From Duke Nukem: Forever to Gears of War and just about everything with Tom Clancy in the title, the Unreal Engine is practically synonymous with graphical design in games. It is a powerful medium, and now Epic Games has made Unreal Engine 4, their newest and most powerful engine yet, FREE.
The first and most important question to be answered is, of course, is it really free? The answer is yes; use of Unreal Engine 4 is completely free. Mainstream developers, indie game designers, and even a single home user can download Unreal Engine 4 (the latest version is 4.7) for free to design games, develop educational programs, or for visualization projects that involve virtual reality, film, and animation.
There are costs, but only after the game or application being developed is shipped and grosses $3,000 in revenue; that's when a 5% royalty for each product shipped by a particular developer kicks in. Also, those who originally signed up to use UE4 under Epic’s $19 per month subscription model will receive a pro-rated refund as well as a $30 credit in the Unreal Engine Marketplace.
The next question is how much of the UE4 technology is available? According to Tim Sweeney of Epic, all of it. “This is the complete technology we use at Epic when building our own games,” he wrote on the Epic Games site. Everything that is available to Epic for game design is available to anyone who wants to try their hand at making a game. Functionality exists for console, PC, and mobile gaming platforms.
The impact on the game development environment will be tremendous. For Epic, it is an opportunity to showcase some of the best development technology in the industry in a way that has never been seen before. Anyone who wishes can now see more than just the end result of UE4 use. Also, Epic Games should expect a significant upward trend in purchases from the Unreal Engine Marketplace. Epic has updated the content on the marketplace every few weeks, giving users new tools for development as well as providing smaller companies an opportunity to showcase and sell their work.
As the indie development environment continues to grow, Epic’s release has provided developers with what is arguably the most powerful tool they could hope to use for game design, and a well-respected, household name behind their project. Indie developers who use UE4 will have unprecedented name recognition as well as a strong community support base for ideas, suggestions, and technical support that typically isn’t available.
Finally, release of UE4 will allow Epic to expand a potential talent pool through which they can find new artists, animators, and writers by watching what users develop using UE4. It also gives Epic a chance to test new features added to UE4 in a variety of ways and over a broad user base. It is a smart move by Epic, and a fantastic opportunity for small developers and indie designers to “up their game,” if one will pardon the pun.