Source 2 Is Actually Free, Like, For Free

Admittedly this is not a picture of Source 2.

Valve’s sudden entry into the engine race, with an official announcement of Source 2, seems to have put them right up front alongside frenzied rivals Unity and Unreal. (Poor old Crytek, eh?) Meeting with studio bigwig Erik Johnson today, I learned that when they say Source 2 is “free”, they mean it. Unlike Unity’s (much lowered) subscription rates (for larger teams), and Epic’s revenue cut of successful projects, Valve won’t be asking for any money at all. Well, sort of… They just require that the game be launched on Steam, along with anywhere else you might want to sell it.

That’s pretty huge. But it’s important to point out it’s also pretty smart. In real-terms, it does mean Valve are going to be getting – in fact – 30% of your revenue, as is standard for anything sold on Steam. However, and crucially, developers are going to be free to also sell their game anywhere else, which means you can also use stores that take far lower cuts. Use Source 2, put your game on Steam and take advantage of Steamworks, the community features, and so on, but direct all your customers to your Humble store where only see 5% won’t reach you.

Of course, as Valve well knows, if a game’s on Steam, most of its sales are going to be on Steam. That’s the current state of the industry, at least. But the counter to that is, if you make your game in Unreal, you’re still going to want to have it on Steam when you launch (or especially if you want to use Early Access). Cross Unreal’s threshold of grossing over $3,000 per quarter, and 5% of that is going Epic’s way, as well as Valve’s 30%.

At the moment, if you’re a lone developer or a small team, Unity 5 still looks like it might be the best deal. Free for lone devs, and only $1500 outright (or $75 a month) for teams, massive success won’t cost you any more like Epic’s deal. Plus there are no shackles at all, no requirement to pay Valve’s tithe. But Source 2’s arrangement, for those who know they’re going to seek a Steam presence anyway, looks like it could be extremely appealing.

If you’re a developer, whether a bedroom coder or working for a big corp, let us know which way you see yourself or your studio heading.


  1. Wisq says:

    So how does this actually relate to actually getting published on Steam?

    As far as I know, if you’re doing Unreal or Unity and don’t have an established Steam relationship, you’ll have to go through Greenlight. Fail that, and you won’t be able to sell on Steam, even though you can still sell elsewhere.

    But what about Source 2 games? Do they still have to go through Greenlight? If they fail, are they basically prohibited from selling their game at all?

    If the answer is “you’re automatically on Steam”, then that could be a huge point in favour of it. If the answer is “you might not be able to sell it at all”, well, that would be pretty dire.

    • Pixieking says:

      By the looks (and sounds) of it, Greenlight is a non-issue. Rumours of its demise have been circulated for over a a year now, and it’s getting less and less relevant. So, to answer your question, I would guess that using Source 2 will be an automatic Steam release (assuming no scams/plagiarism), but it’s mostly irrelevant considering Valve are shifting towards Steam being entirely open. I can see pretty much any game on PC will be on Steam if the publisher allows it, regardless of engine (*looks at EA and MS warily*).

      • Reefpirate says:

        There must be some sort of quality control before it lands on Steam though… Otherwise you can expect 20,000+ ‘Hello World’ games showing up, which would be ridiculous.

        • jrodman says:

          I suspect this ends up being the difference between “on steam” and “easy to find on steam”.

        • Eery Petrol says:

          Valve has said that they want Steam to be more independent from Valve in order for it to grow to its fullest potential. What this open approach might come to mean can be guessed at after the release of the new curator system and user-tailored Steam storefront. Quality control will be done by game reporters and relevance will be filtered based on your personal interest.

    • gp says:

      iirc they’ve been pretty consistent in saying they want to open up steam more than greenlight, as a system, is capable of. idk if you know the music industry at all but its the same deal there–the fees to get onto spotify/itunes are really low now, and gaben &co don’t have suits fear of things that resemble sometihng new

    • petrucio says:

      Using Source 2 won’t give any games any advantages when it comes to getting on Steam.

  2. fearian says:

    I would stick with Unreal or Unity. Even if we got all the info now, and it compares well.

