For any aspiring game developer with dreams of launching the next big hit, one of the most crucial questions is – can I release and sell games made with Unreal Engine 100% for free? Or will sky-high royalties and licensing fees eat into profits?
The great news is Unreal Engine is completely free to use with no royalties or revenue share until your game starts earning decent money. This makes it very indie-friendly for publishing commercial games and bootstrapping your own titles.
In this comprehensive guide, I‘ll cover everything you need to know about publishing with Unreal from licensing to platform options. Let‘s dive in!
Quick Summary: How Free Publishing With Unreal Works
Here‘s the short version:
- Unreal Engine is 100% free to download and use for development
- You can build and publish games commercially with no upfront costs
- No royalties are owed to Epic Games until your game earns over $3000 per quarter
- After $3000 per quarter, a 5% royalty fee kicks in on future earnings
- You own all your original game content and can sell it freely
- Unreal cannot be redistributed, but games you make can be sold anywhere
- Popular free publishing options include Steam, Itch.io and Epic Games Store
This means you can go from zero to launching your own game without any mandatory payments to Epic. Now let‘s explore the details.
Unreal Engine Puts No Limits on Your Creativity
As a game developer, having access to a professional-grade game engine is a huge advantage. Top engines like Unreal and Unity can take years with huge teams to build.
Unreal Engine in particular stands out by being completely free with no royalties or licensing fees up front.
You can download both Unreal Engine 4 and the brand new Unreal Engine 5 today and start building games without spending a dime. There are no limits or premium features locked behind a paywall.
For hobbyists, students, and indie studios, this free access to world-class tools is a huge benefit. You don‘t need big budgets and a team of programmers to start bringing your game idea to life.
And when you‘re ready to release your game commercially, you still owe nothing to Epic Games until your game makes over $3000 in a quarter. This lets you reinvest revenue back into your game.
Unreal gives creators incredible freedom. No matter your background or budget, you can ship a game commercially and keep the profits until it gains significant traction.
Understand Royalty Thresholds for Commercial Use
One advantage of Unreal Engine over open source engines like Godot is you can publish and sell commercial games without any mandatory payments or revenue sharing.
Here‘s a summary of the royalty structure:
- $0 to $3000 revenue per quarter = 0% royalty
- $3000 to $10,000 revenue per quarter = 5% royalty
- Over $10,000 revenue per quarter = 5% royalty after $3000 waived
Until your game surpasses $3000 revenue in a 3 month period, you owe nothing to Epic Games. This gives you leeway to recoup development costs and hopefully go into profit before any royalties kick in.
Once you pass $3000 for a quarter, a standard 5% revenue share applies going forward. There are no revenue caps or limits – Epic earns 5% of all earnings above $3000.
For big hits earning over $10k in a quarter, the first $3k remains royalty-free as a waiver, so you keep 100% of a minimum $3000 always.
Compare this to Unity‘s royalty structure where all pro features require a $400/year subscription. Unreal lets you earn decent revenue without profit sharing.
You Maintain Full Ownership of Original Content
When using a game engine, licensing rules around who owns what can get confusing.
With Unreal Engine, the situation is straightforward:
- You own 100% of any original content you create including artwork, code, music etc.
- You can publish and sell original games content freely as you own all related IP.
- Unreal Engine code itself remains property of Epic Games and cannot be resold.
The only catch is Marketplace content. While useful for prototypes, Marketplace assets incur royalties if used in a commercial product earning over $1000 per quarter.
But any of your own game assets and content are royalty-free. You have full rights to commercialize your original work published through Unreal Engine.
Freedom to Publish Anywhere You Choose
Unreal does not limit where or how you publish games. Once complete, you can release Unreal Engine games on any platform or storefront you want including:
- Digital storefronts like Steam, Epic Games Store, Itch.io
- Gaming consoles including PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo Switch
- Mobile app stores like Apple App Store, Google Play Store
- Directly on your own website by selling keys or access
- NFT marketplaces if using blockchain features
You retain flexibility on business model as well. Options include:
- One time purchases
- Free games monetized via ads and in-app purchases
- Shareware with unlocked content via purchases
- Monthly subscriptions for access
- Platform-specific business models like PlayStation Plus free monthly games
The only obligation is paying the 5% royalty to Epic Games once your quarterly revenue surpasses $3000. Where and how you earn that revenue is entirely your choice.
