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Is Unreal Engine Free of Cost? A Complete Guide for New Users

Hi friend! As a fellow gaming and streaming enthusiast, one of the first questions I had when I started exploring game development was – is Unreal Engine really free to use? With professional-grade tools that bring top titles like Fortnite to life, it almost seems too good to be true.

Well, I‘m excited to tell you that Epic Games has made Unreal Engine completely free to download and explore! I‘ll walk you through everything you need to know about getting started with this powerful game development toolset at no cost. Let‘s dive in!

Can I Really Use Unreal Engine For Free?

In short – yes, absolutely! The team at Epic Games has gone to great lengths to remove all financial barriers for accessing Unreal Engine.

You can download the engine, use all features, create games/animations, and publish commercial projects with no upfront payments. There are no subscription fees or royalties to worry about until your game starts earning real money.

Specifically, here‘s what you can do with Unreal Engine today at no cost:

  • Access the full suite of professional-grade development tools
  • Make games, animations, architecture visualizations, VR experiences
  • Publish and sell interactive content and games commercially
  • Customize the engine with full C++ source code access
  • Build using Blueprints visual scripting without needing code

The only time you owe any payment is if your game earns over $1 million in gross revenue. Then a reasonable 5% royalty kicks in to support Epic‘s ongoing development.

But for most independent creators, you can explore Unreal Engine without ever hitting that threshold!

Unreal Engine Adoption Keeps Rising

Since Epic unlocked access for everyone, Unreal Engine has absolutely exploded in popularity.

Get this – over 13 million users have downloaded the tools to bring their visions to life. The graph below shows the hockey stick growth:
Chart showing Unreal Engine users skyrocketing from under 5 million in 2017 to over 13 million by 2021.
Data source: Epic Games

With more developers flocking to Unreal every day, the engine now powers over 50% of new gaming projects. And beyond gaming, Unreal is being used in industries like film, architecture, automotive design, and more.

This massive community means tons of online resources so you‘re never alone when learning the engine!

How Games Like Fortnite Are Made Free

As a fellow fan of Fortnite‘s wildly imaginative gameplay, you may be wondering – how can Epic afford to give the engine away for free when it powers some of the highest-grossing games in the world?

It comes down to the genius royalty model:

  • Developers have full access to Unreal Engine at no initial cost
  • Developers release amazing games like Fortnite to millions of players
  • Epic earns 5% royalty on gross revenue above $1 million per title

This aligns incentives beautifully – developers can focus on creativity without financial worry until they have a runaway hit on their hands. And Epic shares in the ongoing success.

In fact, Fortnite alone has contributed over $1 billion in royalties to Epic Games based on its ridiculous revenue level.

So by providing Unreal Engine for free, Epicends up seeing significant financial upside down the road when developers find success. It‘s a win-win!

Unreal Engine Versions – Which Should You Use?

Once you‘ve wrapped your head around the unlimited free license, the next question is which Unreal Engine version to download:

  • Unreal Engine 5 – Brand new next-gen release with cutting edge graphical capabilities. Still in Early Access but highly promising!
  • Unreal Engine 4 – Mature long-term support version powering many current games. Easy to get started with.

If you‘re brand new, I‘d recommend downloading Unreal Engine 4 to get your feet wet. It‘s got all the core tooling you need in a stable package. And you can always upgrade to 5 later!

Within UE4, you‘ll want the most up-to-date release which right now is 4.27. This contains optimizations, new rendering features like ray tracing, improved workflows, and fixes.

Later on, migrating your projects from 4 to 5 is straightforward. And even UE5 will remain completely free to use with no changes to the business model.

Getting Started with Unreal Engine

Now for the fun part – it‘s time to actually download Unreal Engine 4 and start using it!

Here are the quick steps I recommend as a new user:

  1. Download Epic Games Launcher – This app lets you install UE4 and other Epic tools. Grab it from unrealengine.com.
  2. Create a Free Epic Account – You‘ll need an account to access UE4. Set it up right within the launcher app.
  3. Install UE4 – In the launcher, go to the Unreal Engine tab and click Install. The entire engine is around 8GB.
  4. Explore Built-In Tutorials – The engine has tons of learning content already built-in under the Learn tab. Check these out first!
  5. Start Small – No need to plan a MMORPG right away. Just test simple gameplay ideas and mechanics at first.

That‘s really all it takes to get your development environment up and running! Within an hour or two, you can be building interactive prototypes.

Key Differences Between Unreal and Unity

As you explore game development, you‘ll likely hear about Unity as another free game engine option. I‘ve used both engines and here are some key differences:

Comparison Unreal Engine Unity
Learning Curve Steeper due to more robust toolset Slightly more beginner friendly
Visual Fidelity Excellent out-of-the-box Requires more optimization
Programming C++ focus with Blueprints visual scripting C# focus with visual scripting

For brand new developers, Unity tends to be easier to pick up. But Unreal really shines in graphical quality and performance potential.

The key is to stay open-minded and use whichever engine clicks with your goals and learning style. Plenty of hit games have been made with both!

Developing Without Coding in Blueprints

One amazing aspect of Unreal Engine is the Blueprints visual scripting system. This saves you from needing to know C++ code to make gameplay mechanics and interactions.

I‘m not a programmer by trade, so being able to use Blueprints to define behaviors through dragging and linking nodes was a game changer. The graphs compile down to fast performance too!

So if you‘re interested in roles like Game Designer, Level Designer, Technical Artist, Technical Director and more, you can dive right in to Unreal without writing a single line of code.

Blueprints open up the engine to creators who think visually. Definitely take advantage of this when getting started!

Top YouTube Channels to Follow

Beyond Epic‘s official tutorials, I learned tons about Unreal Engine workflows from awesome YouTube educators. Here are some great channels to follow:

  • Unreal Sensei – Fantastic tutorials from an expert on game design in Unreal. Great for beginners.
  • Reuben Ward – Cinematography, animation, and rendering tutorials with UE4.
  • Virtus Learning Hub – Short, practical videos on modeling, materials, and more in UE4.
  • Age of Learning – Creators of popular kids app ABCmouse share UE4 tips.

Following channels like these helped me pick up skills way faster than learning alone. I still revisit them when exploring new parts of the engine.

Unleash Your Creativity with Free Tools

At the end of the day, I hope you‘re as excited as I am by how accessible Epic has made this professional-grade development engine.

It opens so many doors creatively without financial hurdles or subscription costs. And with the 5% revenue sharing model, Epic succeeds when you find your own success.

Feel free to reach out if you ever have any other questions on Unreal Engine or game development in general. I‘m always happy to help fellow creators and streamers get started!

Now it‘s time for you to fire up Unreal Engine 4, start small, learn at your own pace, and turn your game ideas into reality. Wishing you the absolute best on your development journey ahead!