Last year we were taken by surprise when Epic announced that not only would Unreal Tournament would free, but it would be developing it alongside the community. Now, they’ve gone and surprised us again, dropping the subscription fee and opening to doors to anybody who has even a passing interest in developing with the Unreal Engine 4, let alone a professional one. The news arrived alongside a new video from the studio, explaining how the move will work and the opportunities available to anybody. See, that’s the key word there – anybody. All of a sudden Epic’s proprietary engine is no longer just developers and serious enthusiasts, meaning we should see even more weird and wonderful things emerge from the modding scene.
As I learned when I spoke to Epic Games at Gamescom last year, the team thrive on the interaction with the community, both in terms of their input and their creative contributions. While the Unreal Tourament project is the catalyst behind it all, the truth is that the Unreal Engine 4 is becoming a melting pot for innovative ideas. Case in point – in my interview I learned how a modder had created an Assassin’s Creed style parkour mod for others to download and tinker with, just because there previously wasn’t one for UE4. The only different between then and now is that the ability to get involved in the hands-on discussion no longer costs a thing.
Of course, removing the monetary barrier means that, just like with any free-to-play game, all walks of life can get involved – including idiots. I have no doubt that Epic have safeguards in place to stop things getting out of hand, especially in regards to its own marketplace, but the risk of shovelware, hacking, and other annoying aspects of our industry are there. Then again, I guess they were always there, but now the opportunities are far greater.
But enough with the pessimism – let’s focus on how this is a win-win situation for everybody. The community now has an up-to-date game engine, with constant support, in which to create mods, props, environment, and even full blown games, not just for home computers and consoles, but mobile devices as well. Best of all is the “we don’t succeed until you succeed” mentality involving royalties, meaning developers aren’t feeling pressured into making an immediate return on their creations.
What about the gamers – the ones who don’t want to get directly involved, but perhaps just want to give feedback? They have their chance to do that now thanks to the Epic Games Launcher. Access to the current build of Unreal Tournament (along with its editor,) the on-going Alpha Test of Fortnite (which is still invite only at the time of writing,) and the Unreal Engine creation suite are but clicks away, alongside documentation and video tutorials. The level of participation is down to them, but the fact Epic have gone out of their way to make the entry point to development the easiest it has ever been, especially with such an established game engine, is an exciting moment for the games industry.
Admittedly, only time will tell if the open approach will pay off, but I for one am hugely optimistic in the opportunities free access to the Unreal Engine 4 provides. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a Pulse Rifle that needs test firing…
For more information on the Unreal Engine 4, as well as to register and download the Epic Games Client - which includes free access the creation suite and the UT project - head over to the official Unreal Engine website.