier makes it accessible to start with almost no money down. But pursuing game dev professionally still carries costs.
"Though using the Unity engine is free upfront, developers should budget for associated costs like assets, hardware upgrades, and team salaries when starting a studio."
Is Unity a Good Choice for Beginners?
A final key question is – as a developer with minimal experience, is Unity a good engine to start with?
The answer is a resounding yes! Here are some of the big reasons Unity is highly recommended for coding and game dev beginners:
Visual Development – Unity provides a user-friendly editor for building games visually without needing to write all logic in code. Great for learning.
C# Programming Language – Unity uses straightforward C# syntax rather than a more complex language like C++. Easier for newcomers.
Established Learning Resources – As the most popular indie engine, there are mountains of tutorials, docs, and courses available for Unity.
Supportive Asset Store – Newbies can buy 3D assets and tools to fill skill gaps rather than building from total scratch.
Vibrant Community – Because the Unity community is so large, it‘s easy to find help and discussions around any development issue.
Multiplatform Deployment – Unity lets you publish to tons of platforms including mobile, web, PC, and consoles with a single codebase.
While Unity has lots of depth if you want to dig in, the usability focused design makes it great for developers with little-to-no experience.
"For both coders and game designers brand new to game development, Unity provides the most friendly and supportive ecosystem to get started."
Is Unity the Right Choice for Your Games?
Hopefully this guide has given you clarity on what Unity offers for free versus paid tiers, costs beyond licensing, and the engine capabilities.
As an indie developer ready to bring your game ideas to life, I highly recommend getting started with Unity Personal to evaluate if the engine is a fit.
With a gentle learning curve plus 100% free usage, you have nothing to lose! Then upgrade in the future if you ever outgrow what Personal provides.
I wish you the best in your game development journey ahead. Make something awesome!