Panic is spreading ever since Tim Sweeney, CEO of Epic Games, announced at the Unreal Fest Days a new payment model for the Unreal Engine in 2024. This primarily affects the “non-gamedev industry”, meaning all those not working in the gaming sector with the Unreal Engine. Let’s push aside the rumors and take a clear look at the current facts.
Unreal Engine becoming paid? Probably not.
Many users fear that the same licensing and payment model changes that caused a backlash with the Unity Engine a few weeks ago will now also affect the Unreal Engine. Fortunately, the current situation seems quite different.
Unreal Engine License Change 2024 - Facts
Why are license changes occurring?
Epic Games currently isn’t making the profit it should be. On one hand, this is due to the fact that we can use the Unreal Engine for free, but mostly because most users of the Unreal Engine will never breach the $1 million gross mark to pay Epic Games the 5% licensing fee. On the flip side, there are “Free for the Month” promotions, Quixel which stands by Unreal users for free, RealityCapture deals, Artstation deals, and much more. It’s clear that these have associated costs. Allegedly, Epic Games spends up to 40% of its income to pay creators of all kinds – recall the Fortnite Map Builder payouts. For larger companies affected by the changes, Epic Games sees a potential revenue source, mainly targeting the automotive, film, and architectural industries, all of which have nothing to do with game development. Game developers are off the hook, and according to Tim Sweeney, indie filmmakers won’t have to pay upfront either. The Unreal Engine remains free for students and educators.
How likely is it that game developers will have to pay?
Rather unlikely, given the current situation with the Unity Engine. With its changes, Unity not only felt the wrath of its community but is also steadily losing users to competitors (Unreal Engine, Godot, etc.). Epic Games got a perfect example of what not to do. This misstep by Unity is a positive development for the Unreal Engine, and Epic Games won’t likely squander that. In general, it seems improbable that Unreal Engine would ask game developers, especially indie devs, to cough up fees.
Case Study: What if game developers had to pay?
Having to suddenly pay seems rather unrealistic. It’s uncertain, but theoretically, since one has agreed to the current EULA of the Unreal Engine upon use, there might be some initial safety. A new license/payment model would necessitate agreeing to a new EULA, applicable only when using a new version of the Unreal Engine. I can neither promise nor guarantee, but if one uses Unreal Engine 4 or 5.3 (current), they’d likely be protected if a licensing change occurred overnight, mandating yearly payments – simply because these engine versions still operate under the old EULA. However, I can’t say this with legal certainty.
Sit tight and keep calm, but above all, don’t fall for the panic spread by some users without informing yourself. On the other hand, feel free to join our “panic” in the largest German unofficial Unreal Engine Discord!