Unreal ‘Free’ To Devs, Unreal Tournament Free To All

Ultra-graphicsed Facing Worlds next pls

Even the tallest of titans couldn’t stand against the tide of free game-making for long. With so many developers turning to Unity to make their own games, and Unity’s capabilities improving rapidly, Ye Olde Unreal Engine was starting to look like something of a dinosaur despite being the go-to framework for a great many blockbuster action titles. And now it, too, is free, albeit with one big proviso. While this is primarily big news for devs (more on that below), it does also mean that anyone can now make their own maps for the work-in-progress, community-made Unreal Tournament sequel/remake. Which is currently also free. There’s also a new, super-shiny map to try out the next-gen engine with.

First the dev stuff. Previously, if you didn’t want to buy a full Unreal license outright (something that tends to be done only by big devs and at a specially-negotiated cost), you could subscribe to one for $19 per month, plus agree to give owners Epic a 5% share of all revenues over $3000 (per project, rather than all of them combined if you made multiple ones). Basically, they’ve now dropped the subscription, but the 5% clause remains.

For projects that you’re certain will only ever be small, this is great news – full, cost-free access to one of the most powerful and fully-featured game engines out there. If there’s any chance whatsoever that your game will be a commercial success, you’re potentially forking over a ton of money later on, however. For some devs, that’s the only way to do it, but it is well worth very strongly considering the options and doing the maths on what might happen if you sold x, y or z copies.

Every ‘free’ game engine has different costs and options for commercial projects, and some may be a better financial fit for you than others. Do you really need an engine this powerful? Would something cheaper/with more liberal terms do everything you need? Don’t rush into Unreal, as massively tempting as it may be. As assorted devs have been twit-wittering today, $3k isn’t impossibly hard to come by if the right site, channel, bundle or store sale happens to look your way one day, and then even if similar doesn’t happen again you’re stuck giving away 5% til kingdom come. Of revenue, not profit; i.e. of any cash over the first $3k that the game brings in. Update: ah, misinterpeted slightly – it’s 5% per quarter’s revenue. So if in one quarter you earn big you’ll owe 5% of any revenue over the first $3k, but if it another quarter your project brings in less than $3k you won’t owe Epic anything else.

Though if it’s not a game you’re making, Epic biz boss Mark Rein has this to say: “Remember: Pay no royalty for UE4 film projects, contracting and consulting projects such as architecture, simulation and visualization.”

For anyone who fancies a bit of a fiddle but doesn’t intend to make games for a living, this is straight-up good news. PC gaming has a long and rich history of amateur map-making for multiplayer shooters, and now anyone who fancies trying their hand a level for the new, semi-community-made Unreal Tournament alpha can wade in without spending a penny. Tutorials are here.

For people who are strictly players, the new UT’s really coming along too, and it’s far easier than it was to simply give it a spin. You just need to register an account on the Unreal forums, download the launcher, install the latest build via it and you’re away.

There’s even a new, high-resolution texture map just released called Outpost 23, and it’s a hell of a looker. Lovely lighting, a vaguely Nostromo-like design/colour scheme, and overall this great sense that the set is a model, like old school sci-fi. Really worth checking out, and you can always play against vaguely competent bots if you’re a fraidy-pants. The new map is bundled with the latest build of UT.

This is my first time going back to an Unreal Tournament since the last full-blown release. UT3 didn’t quite work for me, the style kind of got in the way and it didn’t have that fluidity or sense of purity. Very earlys days for this new one, but it’s very clearly modelled after UT 2003/4. I’d forgotten how good that felt. The way everything seems to accelerate after a while, as you click into the mindset required. The familiar, responsive weapons. The, oh, Unreal Tournamentiness of it. Old times. Good times. Good old times.

With the doors now flung open to everyone, hopefully we’ll see great things from this very soon.


  1. GameCat says:

    I hope the Unity devs will make similiar thing with Unity Pro.

  2. TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

    Good, maybe we’ll finally start seeing stuff developed with this, rather than the usual lame engines.

    Sometimes i think there’s an Indie lobby that disqualifies you from “hip” status if you use anything other than Unity.

    • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

      Also, if you’re really giving them 1 ton of your money assuming the project is extremely succesfull, you’re still taking 19 tons for yourself.

      It doesn’t matter how we twist the thing, 5% is still 5%, it doesn’t matter how much that percentage amounts to because relatively to your pile of cash it’s still the same chunk, and it’s still irrelevant.

      I wouldn’t want such a thing to hold people back from an amazing engine that alone might help them make more money in the first place, because i think it’s a rather crude human sentiment that has no reasonable logic backing it up. Most people are not equipped to understand huge wealth for this simple reason, because they can’t envision themselves giving 1000 Euro the same relative worth that they used to give to 10 euro back then.

