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Get into game development with free versions of both Unity and Unreal

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Unreal Engine 4 and Unity 5, two of the dominant game development engines in the industry, are now both available for free to anyone interested in trying their hand. Unreal developer Epic Games announced that Unreal Engine 4 and all future updates are available for free. Unity made a similar announcement, releasing Unity 5, for which the fully-featured Personal version is available freely.

Both engines allow creators to make games with professional-caliber graphics, and offer vibrant communities, documentation, and resources to help those with minimal experience get started developing like a pro. All of the core features are fully enabled, so anyone with time and vision can create and sell games for nearly any platform imaginable.

The catch for both comes with selling your games, but both offer solutions that don’t discourage first-timers from testing the waters. Unreal Engine 4 is completely free to use for personal and educational purposes, but Epic Games wants a 5-percent cut of games that gross more than $3,000 per quarter. The company made waves in 2014 when it switched to a subscription model, offering access to Unreal Engine for $19 per month. Apparently the move was extremely successful, and the ensuing community growth is what emboldened Epic to switch over to the free model. Current subscribers will be issued a pro-rated refund for their most recent monthly payment. Everyone who has ever paid for a subscription to Unreal Engine 4 will also be receiving a $30 credit to spend in the Unreal Engine Marketplace on assets, modules, and other content to drop into their creations.

Unity 5 Personal is completely free to all developers with revenue or funding under $100,000 per year. All platforms are enabled except for Xbox 360. Upgrading to Professional costs $75 per month or $1,500 up front. Neither version charges additional royalties for game sales.  Professional also throws in additional goodies to sweeten the pot, like discounts at the Asset Store, access to the source code, and beta releases of new features like analytics and reporting.

Which engine makes more sense for you depends on a variety of factors. Both models offer free access to all of their core systems, however, so the best way to decide which to use is to give them a shot. Unreal’s move last year was seen as an exciting democratization of game development, and these latest developments only push that trend further. Once seen as gatekeepers to professional game creation, the engine publishers have realized that they (and the gaming community at large) are best served by many more people creating games of all scales. What will you create?

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Will Fulton
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Will Fulton is a New York-based writer and theater-maker. In 2011 he co-founded mythic theater company AntiMatter Collective…
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