GDC hasn't even officially started and already there's huge news for the game development community: Epic's esteemed Unreal Engine is now completely free. Last year it was already surprising when Epic announced a new $19 per month subscription plan, but this is pretty incredible—dabble with the full power of Unreal 4, with 100 percent of the source code, for nothing. Those who were currently subscribed to Unreal will have their most recent month refunded.
So how will Epic make money? Here's how it works, in their words:
"You can download the engine and use it for everything from game development, education, architecture, and visualization to VR, film and animation. 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 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," wrote Epic's Tim Sweeney in a blog post. "That’s why we’re taking away the last barrier to entry, and going free."
Of course, all that talk about enabling creativity also glosses over the fact it helps Epic compete with its main competitor these days, Unity. Unity is also free, albeit only in a limited form. Unity Pro, meanwhile, still costs $1,500 flat-fee or $75 per month.
It looks like when Unity pushed against Epic, Epic decided to push back hard. With this new move, Epic makes Unreal Engine an even more attractive proposition for independent developers—a sentence I never thought I'd type during the Unreal 3 era.
Maybe it's time for you to dig out that old design doc you stashed away and start working on your future-award-winning game.