Hey there! If you‘re wondering whether Epic Games‘ powerful Unreal Engine 5 is truly free to use, you‘ve come to the right place. I‘ll walk you through exactly what you can and can‘t do with UE5 at no cost, help you understand if it fits your needs, and provide some guidance for getting started. Let‘s dive in!
What Exactly is Unreal Engine 5?
For those unfamiliar, Unreal Engine 5 is the newest version of Epic‘s widely-used game engine and interactive 3D content creation tool. First launched in 1998, Unreal Engine has become one of the most popular options for game developers.
UE5 represents a major leap forward with features like:
- Nanite – virtualized geometry for film-quality assets with massive polygon counts. This removes limits and cuts manual optimization.
- Lumen – fully dynamic lighting adapts on the fly to any scene changes. Great for indie projects to AAA quality games.
- MetaSounds – powerful new procedural sound system for ambiance, objects, footsteps.
- Data Layers – manage expansive worlds with modular environment partitions.
- Workflow Optimizations – for rapid iterations on massive next-gen games and worlds.
These capabilities enable far more detailed, expansive, and immersive game worlds than previously possible. UE5 empowers developers with AAA-quality tools to bring their visions to life.
But given how powerful it is, does Unreal Engine 5 remain accessible for projects big and small? Let‘s find out…
Downloading UE5 – What‘s Included for Free?
The good news is you can visit unrealengine.com right now and download the full Unreal Engine 5 suite completely free of charge. No strings attached.
With UE5, you get:
- The complete C++ source code for the engine itself
- Blueprints visual scripting system
- Full suite of content creation tools
- Integrated developer environment
- Hundreds of content examples
- Extensive documentation
There are no limited trial versions or disabled features. You have everything game developers need to start building and shipping games with zero upfront costs.
This free offering lowers barriers for new developers and small teams to access UE5‘s high-end tools that were previously only within reach of large studios.
But what exactly are the options for how you can use UE5 without paying royalties or fees?
Using UE5 100% Free for Learning and Non-Commercial Projects
UE5 grants a lot of flexibility for hobbyists, students, and artists to use the engine at no cost under these conditions:
For learning – you can explore UE5‘s tools and create anything following tutorials without limits for personal education.
For portfolio development – 3D artists, animators, programmers can all use UE5 to demonstrate skills for job applications.
For fun – if you just want to experiment and prototype game ideas or mods for enjoyment, it‘s completely free.
For pure research – academics are free to conduct R&D testing UE5‘s capabilities.
For free games – you can release UE5 games, templates, or mods for free public usage without owing any royalties.
For linear content projects – UE5 via the Twinmotion tool is free for architecture visualization, CAD models, film pre-visualization, and other linear projects.
For internal company projects – any non-public project built in UE5 for your company‘s internal usage also qualifies as royalty-free.
So in summary – UE5 is 100% free if you‘re an individual using it for learning, academics, portfolio work, or hobbyist game development. Companies can use UE5 freely as well for internal projects and prototypes.
But what if you want to release a commercial game or application with UE5?
UE5 Royalties – What Applies for Commercial Use?
Unreal Engine 5 does let developers publish and sell games commercially. However, there are sales thresholds before royalties kick in:
- For any gross revenue under $1 million – you owe no royalties to Epic Games.
- Once gross revenue hits $1 million+ – a 5% royalty applies for all further sales.
- Royalties remain at 5% no matter how big your game gets.
- Gross revenue includes game sales, DLC, in-game purchases, subscriptions, advertising – anything derived from your shipped product.
- Royalties apply for the lifespan of the game as long as it sells.
This free threshold up to $1 million in revenue provides a lot of headroom for indie developers and small teams to build their games using free UE5 tools.
Only proven successful titles ship enough volume to ever trigger royalties. And once you reach that point, the 5% rate is quite reasonable for the capabilities UE5 unlocks.
For larger studios and publishers, UE5 may not be fully free since 5% royalties should be planned for in long term budgets. Still, in the ultra competitive gaming market UE5 delivers a lot of value even at the 5% rate.
Next let‘s see how UE5 compares to other popular game engines…
How Does UE5 Compare to Unity and Other Engines?
The other major game engine developers can download for free is Unity. Like UE5, Unity offers a wealth of design, rendering, and development tools at no upfront cost.
