Developer Epic Games has announced that it has made its powerful Unreal Engine 4 free for anyone to use. This is good news for game developers of all sizes, because the Unreal Engine can do a lot of things that would otherwise take a lot of work to program. It’s especially good news for independent game developers, who often don’t have the resources to do everything they’d like to do on their own. Could this be the start of a new wave of exceptional indie games?
Not that we were living through a drought of indie games prior to this development. While indie games have thrived on PC for decades, it wasn’t until Microsoft created the Xbox Live Arcade in 2005 that smaller indie games came to consoles in a major way. Even then it took a few years before an indie developer released a “killer app” that proved the potential of indie gaming.
That killer app, the one most people credit with kicking off the current “indie game golden age,” was Braid, a puzzle platformer that launched in 2008. Since then, more and more indie games have found success, bringing with them a surge of creativity that has spread across the entire gaming landscape.
The reason indies can inject creativity into the market is because they have smaller budgets, so they can take bigger risks. It also helps that they don’t have shareholders to appease, as big companies like Ubisoft and Electronic Arts do.
So what changes now, with the Unreal Engine 4 going free? The big difference is that small companies now have better tools to make bigger, more ambitious games. The Unreal Engine is a powerful piece of software that many of the most popular games of the last decade have been based on, including series like Gears of War, Batman Arkham, Bioshock, Mass Effect, and many more.
Previous versions of the Unreal Engine were very pricy to license, which put them out of reach of most indie developers. That meant only bigger developers with sizable budgets could afford to use it.
Under the new program, developers won’t owe anything up front, but will have to pay a percentage of profits if they release a successful game. As Epic CEO Tim Sweeney put it in the blog post announcement, “When you ship a game or application, you pay a 5% royalty on gross revenue after the first $3,000 per product, per quarter. It’s a simple arrangement in which we succeed only when you succeed.”
The post goes on to say, “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.”
The Unreal Engine can be used for a wide variety of games, including puzzle games and three-dimensional action titles. It can also be used for a variety of other applications beyond games, including education, architecture, virtual reality, animation, and film.
Along with free access to Unreal Engine 4 comes access to a vast array of resources to build games, including forums, a wiki, video tutorials, templates, and the Marketplace. In the Marketplace, developers can buy and sell pieces of code they’ve created to plug into the Unreal Engine.
Prior to this, other engines have been available for free to independent developers, but none have been as powerful as the Unreal Engine, which is why AAA studios were willing to pay hefty licensing fees to use Unreal. Now that the playing field has been leveled, indies have a lot more power at their fingertips. For fans of indie games, the future looks brighter than ever.