Hey there! If you‘ve been exploring your options for making games lately, you may be wondering: is Unreal Engine really free? Can I just download it and start building the next big hit game right away?
The short answer is: yes, absolutely! Unreal Engine is 100% free to download and use for learning, prototyping game ideas, and even launching commercial projects once they surpass $1 million in gross revenue. Read on for the full scoop!
A Quick Primer – What is Unreal Engine?
For those new to game development, Unreal Engine is a powerful tool for creating 2D and 3D games and interactive experiences. First launched in 1998, Unreal has been used to develop hundreds of popular games across multiple platforms.
Created by Epic Games, Unreal Engine is written in C++ and gives developers access to robust editor tools for building detailed game worlds. It‘s known for its advanced real-time 3D rendering capabilities.
According to Epic, over 6.5 million users have accessed Unreal Engine to bring their gaming visions to life. Impressive!
Now let‘s dive into exactly how the pricing and licensing works.
Download Today and Start Building for Free
The most important fact is that you can go to UnrealEngine.com right now and download the complete engine for free. No tricks or hidden charges.
Unreal now belongs to you to use in any non-commercial way you see fit. The full suite of modeling, texturing, animation, physics tools – yours to explore at no cost.
For personal education, classroom use, hobby projects, game jams, or just pure learning – Unreal is gratis. This allows anyone to start acquiring skills with professional-grade game dev tools.
According to Epic VP Mark Rein:
"Unreal Engine 4 is completely free to use, at no cost to you. You can build games, interactive experiences, animations, anything you want!"
So become an Unreal power user today without spending a dime. Now let‘s cover how revenue-generating projects are handled.
Launch Commercial Games – Royalties Only After Major Success
Unreal Engine is designed so any aspiring game developer can ship their work commercially.
Rather than forcing indies to pay large upfront fees, Epic instead asks for a small royalty only after your game starts generating significant gross revenue.
Specifically, once your game earns more than $1 million in revenue, a 5% royalty kicks in only on revenue above and beyond that first $1 million.
For example, if your game makes $1.5 million total, you would owe Epic 5% of $500,000, which is $25,000. Reasonable considering the engine is free upfront!
And the first $1 million earned per game is royalty-free forever – for both the original and any ports or sequels. Very indie-friendly overall!
According to Epic‘s CEO Tim Sweeney:
"Any developer can ship as many games as they want, then pay Epic 5% of gross revenue after their first $1 million in revenue per game."
So in summary, here‘s how commercial licensing works:
- No upfront license cost
- No royalties on first $1 million in revenue per game
- 5% royalty on revenue exceeding $1 million per title
- Royalty-free forever on that first $1 million
- Same terms apply to sequels and ports
This structure lets indie studios thrive while ensuring Epic gets fairly compensated on mega-hits leveraging their tech. Win-win!
Freedom to Learn and Experiment
Because the engine is free, Unreal opens the door for anyone to start acquiring game development skills with zero financial risk.
You can tinker and experiment to your heart‘s content while building your capabilities. Make mistakes. Try bold ideas. Push the engine to its limits.
Without worrying about racking up big bills for licenses or services, Unreal provides a safe space to transform yourself into a capable, confident game developer.
As Unreal UX designer Sjoerd De Jong put it:
"The best part of Unreal Engine being free is that there is no longer a barrier to entry. Anyone can download it and start learning and prototyping game ideas."
So explore all facets of game creation stress-free. Master 3D modeling, materials, lighting,Blueprints, particle systems, UI, VR, and so much more with Unreal as your guide.
Now let‘s walk through how Unreal Engine 4 compares to other popular options.
Key Comparisons Against Other Game Engines
While not the only free game engine out there, Unreal offers capabilities unmatched by others in its class.
Unreal vs Unity
Unity is another free game engine used by indie devs. But Unity‘s free tier offers less functionality vs Unreal Engine 4. Key differences:
- Unreal provides full C++ source code access. Unity‘s free version does not.
- Unreal includes more built-in rendering capabilities like ray tracing.
- Unreal offers a larger library of free learning assets and content.
Unreal vs Lumberyard
AWS‘s Lumberyard engine is also free but requires more manual setup and configuration vs Unreal‘s ready-to-use tools.
Unreal vs CryEngine
CryEngine is free but oriented toward shooter games. Unreal offers a more general purpose toolset.
Unreal vs Godot
Godot is a lightweight 2D/3D engine good for simpler games. Unreal brings AAA power across game genres.
For aspiring developers, Unreal Engine strikes an excellent balance of being freely available while providing professional-level features to create high quality games.