How do these two engines compare in terms of free access?
|Feature||Unity||Unreal Engine 5|
|Source code access||No||Yes|
|Royalties||No for <$100K revenue||No for <$1M revenue|
|Publish for free||Yes||Yes|
|Visual scripting||Yes||Yes via Blueprints|
The core capabilities of both engines are available for free even for commercial game releases. UE5 has a higher revenue threshold before royalties apply. And its inclusion of full C++ source code access provides deeper customization options.
For most indie developers and hobbyists, either engine will be suitable to get started building games at zero cost. As projects grow in scale, the specific engine capabilities and publishing terms should be evaluated.
Outside of Unity, few other game engines match Unreal Engine‘s capabilities while still being free to download and use. Lumberyard, Armory 3D, Godot, and CryEngine offer some free functionality but with various restrictions.
Overall UE5 is in a class of its own by providing professional caliber tools free for non-commercial usage – something no other major commercial engine does.
Now let‘s see what‘s actually new and improved in UE5…
Unreal Engine 5 – Key Features and Improvements
While retaining the core framework of UE4, Unreal Engine 5 introduces major technical advancements:
Nanite – This virtualized geometry system imports film-quality source assets with hundreds of millions or even billions of polygons. Nanite intelligently streams and processes only the detail needed for the scene. This frees artists from polygon count limits and manual LOD optimizations.
Lumen – UE5‘s fully dynamic global illumination solution enables cinematic quality lighting that instantly adapts to any changes in lighting or scene composition. Diffuse lighting, reflections, and global illumination effects are perfect for both hand-crafted and procedurally generated environments.
World Partition – Massive worlds can be broken into partitions with independent streaming and LODs. This enables detailed open worlds that dynamically load spatial regions as needed.
Data Layer Asset System – Asset data layers can be managed separately from instances in a level. This helps handle expansive worlds with reusable data while reducing duplication.
Workflow Optimizations – UE5 introduces major improvements to iteration speeds. Auto-reimporting of assets, live link asset preview, highly optimized cooking and lightmap baking all accelerate development. This allows for building expansive next-gen worlds.
These capabilities empower developers to achieve unprecedented fidelity and dynamism in lighting, scenes, and assets. UE5 keeps extending the limits of what‘s possible in real-time environments.
But how does performance stack up? Can hardware reasonably handle what UE5 enables?
UE5 Performance and Hardware Requirements
Given its graphical advancements like Lumen and Nanite, UE5 is more demanding than UE4 at the baseline. You‘ll want a modern multi-core CPU and capable discrete GPU at a minimum:
- OS: 64-bit Windows 10
- CPU: Intel Core i5-4690k or AMD Ryzen 5 1600
- GPU: Nvidia GTX 970 or AMD Radeon RX 480
- RAM: 16GB
- Storage: HDD/SSD with at least 70GB free space
- OS: 64-bit Windows 10
- CPU: Intel Core i7-6700k or AMD Ryzen 5 3600
- GPU: Nvidia RTX 2070 or AMD Radeon RX 6700 XT
- RAM: 32GB
- Storage: SSD with at least 70GB free space
You‘ll also need a GPU that supports DirectX 12 or Vulkan graphics for optimal performance.
The good news is that while baseline requirements have increased, UE5 introduces optimizations leveraging multi-core CPUs and GPUs exceptionally well.
Tom‘s Hardware testing showed an Intel Core i9-12900K rig gained up to 2x better frame rates in UE5 compared to UE4. AMD Ryzen CPU performance also sees notable uplifts.
So modern hardware can efficiently tap into UE5‘s capabilities for smooth performance even with all its graphical improvements enabled. Targeting at least 6 fast CPU cores and a mid-range discrete RTX/Radeon GPU offers a solid experience.
Let‘s look at some real world examples of UE5 games…
What Games Have Been Made with Unreal Engine 5?
While brand new, UE5 has already been used to create stunning reveals and playable game demos:
The Matrix Awakens – Epic‘s demo of UE5 capabilities featuring photorealistic models of Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss in a glimpse at the Matrix universe.
Senua‘s Saga: Hellblade 2 – Next installment in the Hellblade series announced at The Game Awards 2019. Features Iceland landscapes built in UE5.