      Some big companies understand this though, that’s why some of them are perfectly happy to do shady things and pay millions in fines, because they know they’ll get repaid in the long run and such millions will prove to be almost spare change.

      • spacejumbo says:

        It’s 5% revenue not 5% profit, so depending on your profit margin this might be the difference between profit and loss.

      • Baines says:

        In the most likely cases, no you won’t. Valve will be taking its 30% for what you sell through Steam. Humble presumably takes a cut if you sell through them. Even if you sell your game directly yourself, the services you use to handle payment (Paypal, banks, credit cards, whatever) will take their cut.

        Your $10 game gets whittled down pretty fast, once you factor in what everyone else is taking. Of course that would be true whether or not UE4 was free, and 5% isn’t much on a grand scale. It is something, though.

        • Detocroix says:

          5% is pretty low price for very advanced engine though. You pay Unity’s entrance price for one developer if you earn 33000 with Unreal in one go, that’s more than majority of indie developers will earn. Now… if you have a 10 developer team, you need 15000 for Unity licenses, on Unreal you’ll pay that amount at 303000 dollar sales which is only a tiny amount of developers ever getting. My Math could be wrong of course, but doesn’t seem like a horrible deal for really good engine.

          • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

            I can understand why some people don’t want that 5%, if their profit is so high that it’s value is higher than an hypothetical fixed price they might have paid otherwise, they see that as a loss.

            It technically IS a loss, which i guess it’s the point of some people’s concern.

            But still, really, is that a problem? As you say, it’s a good deal, people in my opinion should just live with it and be happy that the rest of the world will have the chance, like them, to work on something good for cheap. Life is not always about “Me me me!” and maximizing that 0.12% more profit everytime, and it’s not good for anyone’s health at any rate.

          • Aelussa says:

            Also keep in mind that if you’re a developer with a track record and a big development budget and you expect to sell a lot of copies of your game, you can still negotiate a traditional contract with Epic just like previous versions of the Unreal engine. This free version of the engine isn’t really for big developers. It’s for small indie developers working on shoestring budgets, and very, very few of those are going to make enough money from their games for this to not be an amazing deal.

          • SuicideKing says:

            Agreed with Tactical Nuclear Penguin: It’s not like Epic don’t work very hard to make UE possible…though they’re presumably sitting on top enough of money to make another UT for free.

        • ButteringSundays says:

          Just an FYI (as it;s not critical to your actual point), the whole purpose of Humble Bundle is that the buyer chooses what money goes to who. So you decide cut Humble gets.

      • ButteringSundays says:

        Or more simply put (and as they say in the business world): “You’re better off with a smaller piece of a bigger pie”.

  3. newguy2012 says:

    Good. Unity is a crap engine. Hope to see more people use Unreal.

    • Lars Westergren says:

      Do you criticize it as a creator or consumer of games? I’d hesitate to call an engine that has helped create so many indie games “crap”.

      Early games weren’t all that good looking though, but it has improved leaps and bounds. Compare Wasteland 2 with newer offerings like Endless Legends. Lets hope they have improved load times too, and Mac/Linux stability. Heard from a friend Wastland 2 was a nightmare to play on Mac.

      • newguy2012 says:

        As a consumer. Games that looks bad runs bad too. Wasteland 2 was a painful experience for my computer.

        • Detocroix says:

          Wasteland 2 looks bad because they used amateur fans to make their art… They could have done A LOT better looking game with proper art. Sadly even on Unreal it wouldn’t have looked good with horrible art like that. If their art is so horrifying and how they handled their money and developer workforce, it’s no surprise the game works horribly too.

        • zaloper says:

          So none of these games look good to you? Not a single one?

          link to unity3d.com

  4. Jumpyshark says:

    I used to love flipping around in UT2K4 using walldodges, 3rd person camera and the quad jump mutator – using the player-created custom Skaarj model I downloaded of course! I will be very excited to be playing such a customisable game once again, especially if this is closer to UT2K4 than UT3, which I enjoyed for a bit but never clicked with. Bombing Run was great, as I found you could get genuinely tense matches even against bots (by having lots of them and Instagib) and I really enjoyed DeathBall a lot too.
    Oh, and now I’m thinking of UT mods that I’d like to see updated, as well as all the new ideas that we might see with the lower barrier to entry for using Unreal. I just Googled ChaosUT and came across some WIP UE4 screenshots!

    • Silva Shadow says:

      BOMBING RUN! xD Awesome game mode. First time I’ve seen someone else mention they liked it.

  5. jezcentral says:

    Custom licences are also available. (In case you are outraged at paying 5%).

    • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

      Good, i guess this absolutely settles it then.

  6. ZamFear says:

    That $3k is per quarter. So you get up to $12k per year that you don’t pay the 5% on.

    • Baines says:

      The wording on the page is vague.