Now let‘s go over some key benefits and capabilities Unreal Engine brings to the table.
Why Developers Love Using Unreal Engine
Beyond being free to start with, what makes Unreal Engine so popular? What core strengths make it stand out from the crowded field of game engines?
Epic pours tons of R&D into their real-time 3D rendering tech. As a result, Unreal-powered games boast jaw-dropping visual fidelity and immersive worlds.
Advanced effects like ray tracing and the Niagara particle system help developers easily achieve cinematic AAA graphics. Reviewers consistently praise games built with Unreal for pushing the envelope visually.
Unreal Engine delivers excellent performance optimized across desktop, mobile, console, and web platforms. Epic is obsessive about wringing the most performance out of every target device.
This means Unreal-based games shine with smooth framerates and stability even on lower-end hardware.
Epic packs an immense amount of tools into Unreal to support game developers across disciplines:
- 3D modeling and animation
- Materials, textures, and VFX
- AI and behavior scripting
- UX design and UI development
- Audio integration and sound effects
- State machines and gameplay logic
- Networking and multiplayer features
- AR, VR, and XR development
- Vast scripting and coding options
This comprehensive toolset lets entire game dev teams work together quickly and efficiently within one engine.
Epic rolls out steady engine updates featuring new capabilities, optimizations, and cutting-edge integrations.
Developers always have access to the latest tech like ray tracing, virtual production tools, and platform advancements as soon as they are available.
Unreal Engine is in a constant state of evolution, meaning your games get better over time.
The Unreal user base shares a wealth of free tutorials, assets, and support through forums and sites like YouTube.
The open community fosters helpful knowledge sharing – beginners regularly praise Unreal‘s friendly, welcoming user base.
Proven Track Record
Countless bestselling games have leveraged Unreal Engine over the past two decades. The engine is battle-tested across every genre and platform.
Developers trust Unreal to handle technically demanding projects while avoiding costly mistakes. Its reputation encourages publishers to invest in Unreal-based games.
Now that you know the many benefits of Unreal, let‘s go over some tips for mastering it as a beginner.
Getting Started with Unreal Engine as a New User
Transitioning to a professional-grade game engine like Unreal can feel daunting for newcomers. Where do you even begin to start creating?
Here is some guidance if you are just embarking on your Unreal journey:
Grab the Free Content
Epic provides tons of high-quality free assets and environments you can play with. Get familiar by simply placing items in a scene and observing results.
Follow the Built-In Tutorials
Unreal packs in excellent step-by-step tutorial content. Work through these to methodically build skills in different engine areas.
Start with Blueprints
Blueprints allow visual scripting without coding. Great for new users to make stuff quickly while learning deeper programming concepts slowly over time.
Join the Community
Ask questions and find solutions from Unreal‘s active user forums and Discord channels. Veteran users gladly help newcomers.
Watch YouTube Creators
Many Unreal Engine experts generously share their knowledge through YouTube tutorials and crash courses. Study these to rapidly boost skills.
Focus on One Feature at a Time
Don‘t bite off more than you can chew. Master one tool like Blueprint or rendering before trying to learn animation, physics, etc.
Accept That It Takes Time
Expect learning Unreal to be an ongoing journey. With consistent practice, it starts clicking more each day. Be patient with yourself as you build expertise.
The key is to start small while exploring all that Unreal makes possible. With the engine free to download, you have nothing blocking you from gaining world-class game development capabilities.
Yes, You Can Launch and Sell Your Games Commercially!
As covered earlier, once your game starts generating revenues above $1 million, you begin paying a reasonable 5% royalty to Epic on those earnings.
But other than that, Unreal places no restrictions on what you build or release commercially using their tech. Some key notes on publishing Unreal-powered games:
- You retain full ownership and IP rights
- No review or approval needed from Epic
- No restrictions on content, genre, or platforms
- No gambling restrictions like with some engines
- Can sell on any storefront – Steam, iOS, etc.
- Keep 100% of revenues before hitting $1 million
Tim Sweeney has stated, "There are no catches, and no gotchas in Unreal Engine 4. You are free to do whatever you want with it."
So get building the next hit indie game! Once it takes off, just reward Epic with royalties off your large revenues, and enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Unreal empowers developers like you with world-class technology to bring any gaming vision to life. Their fair pricing model lets you focus on creating, not worrying about leasing software.
As you begin your Unreal Engine journey today, tap into the vast free resources to sharpen your skills. Then unleash your creativity to its fullest potential.
The supportive Unreal community looks forward to playing the awesome games you build!