Black Myth: Wu Kong – Action RPG built in UE5 showcasing photorealistic graphics and large open world environments inspired by Journey to the West.
GFR Aims Plymouth Crazy Taxi – Hyper-realistic demo with ray traced reflections, global illumination, and photogrammetry assets of real world locations.
These early samples showcase how UE5 can create cinema quality assets, lighting, and environments on par with pre-rendered CGI. The engine is just beginning to be tapped for next-gen games targeting high fidelity graphics paired with engaging gameplay.
AAA franchises like Tomb Raider, BioShock, and Borderlands will be leveraging UE5 for their next chapters. Even Google selected UE5 for powering titles on Stadia. The engine is well positioned as a leading choice for cross-platform games, especially those wanting to harness every ounce of fidelity modern hardware enables.
But what about getting started actually making something with UE5?
Learning Unreal Engine 5 as a Beginner
While incredibly capable, UE5 remains approachable for total beginners thanks to its visual scripting system Blueprint. You can build full games without writing any code using Blueprint‘s node workflow to program behaviors and logic.
Here are some tips to begin your UE5 learning journey:
- Do the intro tutorials first to familiarize with UE5‘s layout and tools
- Follow Blueprint game walkthroughs for hands-on learning
- Start small in scope – learn fundamentals before tackling huge ideas
- Leverage free marketplace assets to prototype faster
- Focus on simple but fun mechanics before polished visuals
- Join the UE5 forums and Discord channels to connect with the community
- Follow Epic‘s various livestreams demonstrating UE5 workflows
- Stay inspired browsing through the UE5 games showcase
- Consider taking a structured online UE5 course on sites like Udemy or Skillshare for guided learning.
With a curious mindset and focus on incrementally expanding your knowledge, UE5 can take you from zero experience to shipping your own games with a bit of dedication.
The key is staying consistent – follow along with tutorials every week, join game jams to get practical experience, and don‘t be afraid to ask questions to the community along the way.
Are There Any Catches to UE5‘s Free Offering?
We‘ve covered a lot of ground on what‘s included with UE5 for free, but are there any major catches or limitations to be aware of?
A few small caveats:
When publishing commercial games beyond $1 million revenue, 5% royalties apply in perpetuity which must be planned for.
You have full source code access, but no license to modify/distribute the engine code itself commercially outside your project.
Some enterprise plugins and dedicated support require licensing for companies over a certain size.
File format compatibility with older engine versions isn‘t always perfect.
Regular engine updates may cause project versioning challenges.
Aside from royalties on highly profitable titles, these are relatively minor tradeoffs. UE5‘s terms are still immensely favorable compared to proprietary commercial engines.
For the vast majority of indie developers and hobbyists, UE5 delivers an incredible wealth of professional game development tools without any meaningful compromises.
Is UE5 Right For Your Game Development Needs?
Given everything we‘ve covered, hopefully you have a clear sense of whether UE5 could be a fit for your particular game dev needs and goals:
For total beginners or hobbyists, UE5 enables you to get started with world-class tools at no cost.
Indie developers can build and publish full commercial games free until significant sales volumes when reasonable 5% royalties apply.
AA and AAA studios with proven IP can leverage UE5‘s cutting edge capabilities with the staff to maximize its potential.
Projects demanding high fidelity visuals, film quality assets, dynamic lighting, and large open worlds will benefit immensely from UE5‘s graphical capabilities and optimization.
While not a fit for every genre, UE5 solves many pain points in asset creation and advanced rendering that have held games back from achieving true photorealism. The improvements open new creative possibilities.
For anyone eager to push boundaries and explore UE5‘s capabilities, the free access removes all financial barriers to getting started.
Start Your UE5 Journey Today!
Alright my friend! We‘ve covered everything about UE5‘s free offering and what it can empower. Now it‘s up to you to take that first step into learning and exploring something amazing.
At the end of the day, technology like UE5 is there to turn imaginative people like you into creators. With persistence and passion, there are no limits to the worlds you can build.
I hope this guide gave you confidence that all the tools are indeed available for free. Now it‘s time to put them to work and unlock your potential.
You‘ve got this! I believe in you. Now get creating 🙂
Let me know if you have any other questions!