In the past two days, the barriers to developing virtually reality content have been all but bulldozed. Epic, Unity and Valve have all announced free versions of their engines for developers and content developers, most of which aim to provide unfettered access to independent creators as these companies seek to build their communities and help bring to market successful experiences created using their respective platforms.
Unreal Engine 4
On March 2, Tim Sweeney announced that Unreal Engine 4 would be free for anyone to download and use.
This was a continuation in Epic’s history of removing barriers between independent developers and their ability to get in and start making things for us all to enjoy. A year earlier, Epic unveiled an early release of Unreal Engine 4 to developers for a $19/month subscription and 5% royalties. That was an improved offering from the previous UE3 agreement of a flat $99 and 25% of revenues after $50,000. Sweeney summed up Epic’s vision on the company blog:
“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.”
In the new deal, Epic will still be keeping some revenue from game developers using Unreal Engine 4, but these changes to the revenue structure mean successful game developers will be keeping much more of the profits from their creations. Now, if the engine is used to create a profitable product, the owners will have to track gross revenue and pay Epic a 5% royalty on gross revenue after the first $3000 in profits, each calendar quarter.
The next day at GDC, Unity answered the call, announcing that Unity 5 will offer a fully-featured Personal version completely free. Unity 5 Personal will remain free to all developers with revenue or funding under $100,000 per year. Those who no longer fit that description must upgrade to Unity 5 Professional, which costs either $75 per month or $1,500 up front. Neither version requires developers to pay royalties.
The same day, Valve introduced their first update of the Source engine since 2004. They mentioned Source 2 will be “available for free to content developers,” but it’s yet to be seen what exactly that will entail.
If you’re a developer interested in VR, or anyone who’s ever thought it might be cool to learn, now is the time. Three of the biggest players in the game are offering their engines up to you for free. With countless factors at play, It’s tough to judge which engine will best fit your needs. But with free access across the board, you may as well start giving them a shot and figuring it out. What are you waiting for? Make us something sweet.