    Unreal and Unity are proven successes. They have a wealth of documentation, incredibly strong developer support and I have lots of experience using them. I have experience with the first Source engine, but it was terrible terrible experiences. Despite being the birthplace of the mod scene Valve has done utterly terribly when it comes to creating solid tools*. The people most excited for source 2 are beleaguered source mappers and Dota item creators. People who have relied on the awesome community creating the tools that valve won’t.

    The community will make this engine great with crowd sourced documentation and its large size meaning a pool of people making 3rd party tools. I see myself coming to source 2 in a year after it has matured somewhat. I could be wrong mind!

    *exception: portal level editor.

    • Liandri_Angel says:

      Funny, I heard the opposite when people tried to make do with the UE3 tools. I remember lots of frustration with trying to make mods for UTIII.

      Different strokes, I guess.

      • fearian says:

        True, when UE3 launched source was in its heyday. That was 7 years ago. UDK came and blew UE3 out the water. UE4 came and took over form UDK. Source… source became a bit of a joke.

      • Kyle_Katarn says:

        You’re not wrong. When it came to UDK, it was more of the “free” thing that they didn’t have to support because hey, it was free, but unfortunately that left figuring it out stuff like UnrealScript (which was a fucking drag to learn), up to the community itself, and until close to the release of UE4, that meant that those who learned basically kept the knowledge close to their chests. There was next to no good tutorial content out on it, and what there was lacked the sort of scope required to make a game, since most of it was “extend from the Unreal Tournament 3 classes”, and not “here’s how you would do it yourself”.

        With UE4, since they opened it to everyone for a stupidly cheap price (now even stupider, happily!), they were able to focus on support for everyone using the engine, meaning that the support quality jumped to Unity levels pretty much in an instant.

  3. VelvetFistIronGlove says:

    only $1500 outright (or $75 a month) for teams

    Only $1500 per person outright (or $75 a month per person) for teams.

    • TimorousBeastie says:

      and while this is a PC site, it’s worth mentioning it’s $1500 per person per platform (with a requirement for windows). As such if you’re wanting to publish on both major mobile platforms as well as PC, you’re looking at $4500 per person.

  4. Docm30 says:

    I’ll be interested to see what the tools look like. Source had the absolute worst tools ever conceived of. Doing anything with that engine was a total nightmare and I would never work with it in a million years.

    • DanMan says:

      There’s your reason for the missing price tag.

    • jezcentral says:

      Yes, this will be the crux of it. heard they were working on these when TF2 went free, but I haven’t heard anything since.

    • Stevostin says:

      My bet is that the tool are going to be the core of Source 2. Look at what they did in term of UI with Source Editor. Top level stuff. They obviously have strong in house skill to be very competitive at making good authoring tools.

  5. Premium User Badge

    Aerothorn says:

    I’m a little confused by the title of “studio founder” attached to Eric Johnson. Surely Gabe Newell and Mike Harrington are the founders?

  6. InfamousPotato says:

    It’s marvelous times like this which make me wish I was a game developer.

  7. April March says:

    What a curious thing to do. It would make sense if Steam was the up-and-coming second place, or if its monopoly was showing signs of slowing down, but neither is true. Are they being genuinely nice?

    It means Source 2 might become the go-to engine for anyone wanting to make a commercial game, while Unity will be renegated to the super-weird free/ultracheap realms of Assuming, of course, it’s comparatively easy to make a game in Source 2 as it is on Unity.

    • jrodman says:

      The enlightened dominant market front-runner spends time and effort on ensuring that there is a minimum of space for second-string also rans to form healthy niche positions in which to grow.

      Though it does seem a bit like Valve is looking at this more from an angle of “how can be become more central in a more open gaming development world”.

      Though they mostly amount to the same thing.

      • Deadly Sinner says:

        But Valve is not prohibiting the sale of the game on any other platform. Pretty much the only developers I can see being prohibited from the engine at this time is EA.

