I know you may find this hard to believe, but Epic Games has made their powerful Unreal Engine 5 available completely free for game developers, including for commercial products. You pay nothing upfront and owe no royalties until your game starts generating real revenue.
I‘ve been making games for over 10 years, and this is an incredibly exciting shift that could really open up new opportunities for independent creators. But you probably have lots of questions about how UE5‘s licensing model works and what you‘re allowed to do with the free version.
In this post, I‘ll cover everything you need to know about getting started with UE5 as an indie developer, including:
- The key terms of UE5‘s free license for commercial use
- What you can and can‘t do with the royalty-free license
- UE5‘s revenue share model – when you owe royalties
- Using UE5 vs Unity for your game – which one is right for you?
- Resources for learning UE5 as a beginner
- Publishing your UE5 game on consoles, PC, mobile
- The future opportunities with NFTs and digital assets
By the end, you‘ll understand exactly how UE5‘s licensing works so you can decide if it‘s the right choice for your next game. Let‘s dive in!
Unreal Engine 5 is 100% free until you ship a game
I want to be totally clear about this point – anyone can download and use Unreal Engine 5 today without paying Epic Games a single cent.
You get full access to everything including:
- The editor tools to build stunning game environments
- The Blueprint visual scripting system to code gameplay without writing C++
- The full C++ source code if you want to program that way
- Multiplayer networking features
- The Quixel Megascans library of 3D art assets
- The MetaHuman Creator for making real-time human characters
- Optimization frameworks for mobile, console, and PC
Epic Games founder Tim Sweeney has publicly committed that UE5 will remain a cost-free development platform for the foreseeable future.
This massively lowers the barriers for indie studios, students, and hobbyists wanting to experiment and learn game development using a professional-grade engine.
Now once you‘re ready to ship a commercial product to customers, you agree to pay 5% of gross revenue back to Epic Games after exceeding $1,000 per quarter in sales. We‘ll dig more into the royalty details coming up.
But the key takeaway is you can download UE5 today and use it for literally any purpose – commercial or personal – without paying anything or needing any kind of license.
What can you make and distribute for free with Unreal Engine 5?
Epic‘s standard end user license agreement (EULA) is incredibly permissive in terms of what you‘re allowed to develop and distribute with a free UE5 license.
Anything you make for your own personal use or learning is perfectly fine – share gameplay footage on YouTube, stream your learning journey on Twitch, no problem.
But UE5 can also be used commercially in a few different scenarios without ever owing any royalties or payments to Epic Games:
Custom projects developed for individual clients – like an architectural visualization for a construction firm, a VR training simulator for a corporation, or any other bespoke interactives. As long as your client knows it was made with UE5.
Linear entertainment like animated films, TV shows, and OTT series – Epic has positioned UE5 as an industry-leading content creation tool for linear entertainment like television and animation. Any projects distributed this way can use a free UE5 license.
Enterprise applications like VR/AR experiences or simulations – You‘re free to use UE5 to develop apps and experiences for internal corporate use without any payment to Epic.
So as you can see, you‘re not limited to just personal hobby projects. There are a variety of professional use cases where you can use UE5 in a revenue-generating product as long as you‘re not directly selling a game to end users.
When do you owe Epic Games a 5% royalty on your game revenue?
If you want to ship and sell a game or other interactive product directly to consumers – whether it‘s on Steam, consoles, or mobile app stores – you agree to pay Epic Games a 5% royalty on revenue after your first $1,000 per quarter.
This royalty model is part of the separate Publishing License agreement. It only kicks in once your game is generating revenue, allowing you to use UE5 completely free until you‘re able to monetize your game.
Here‘s an example royalty calculation:
Let‘s say your game makes $5,000 in revenue in its first calendar quarter after launch.
- The first $1,000 per quarter is exempt from any royalties
- That leaves $4,000 eligible for the 5% royalty
- 5% of $4,000 is $200 owed to Epic Games for that quarter
For most indie developers, it takes time to build an audience and get real revenue flowing for a new game. UE5 lets you take the time to build your game the right way before you start owing any cut to Epic Games.
And even once the royalties kick in, the 5% rate is quite affordable compared to the high licensing fees charged by other proprietary game engines.
How does Unreal Engine 5 compare to Unity for game development?
When it comes to free game engines, the two dominant choices are Unreal Engine 5 and Unity. Both allow you to ship commercial games royalty-free until you hit a revenue threshold.
So which one should you choose for your game project? Here‘s a quick rundown of the strengths of each:
Unreal Engine 5
- More advanced 3D graphics and rendering capabilities out of the box
- Excellent tools like MetaHumans and Quixel Megascans included free
- Full C++ source code access
- Blueprint visual scripting system to code games without writing C++
- Great for PC, console, and VR projects due to graphics power
- Steeper learning curve than Unity
- More beginner-friendly 2D and mobile focused features
- Support for building 2D pixel art and isometric games
- Uses C# coding which is easier for beginners to learn
- Huge asset store marketplace with lots of 2D options
- Slightly lower revenue share at 4% after $100k lifetime gross revenue
- Easier to get up and running quickly
For most hobbyists and aspiring indie developers, I‘d recommend starting with Unity as it‘s a bit more beginner-friendly and popular with 2D game projects.
