Unreal Development Kit Released for FREE

Posted by Alex Jordan on

Um, holy shit? Holy shit.

Epic released the Unreal Development Kit for free.

That means, Unreal Engine 3.0. The whole thing. The development tools. Everything. For you. For free.

At first glance, the pricing appears more competitive than Xbox Live Indy Games or Apple's App Store. Apparently, developers can just go and download this thing and work on their game. When it comes time to release their game, they pay Epic a $99 licensing fee. After that, 100% of the profits go to the developer, until the developer makes $5,000. Once that threshold is hit, Epic takes a 25% cut of all subsequent sales.

This is what we call "awesome."

I'm hazy on how Apple does things, but Microsoft charges $99 for the rights to distribute up to eight games on Xbox Live Indy Games. The moment you start distributing, Microsoft takes a 30% cut, which I believe is also what Apple takes.

So, there are some things I still need to investigate. Does Epic charge $99 per game? (Probably.) Does Apple charge for access to its development environment, like Microsoft? (Probably.) There's probably some other things I'm forgetting, but these answers will be crucial in terms of how much of a steal this is.

And let's be honest, it is a steal. And I bet it'll be a great opportunity for Epic and developers alike. But the (supposed, I'll run the numbers) increased affordability of using Unreal 3 is due to a tradeoff.

With Xbox Live Indy Games and the App Store, you don't just pay to use Microsoft or Apple's development tools. You pay to use their respective online marketplaces. And those marketplaces are great equalizers, bringing your games (or apps) directly to a tremendous installed base of hardware and software users. Marketing and purchasing are streamlined due to Microsoft and Apple's infrastructure. It's a great way to sell games.

Unreal 3 may prove cheaper, but it doesn't include access to some special Epic online store. As for all other PC game developers, the developer is on their own. You don't automatically receive access to Steam, Direct2Drive, Penny Arcade Greenhouse, or what have you. You have to earn that access. And they take a cut, just like Epic would. That's two cuts, right there, not to mention whatever overhead the developer already has. And if you don't take the "Please please PLEASE advertise my game!" route, then you have to build your own webpage and market your game all on your lonesome. And (right now, at least), that would make you... me. And I don't need more competition. Or more clones. I am unique, sir! A delicate flower, if you will.

And speaking of one-man development, Unreal 3 is huge. There's a reason that just about every single Goddamn game released on the 360 or PS3 this past generation has used Unreal Technology. It is powerful. Dozen-man, even hundred-man development teams are prone to spending $50 million or more to harness Unreal 3 and develop a game. Unless Unreal 3's development kit wonderfully streamlines games' content pipelines (beyond what XNA or the iPhone development platform offer), a one- or two-man team will spend ages creating art to take advantage of all of Unreal 3's bells and whistles. And if you're not taking advantage of the engine... why are you using Unreal 3 instead of something simpler?

See, it's all about tradeoffs, the pros and cons of the biz. What we're witnessing is a tilting of the playing field in favor of indy game developers, as well as everyone else. Epic's maneuver shows that indy developers are winding up with more and more options, and that competition is great for the gaming economy and great for developers. And I'm sure Epic has realized that this will prove to be a cash cow, as Microsoft and Apple have no doubt concluded.

Basically, this will not be a silver bullet or a Midas Touch for indy developers. It will be another great option for those developers. And then everyone wins.