  8. pund says:

    Docm30, yes, they were very primitive at their time of release, that’s true.
    I’m not sure if they evolved tho? Wouldn’t they have updated the sdk.
    I was put off as well and never touched it again after 1 task in source.

  9. caff says:

    Of all the stuff I would dabble with as a hobbyist and infrequent dabbler, Unity seems to represent the most open, accessible playground.

    From my perception (i.e. never having never tried them), Source and Unreal seem tool-dependent, powerful, but less open to creativity.

  10. James says:

    As someone who is in the process of designing a little project, I am at the stage to be considering game engines for what I want to do. Here are some thoughts:

    Unity is appealing, but (for me at least) has some reliability issues. That said, it does offer one of many ‘best’ options in financial terms. I download it, use it, and sell my product. Any 3rd party distributers take their cut. Having seen projects in Unity 4, I am discouraged as to the actual quality of what I, with my paultry levels of skill in anything but designing I doubted whether I could acheive what I wanted in it. With Unity 5, I am inclined to at least give it a go. It won’t cost me anything.

    Source 2 is, financially, brilliant for me. It again offers an optimal solution. My little project would probably be worht putting on Steam anyway, this just saves me the time. It would also come with the support of the Steam community and so learning how to use it will be a lot easier than say, Unreal, which does not have a large community of developer more wise than I to help me out on things.

    Crytek? No.

    Unreal offers some interesting options. However were my project to come to be made and be successful, I would lose out financially. That would suck. Having used Unreal on occasion to check it out, I did not like it. Learning how to do even basic scripting was a pain in the arse, and escaped my memory instantly. I ma unlikekly to use Unreal.

    The engine I use most of the time for this sort of thing is Torque 3D. It is free, open source, and is currently recieving some upgrades to stay marginally competitive with the long list of features in other engines. It offers me an easy way to test my designs, but lacks detailed features. It has animation capabilities – but they are very basic. Not that I would be able to use them to the fullest anyway. However, as it is open source, the only financial cut would go to 3rd party distributers.

    Those are my thoughts on the engine rush. Make of them what you will.

    • James says:

      Some of the Unity paragraph makes no sense. Sorry, but lacking an EDIT button *grumble grumble* I can’t fix it.

      Correct paragraph is:

      Unity is appealing, but (for me at least) has some reliability issues. That said, it does offer one of many ‘best’ options in financial terms. I download it, use it, and sell my product. Any 3rd party distributers take their cut. Having seen projects in Unity 4, I am discouraged as to the actual quality of what I, with my paultry levels of skill in anything but designing could actually make as to get the most out of Unity, you needed to really know what you were doing. I know FA about creating textures or animating or lip syncing etc. so I doubted whether I could acheive what I wanted in it. With Unity 5, I am inclined to at least give it a go. It won’t cost me anything.

  11. says:

    Admittedly this is not a picture of Source 2.

    Nonsense, of course it is.

  12. Ungenious says:

    Just to clarify, is this full engine source code with optional enterprise support as a premium?

  13. rcguitarist says:

    Hopefully source 2 coming out will put an end to all of these butt ugly source powered games that come out every few days. Source based games have always looked terrible and cartoony to me…and yes, that includes half-life 2.

  14. racccoon says:

    STEAM needs to f-off into its own console and leave the PC!
    Its redundant and sucks arse.
    All its even been is a Parasite and a manipulator of the PC player.

    • P.Funk says:

      Are you just trying to be contrary angry internet user cliche or you actually serious?

    • mft-dev says:

      Seriously? Steam is probably the best thing to happen to PC gaming since, I don’t know, the CD-ROM drive, accelerated 3D add-on cards? Steam has unobtrusive DRM to keep publishers happy. Steam has unobtrusive DRM to keep players happy. Steam has a massive selection of games to suit pretty much anyones taste.

      After opening to indies, most people can find a game that they will like on there. Finding them is the key though, and Valve have made serious tries to try and put stuff you might like front and center for you.

      Repeating the same “Steam is evil” mantra mostly sounds like someone stuck in the previous decade, who has not stopped to evaluate facts when circumstances changed. You gripe is dated, unhelpful and honestly uninformed.

