At a GDC 2014 press briefing today, Epic founder Tim Sweeney announced that Unreal Engine 4 is now available for game development, but not just for big studios. Access to the binary development tools and the UE4 source code is now included in a $19/mo subscription plan . Developers will also pay Epic five percent of any revenue earned from UE4-developed games.
At the briefing, Sweeney showed off the engine's impressive graphics and simulation capabilities, but focused more on "Blueprint visual scripting" which allows designers to build games even if they don't have the C++ experience required to dig through the source code. One example was the topically-named Tappy Chicken, which Sweeney says was built by a designer who doesn't program and may not have been sober.
We haven't confirmed just how well UE4 is streamlined for drunk development, but like UE3, it is possible to design UE games without working in C++. Sweeney says that even "high-end Minecraft players" should be interested in trying the development kit.
This pricing model is an update of the Unreal Engine 3 model, which made the Unreal Development Kit available free, but charged a $99 licencing fee to release a commercial game and a 25 percent royalty fee on any revenue earned after $50,000. Despite losing the $50,000 buffer, the new UE4 model's smaller royalty fee is much better in the long run. For instance, with the old model, a developer earning $100,000 would have paid the $99 licensing fee plus $12,500 in royalties. With the new model, that developer would pay $228 a year for the subscription plus $5000 in royalties—less than half the cost of UE3 development.
Sweeney also confirmed something less happy: there is no Unreal Tournament game in development, and though Fortnight apparently still exists, there's no news to share about upcoming games from Epic. But Epic is really more defined by its engine, and that UE4's tech will be available to so many for so cheap is great news for PC gaming.
Because the source code for the Xbox One and PS4 versions are under NDA, UE4 licensing agreements for console games are still negotiated individually. On PC, anyone with 20 bucks a month and the time to learn the engine can release a game using the same technology as the big studios. Granted, I think Sweeney understates the complexity of the engine, but if it's out there, PC gamers will figure it out.