      It could mean what you said, that each quarter is separate, and you only pay for a quarter if you get over $3000 in that quarter.

      It could mean that after the first $3000, you start paying 5% of the gross, and you have to make that payment every quarter from then on.

      The second makes Epic more money. The first keeps Epic from wasting time/money dealing with pocket change quarters being reported for the next 20 years because Four Nights At Frans still sees four or five sales a year.

  7. VelvetFistIronGlove says:

    Alec, you state incorrectly that:

    $3k isn’t impossibly hard to come by if the right site, channel, bundle or store sale happens to look your way one day, and then even if similar doesn’t happen again you’re stuck giving away 5% til kingdom come. Of revenue, not profit; i.e. of any cash over the first $3k that the game brings in.

    The EULA for UE4 (section 4) is quite clear that you only pay the royalty in any quarter if you took in more than $3,000 in that quarter:

    However, no royalty is owed on the following forms of revenue:

    1. The first $3,000.00 in gross revenue for each Product per calendar quarter;

  8. Sam says:

    5% revenue above $3k per game per quarter is a very good deal. If only because for the majority of indies that means paying $0.

    You very often see hopeful young things paying out for Unity Pro then never really getting anywhere with it. Seems likely that Unity make most of their money from users that never release anything. Unreal’s deal is far more fair, and further incentivises them to keep the engine matching what the developers who are actually making things with it need. Unity’s payment model benefits from building up “anyone can make a game and be the next Notch!” hype, while Unreal’s benefits from getting people actually making money from their game.

    Also Unreal is kind of just a better engine.

    • GameCat says:

      You very often see hopeful young things paying out for Unity Pro then never really getting anywhere with it.

      Wait, does “you will certainly finish your game if you buy Unity Pro” line is in Unity EULA or what?
      Of course UE4 policy is better for small indie devs, but not more or less fair than just paying for an engine.

      • Detocroix says:

        Extremely fair for average indie developer. Averagely fair for lucky developers.

      • Sam says:

        You’re quite right, it was wrong of me to imply that Unity is unfair. Paying to use a piece of software is a perfectly fair arrangement.

        What I was trying to get at was how Unreal’s pricing structure means that Epic Megagames’ financial concerns more closely follow those of the developers that use their engine, which seems a good thing. I’m sure Unity never intended to profit from the naive hopes of new developers, but it’s still nice to see a powerful alternative that is structured to not do that.

    • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

      “Seems likely that Unity make most of their money from users that never release anything.”

      God, that sounds stupidly depressing, but also incredibly plausible. A little sad, yeah.

  9. Rymdkejsaren says:

    That is really good news. Now for someone to make DayZ in UE4.

  10. Heretic7 says:

    Don’t get the hate for Unity. It has already provided us with some nice games that wouldn’t have been made otherwise. People just don’t get that for an Indie developer with not many resources and/or technical expertise that easy of use and cheap is way more important than flashy graphics. Sure you can’t crate the next NextGen ultra super duper FPS but thank god not every game has to be AAA. I don’t care if Endless Legend or Pillars of Eternity could be more impressive using Unreal instead of Unity. I am thankful for empowering the developers to crate a good game. And if some companies believe that 5% is too much then I say use what makes more financially sense to you to keep making the games that people love to play.

    • SMGreer says:

      It’s funny too cause some Unity games look great. Endless Legend and Oddworld New’N’Tasty for instance, look lovely. Sure that’s mostly because they lean more on their strong art direction but well, every game’s aesthetic should be pitched towards a strong art direction rather than fancy effects, features etc.

      But as you said, more importantly, for indie folks starting out with no budget to speak of, a free, easy to learn engine with a wealth of tutorials and help is of considerably more value than something that’s flashier. UE4 probably is a fantastic engine to work on but I’m not sure if it’s A) as a easy to learn and B) has the same sprawling community, always there to offer assistance.

      As for the 5% cut they’re taking…it might not seem like much but it’s still a chunk of your revenue going elsewhere, forever. For some that’ll be a no worry price of admission but for others, I can completely understand the hesitation to go down that road.

    • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

      Yeah but that’s mostly because how unity stood in the grand scheme of things for Indies.

      This changes if UE4 gets virtually free for small project, and if you add the incredibly important fact that UE4 is ALL about ease of use and fast developing. The fact that it also has great eyecandy capabilities is a happy side effect of being a good engine.

      • SMGreer says:

        True but I wonder if that will shift quickly now UE4 is free. I hope it does, more options for indie developers is never a bad thing.

        I will have to try my hands with it at some point and see if it’s as easy as they say but since my first project is a 2D game, I don’t imagine Unreal with offer me much use at the moment.

