The Unreal Engine has been a major player in the game development industry since its release in 1998, alongside its famous flagship title of the same name. Unreal Engine’s 2, 3, and 4 have bestowed gamers with popular titles such as the Gears of War and BioShock series, Ace Combat 7, Ark: Survival Evolved, as well as in-development games like S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2. With the promising Unreal Engine 5 recently demoed as part of the PlayStation 5 reveal, the engine is already charting the future of photorealistic visual effects.
3D, 2D, console, and mobile-capable, the Unreal Engine even has use cases for product and architectural design. Major players in the film industry have used it for virtual sets and animation, constructing seamless computer generated scenes while saving time and money. The question isn’t whether the Unreal Engine can do what you need it to, it’s how to get started doing it.
To get started with Unreal Engine, you’ll first need to register for an Epic Games account. Visit the Epic Games registration page, to enter your information and follow the steps to create an account, or log into your existing account on Epic’s website. If you don’t already have the Epic Games launcher installed, download it directly. You’ll then need the launcher to install the engine, and manage your version and project files.
When you click through to download the engine through Epic’s website, you’ll be prompted to choose a licensing option.
Unreal Engine 4 and all of its future updates were made free on March 2, 2015. That said, there are still royalties associated with certain licenses and other development conditions, with different licenses having different royalty plans.
The Unreal Engine requires users to operate within two main licenses: Agreement for Publishing and Agreement for Creators. Most users fall under these two categories, but custom licenses are available for other use cases.
Unreal Engine Publishing EULA. Aside from being free to use, this license incurs a 5% royalty on the sales of your game or product after your first $1,000,000. Regardless of whether you make a game, asset, program, or product, you’ll owe the royalties.
Among the other agreements required by users before using this license contained within the publishing EULA, such as attribution and ownership, there are other caveats that affect how much money you might owe. For example, Unreal Engine products on the Oculus Store only owe royalties after the first $5,000,000, not $1,000,000.Unreal Engine Creators EULA. Aside from being free to use, this license is 100% royalty free. Creators can use the engine under this agreement to design internal tools or free projects, as long as they aren’t selling what they make.
This means that if you plan on using the engine to experiment in your free time, or to create internal tools to aid a pipeline at your studio you’re allowed to do so for free, as long as you aren’t directly monetizing your creation.
Custom Licensing. You may find that your use case for the Unreal Engine doesn’t fall under either the Creator or Publishing licenses. There are also options for custom licenses, however, which require you to contact Unreal and work out a custom contract for both games or non-games use.
After choosing the appropriate license, you’ll need to install the engine through the Epic Games launcher. Either download the launcher from the Epic website, or open it if you’ve installed previously.
Once the engine is installed, you’re ready to develop using Unreal Engine 4.
Now that we’ve covered most of what the Unreal Engine currently offers, we’ll take a look at the engine’s pros and cons.
Like any tool, Unreal has strengths and weaknesses depending on what you want to use it to accomplish. It’s a proven engine for 3D development of all kinds, with a user friendly blueprint system at little to no cost. Its heavy focus on 3D development leaves much to be desired for 2D development, however, and indies gravitate toward other engines with larger communities and more indie-friendly practices.
If you’re still looking for more pros and cons when comparing Unreal to other game engines, we talk more about the topic in our article here.
Registering for, downloading, installing, and activating Unreal Engine is only the first step. Next, you’ll need to learn how to take full advantage of its powerful tool set, rich features, deep asset library, and active community to create your game. Once you have, you’ll be able to use Unreal to make your game a reality.