Battle of the next-gen Game Engines

With Game Developers Conference in full swing mere days ago, there were bound to be some big announcements, but three of the major players in game engines came out with equally striking announcements this week.

First of all, Epic Megagames announced that the current version of Unreal Engine 4, including all future updates, is now free for anyone to download and use. The only charges will be a 5% royalty on gross revenue after the first $3000 each quarter, which effectively means you will need to make a decent amount of revenue from games or applications in Unreal Engine before you pay a single penny for its use. This announcement sent a bit of a shockwave through the developer community, as it was a big boon to many developers who previously had to pay $19 a month, especially small hobbyists with other jobs putting out small apps who were unlikely to make money over the $3000 quarterly limit before Epic takes its cut.

For other developers, there was a little more cynicism. The $3000 limit is on revenue, not profit. Meaning for those career developers who might make a loss, Epic would still get their 5% cut as long as the game or app in question made sales of $3000 in a quarter, no matter what other deductions to that $3000 were taken off before the developers got any money in their pockets.

Regardless of this, giving out an entire engine and its source code for free is a big step, and for many an overwhelmingly welcome one.

Not to be put off by this, barely a day later, Unity also announced a new update to their engine, now titled Unity 5, along with a change to their pricing structure. Alongside the professional edition, which still stands at $75/month, there is now also a free edition that can be downloaded for companies with less than $100,000 annual earnings, which is lighter on features but also carries most of the toolkit.

While the professional edition carries a lot of decent benefits such as cloud storage, beta access, instant access to future platforms, and source code access, I cant see most people wanting it over the free edition, especially when you can purchase certain parts of the professional edition separately. Unity once again are pushing themselves as the go to engine of choice for smaller development teams and by taking no royalty whatsoever at less than $100k, which I’d consider a good enough salary for a small team, they reinforce this ideal.

Finally, Valve confirmed Source 2, a successor to their long-running Source engine that many have thought to be in the works for some time. There’s not much other information about Source 2 out, but what we do know is that the engine is free for content creators to download and use, with the only requirement being that any app or game you release must be released on Steam as well as any other platforms, and of course apps and games on Steam give Valve a 30% cut of all sales revenue, so that’s where they will make their money. The agreement allows you to also release on any other platform you wish though. Valve is a popular company with PC gamers, and Source is a decently popular engine with a good chunk of the developer community, so I can see Source 2 doing well.

Which of these engines will reign supreme with developers when the dust settles? Its hard to say, but in a way, its likely to be all three, with developer communities already in place for each engine, and each one likely to garner separate interests. These are the big names in game engines right now, and its hard to see any of them dying out any time soon. The big question for me is, as these big engines become so appealing to use for solo or smaller development teams and hobbyists, will other, smaller development kits that generally targeted those groups be able to keep up, or will they be the casualties in this new age of game engine wars?

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