But for developers who value advanced 3D graphics or want to focus on PC/console platforms, Unreal Engine 5 offers incredible power right out of the box.
There are plenty of advantages to both game engines. Choose the one that feels best aligned to the type of game you want to build and your current experience level as a game developer.
Can I publish my Unreal Engine games wherever I want?
Yes, one huge advantage of Unreal Engine 5 is you retain full control over publishing and distributing your game.
The Epic Games Store offers some unique perks like free access to Quixel Megascans. But you are free to release your UE5 games on any platform or storefront – Steam, Itch.io, consoles, iOS, Android, anywhere you want.
The royalty you pay to Epic Games is only based on the gross revenue of your game, regardless of where it‘s sold.
Some examples of UE5 games available on Steam early access today include:
- Satisfactory – Factory building simulation game by Coffee Stain Studios
- Temtem – Pokemon-style MMO with over 250K copies sold on Steam
- Hell Let Loose – Epic‘s World War 2 multiplayer shooter with 10K+ concurrent players
Major AAA franchises like Borderlands 3 have also launched simultaneously on both Steam and Epic Games Store using Unreal Engine technology.
So if your dream is to launch a game on Steam, you can absolutely develop your game in UE5 and still achieve that goal. The publishing terms are very flexible and open compared to some other restrictive engines.
How easy is Unreal Engine 5 for beginners to learn?
Considering UE5 is used to make AAA games like Fortnite, you might think it‘s only suited for expert game developers. But thanks to Blueprint visual scripting, you can actually start building games as a total beginner with no coding required.
Blueprints allow you to add interactive logic and behaviors by connecting together nodes visually, instead of having to write hardcore C++ code.
This GDC talk shows just how far you can push UE5 as a beginner using Blueprints. You can make an entire shoot ‘em up game logic with zero coding involved.
Beyond Blueprints, UE5‘s new Lyra Starter Game project gives you a triple-A quality sample game right out of the box to start iterating on and making your own.
There are also hundreds of high-quality tutorials available for free from Epic Games to teach you Unreal basics across Blueprints, animation, materials, and more.
While the graphics and rendering capabilities are cutting edge, the toolset itself is approachable for new users. Don‘t be intimidated to dive in as a beginner!
Should I learn Unreal Engine 5 for a career in game dev?
With remote work becoming standard, I‘ve seen so many talented developers learn Unreal Engine online to land game dev jobs and contracts.
Unreal Engine skills are massively in demand right now, especially with the shift to next-gen consoles and mobile using UE5.
Here are some stats on just how widely adopted Unreal is in the game industry:
- Used in over 50% of announced next-gen PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X games
- Powering upcoming AAA titles like Senua‘s Saga: Hellblade 2
- Epic Games is valued at over $28 billion after Fortnite‘s success
- Unreal Engine Marketplace has earned creators over $200 million
And with demand for 3D AR/VR content outside gaming growing, UE5 is expanding into industries like automotive design, manufacturing, and architecture.
There‘s never been a better time to start learning Unreal Engine. Especially with the ability to publish your own games royalty-free until they take off.
Having UE5 skills on your resume will get any game studio‘s attention. I definitely recommend trying it out and taking advantage of the free resources.
The future of UE5 – player-owned economies and NFT games
One really exciting development Epic announced is full support for NFTs, tokenized items, and new player-owned economies coming to Unreal Engine 5.
Imagine being able to turn your custom UE5 game items into blockchain assets that players can truly own, trade, and sell across an open ecosystem.
Top cryptocurrencies like ApeCoin are investing millions into fund developers building next-gen experiences in UE5.
Now creators can retain value from popular assets instead of everything being locked up by gatekeepers.
Unreal Engine‘s Connected Economies framework will handle all the blockchain complexity for you as a game developer.
As a player I love being able to earn real ownership in games I love investing time into. And as a creator, you can gain a whole new stream of revenue.
The future of games is open, player-driven economies. I‘m so pumped that Unreal Engine 5 will power this next generation of digital world building.
Get started with UE5 today – it‘s yours to explore
Hopefully now you‘ve got all the key facts about what you can do with the free version of Unreal Engine 5.
- Download and use UE5 today with no upfront costs at all
- Make games or custom projects commercially until exceeding $1,000 in sales per quarter
- Owe 5% revenue share to Epic Games after crossing the revenue threshold
- Publish and distribute your games on any platform you choose
- Leverage Blueprints to start coding gameplay visually with zero C++ needed
Unreal Engine 5 provides an incredibly accessible yet powerful platform for you to start your game developer journey.
There‘s hundreds of hours of free tutorials to go through making your own FPS, RPG, racing game and more in UE5. No excuses, get started today and let‘s see what awesome worlds you can bring to life!
What questions do you still have about using UE5 for your own game projects? Let me know in the comments below!