Good news for game developers: Epic Games' Tim Sweeney said on Monday that the company has dropped the $19 per month subscription fee for Unreal Engine and is providing the software and future updates for free. That’s right: this highly-used engine no longer requires the monthly fee that was introduced back in March 2014. The only catch is that developers must pay a 5 percent royalty fee after the resulting product – whether it's a game or an animated film – brings in $3,000 per quarter.
"It's a simple arrangement in which we succeed only when you succeed," Sweeney said in a blog post. "This is the complete technology we use at Epic when building our own games. It scales from indie projects to high-end blockbusters; it supports all the major platforms; and it includes 100% of the C++ source code. Our goal is to give you absolutely everything, so that you can do anything and be in control of your schedule and your destiny. Whatever you require to build and ship your game, you can find it in UE4, source it in the Marketplace, or build it yourself – and then share it with others."
Epic Games started down the path of offering Unreal Engine at no cost back in September 2014 when it made the engine free for educational use. To qualify, students were required to be enrolled in specific educational programs such as video game development, computer science, visualization and similar programs. Epic's Ray Davis said that the company chose to drop the subscription for students due to a steady increase in interest by students wanting a way to have access to the engine without having to pay a dime.
"The past year has been a whirlwind for everyone at Epic Games," Sweeney said on Monday. "Our community has grown tremendously. The quality and variety of creative work being done has been breathtaking. The state of Unreal is strong, and we’ve realized that as we take away barriers, more people are able to fulfill their creative visions and shape the future of the medium we love. That's why we're taking away the last barrier to entry, and going free."
He added that customers who just paid their monthly fee for Unreal Engine will get their money back as a prorated refund. Additionally, those who have paid the subscription fee, whether it was for a month or since March 2014, will receive a $30 credit that can be applied to purchases in the Unreal Engine Marketplace.
Meanwhile, Unity is considered to be one of Unreal Engine's biggest competitors. There's a free version that doesn't require any royalties or monthly fees, but it's also watered down when compared to Unity Pro. As seen here in a comparison, the free version of Unity doesn't include LOD support, an audio filter, video playback and streaming, and so on. This version also doesn't provide 3D texture support, light probes, static batching and more. Unity Pro provides everything the engine offers, but for $1,500, or $75 per month for 12 months.
According to the Unity Technologies website, the Unity engine has a 45 percent share of the worldwide game engine market, followed by its "closest competitor" at 17 percent and all others grouped together at 38 percent. Customers that use the Unity engine include Cartoon Network, Disney, Electronic Arts, Microsoft, Nickelodeon, Ubisoft and loads more gaming and non-gaming companies.
Eradicating the subscription fee for Epic's Unreal Engine should help the company gain more ground in the game engine market and put adequate pressure on Unity Technologies. Will Unity Technologies drop its one-time and monthly fees to better compete with the just-freed Unreal Engine? That remains to be seen.
"This news comes during an unprecedented time in our industry, amidst revolutions in virtual reality and augmented reality, and in the presence of the largest community of indie developers that has ever existed, all facing a crowded market and seeking the opportunity to stand out from the crowd," Sweeney said in his blog. "Yet in Epic's 25 years as an independent company, we have seen no time of greater opportunity for developers than today."
We've reached out to both Epic and Unity for comment, so stay tuned.