  15. pepperfez says:

    So…this is the story that actually merits


    isn’t it?

    • Don Reba says:

      Half Life 3 will use Steam 3. Obviously.

      • Don Reba says:

        Read that as “Source 3”. Bring back the “edit” button!

        • Distec says:

          Actually, the rough timeline implied in your original post is probably accurate, if accidentally. :)

        • Premium User Badge

          particlese says:

          You can’t fool me — look at those time stamps on your posts. Three threes? Coincidence? I think not.

  16. Bishop says:

    All game engines have weird quirks and do unexpected things. After starting out in Torque engine I largely base my decisions on how large the community is. Unity is my go to choice because practically everyone I know is abit of a guru in it and the forums answer every question under the sun. Sometimes I even google problems I don’t have because you can copy and paste out the code faster than you could type it.

  17. Frank says:

    Cogent analysis of the costs and benefits there, Walker

  18. petrucio says:

    I’m a developer (link to, currently working with Unity. While all offers seem interesting, I don’t see a compelling enough reason to switch engines, and I plan on sticking with Unity for my next project, mostly due to increased developer productivity. Developer time is worth a lot more than the small prices currently being asked for the engines.

    Of course, if you are a young developer living with your parents, with very low monthly costs, your mileage may vary.

    • jrodman says:

      Increased developer productivity of Unity as compared to the other options, or increased developer productivity as compared to changing horses?

      • petrucio says:

        At bit of both, actually. And the (currently) larger pool of Unity devs makes finding both solutions to problems online and assets in the Unity Asset Store easier, which indirectly bumps productivity even more.

  19. iainl says:

    So this is basically “Source 2 is free to everyone except EA and Ubisoft; man those two are AWFUL”?

    • Mitthrawn says:

      It’s free to Ubisoft as well, they release their games on steam… Just not EA.

  20. cshralla says:

    Looks like Titanfall got their jimmies rustled.

  21. Premium User Badge

    particlese says:

    I like seeing how the sausage is made and taking a whack at it myself when possible (at the making, I mean) so I’m veeerrrrry slowly (occasionally) programming at the SDL2+OpenGL level with making something someday in mind.

    However, if I were to hunker down and actually start make something now, I would start by messing around with Source 2, sight unseen. The most concrete reason I have for this is that it’s likely the most SteamVR-optimized/oriented engine out there, and Valve’s SteamVR beta thing is the best-feeling VR I’ve yet strapped to my head. My minimal experience with making an early UDK-based Rift DK1 walking simulator was not encouraging, though I used to love UT99 mapping back in the day, so I might check out UE4 anyway. And I hear many very good things about Unity from a dev perspective, but it interests me the least of the three, for nebulous reasons. Pretty much all my other reasons for hypothetically starting with Source 2 are nebulous, too, so I’ll leave it at that.

  22. Premium User Badge

    Ninja Dodo says:

    I’m sticking with Game Maker since I have no plans to make 3D games in the immediate future and unless YoYo suddenly implodes in the wake of the Playtech acquisition (which seems unlikely given stated intentions), or unless I end up working in a team that absolutely insists on using another engine I can see no reason to switch to something else for 2D.

    If at some point I were to do 3D, Unity would be tempting as it seems the most accessible and has a large community and wide range of tutorials. Unreal seems to have some interesting animation tools (which is my where my interests are, mainly) but I’m wary of C++ development – scripting yes, serious programming, no – and not sure Blueprint would be flexible enough to make a game entirely sans code. That said, Source 2 could also be interesting, though only if they make the tools less like Hammer and more like that isometric Portal 2 thing…

  23. ostrich160 says:

    I couldnt recommend more Unity 5, it really is incredible. Free users get EVERYTHING pro users used to get other than custom splash screens, including Render Textures and Post Processing effects, and you dont need to pay until you make $100,000. No royalty share, just the $15000. Once. Forever. So basically, you make $985,000. Doesnt sound too bad to me.

    But yeh, we’ve now got better lighting, Unity ads, PBR, so much. Its incredible