Publishing on Popular Platforms Like Steam
For reaching huge built-in PC gaming audiences, platforms like Steam and the Epic Games Store are highly appealing. Here‘s an overview of how publishing with them works:
- Requires Greenlight submission fee of $100 per game
- Greenlight fee is recouped once you earn $1000 in revenue
- Steam takes 30% revenue share from game sales
- Can generate keys to sell on other platforms and keep 100% earnings
Steam offers massive reach but takes the biggest revenue share. Generating keys to sell your game yourself lets you keep more profit.
Epic Games Store
- Requires $100 submission fee per game
- Epic takes 12% revenue share from game sales
- All engines supported including Unreal and Unity
Epic takes a smaller cut than Steam and offers waivers to highly successful titles. Publishing here also supports Unreal‘s creators directly.
- Allows unlimited free game uploads
- Option for open source games to be "pay what you want"
- Itch.io takes 10% revenue share from non-open source sales
Itch focuses on indie games and offers the most flexibility including the ability to open source your game.
Consoles Offer Potential for Major Reach
Publishing on major consoles like PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo Switch brings your game to massive audiences of dedicated gamers.
However, the approval process for console stores is highly stringent with extensive technical requirements. You‘ll need to budget significant time for compliance.
Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo each take 30% revenue share from game sales on their platforms. So the profit split is less favorable than stores like Epic.
For indie studios, publishing on consoles likely requires partnering with an established publisher who can assist with compliance, manufacturing, marketing and distribution.
But the potential reach is huge, so consoles remain an aspirational goal for Unreal developers, even if the barrier to entry is high.
Case Study: Publishing Success with Unreal Engine
To see Unreal Engine‘s free publishing model in action, let‘s look at the indie breakout hit Valheim:
- Developed by 5 person team Iron Gate Studio
- Built with Unreal Engine 4 over 18 months
- Published on Steam Early Access on Feb 2, 2021
- Earned $12 million revenue in first month
- Sold over 1 million copies within 1 month
For a small independent studio, Valheim shows the massive upside possible when publishing breakout games with Unreal Engine.
Within just 30 days of release, the game was already earning over $1 million per month in revenue from just one platform.
Assuming this rate held steady, once Valheim‘s quarterly revenue exceeded $3 million, the 5% royalty to Epic Games would only amount to $150,000 – still leaving the developers with $2.85 million in profit that quarter even after the Unreal royalty.
For indie developers, this demonstrates how generous Unreal Engine‘s revenue thresholds are before any royalties kick in. Even breakout hits earning millions owe only small fractions of revenue as the royalty.
You Can Start Publishing for Free Right Now
If you‘ve been holding off on publishing your own games commercially, Unreal Engine makes it possible to get started for free.
Here is a quick guide to begin:
Download Unreal Engine – Both UE4 and UE5 are free to start using today
Learn through tutorials – Start small by completing example game projects to get comfortable
Develop your game – Focus on finishing a modest first title within 3-6 months solo or with a small team
Select a publishing platform – Weigh options like Itch.io, Steam, EGS based on audience, features
Handle platform requirements – Submission forms, technical compliance, age ratings etc.
Market your game – Use social media, influencers, demos to build wishlists and hype
Release your game – Manage updates, customer issues, server capacity etc. post launch
With each game release, you‘ll gain experience to level up quality and profitability for your next title.
Your Game Dev Dreams Are Closer Than You Think
As an aspiring game developer, you now have all the tools needed to successfully publish commercial quality games 100% for free.
Unreal Engine‘s generous free licensing model gives you full access to world-class technology and the freedom to release Unreal-powered games on your terms.
No more excuses or barriers. Download Unreal, start small, and make progress daily on your game projects.
With consistency and commitment to finishing, you can launch your game dev career and see your creations come to life.
The only limits are your passion, imagination, and persistence. Unreal Engine empowers anyone with a computer and internet access to start realizing their game development dreams.
It‘s the best time in history to become an indie game dev. Seize the immense opportunities ahead. The only missing piece is you taking action.
I hope this guide gives you confidence in how achievable publishing your first game can be. Now get out there, have fun, and bring your gaming vision to the world!