    • The_invalid says:

      I think it’s worth remembering that before Unity, there were very few, if any feasible options out there at all for small indie studios. You had Game Maker and the Quake engines, and a few crappy free SDKs (lolol WildTangent), but nothing with Unity’s power or features. It’s still a fantastic engine, albeit one I totally didn’t jive with when I tried it.
      I think a lot of the hate for Unity comes from people who are used to working a certain way. I came over to it from Editing Unreal and Quake maps and absolutely hated that, for editing levels, doing geometry was a nightmare in comparison and you were very much encouraged to build everything from imported meshes. That, and the fact that although it was advertised as needing no coding knowledge, you REALLY needed to learn the scripting language to get creative with the toolset. For a single hobbyist whose background was in arty stuff and level design, it was kind of offputting.
      UE4 on the other hand I totally clicked with. It’s very focused on level design. Using geometry brushes to block out level designs is an absolute breeze, and using Blueprint to code game logic is super easy and intuitive, even for a complete novice like myself.

      I guess it’s just one paradigm vs another. Unity is great at content aggregation and patching it all together, whereas UE4 is laser-focused on level design with a set of really robust tools to aid with content and authoring.

      One thing I’d definitely say is that the Unreal Engine’s reputation as only being a viable choice for AAA teams and flashy graphics is totally misattributed. Blueprint makes doing things like game logic, scripting, and even shader/material programming fast, easy and dare I say it, fun. I’m obviously a bit biased, but I genuinely love using it as a hobbyist. It’s a great bit of kit. But then Unity is as well.

  11. stoner says:

    The article is missing a key proviso, the cost is 5% after the first $3000 PER QUARTER, i.e., $12000 per year. So, if you earn $4000 the first quarter, you pay 5% of 1000. If you make only $2500 the next quarter, you pay nothing.

  12. stonetoes says:

    If you started a project with this scheme then ran a kickstarter, would the Unreal people take 5% of your kickstarter money? Something else for indie devs to think about.

    • SuicideKing says:

      I’d doubt, Kickstarter would count as investor capital and not sales revenue.

      • ButteringSundays says:

        That’s a definite assumption. One of the biggest and most common misunderstandings with Kickstarter is that you’re ‘investing’, or ‘donating’. Their own terms make it very clear that when backing a project on Kickstarter you’re buying the advertised product. It’s more of a pre-order.

        So it’s a bit of a weird grey area, and a good question.

  13. derbefrier says:

    Sounds fair to me 5% only if you make over a certain amount. If people think that’s unfair I suppose they can spend years and years writing their own engine and then have people ask them why they are so greedy when they don’t give it away for free.

  14. specialsymbol says:

    Unreal Tournament 2004 is up to today the game that I remember as having the best quality maps from a mapping community.

    They were creative, innovative and looked just great.
    I fondly remember the Halloween contest, the Christmas contest – and all those maps no one would have ever thought of to make.

    I have big hopes for the new Unreal Tournament!

  15. James says:

    Although it is not as good as Unreal (nowhere near as good, actually), the Torque 3D engine is completely open source these days. For those seeking a free engine with similar (though less extensive) features. There is also a version for 2D games, also open source.

    • Detocroix says:

      Also Unreal is open source. I don’t know what Torque 3Ds fighting point is. I have used it in the past and it was extremely unintuitive, but I am not a professional programmer either, just artist with some programming skills.

  16. RARARA says:

    I’m waiting to see this initial excitement die off once new users realize what coding in C++ with UE4’s API on top of its massive preexisting codebase is like. And please, don’t mention Blueprint – it’s great for prototyping, but nothing beyond that.

    UE4 is a beast, and you need to make sure of your capability before trying to tame it.

    Hopefully, it’ll force Unity to up their game and add the most basic stuff to their shitty free version, like the profiler and LOD.

    • Detocroix says:

      Out of interest, why do you think Blueprints are not worth beyond it? It is definitely not the way to go for an AAA team on consoles that might wish to squeeze every bit of graphical power out of it, but for a small team without fully dedicated programmers it is a boon. It is not perfect, but they have improved it a lot in the past half year I have actively used Unreal.

      Unity actually just today made free version available to all and with all features (mostly), but sadly that doesn’t save anyone because their support is bad, it’s completely closed source, so closed if Unity pulled plug now, the engine would be dead in short amount of time.

      • Ayasano says:

        As someone who has been dabbling in Unity for years and always pining for those extra features to add polish, that is AWESOME. Totally made my day. And now it has Global Illumination and PBR for free too? *nerdgasm*

  17. DwarfJuggler says:

    Ouh the 20$ sub fee is removed. New found hope for a healthy modding community in the next unreal tournament now.

    Was leery in thinking would-be game devs and mod makers would be deterred by having to invest money into fiddling around with the tools.

    That and I get to take a stab at making maps again(can build the design… but get lazy/incompetent when it comes to textures and lighting.) Wheeee!