Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 4 Is Free for Academic Use

New licensing model lowers the barrier for students pursuing careers in game development.

Pick a video game from the previous generation of consoles, and odds are high that it runs on Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 3.

Epic, creator of the Gears of War video game franchise, made a name for itself over the past decade by licensing its UE3 3D-graphics engine to some of the biggest developers of first- and third-person shooting games. Now it hopes to inspire the next generation of game-makers by easing student access to its newest game development engine.

According to Epic’s website, more than 60 higher education and vocational institutions use the Unreal Engine to teach game development, as well as art, animation, engineering and architecture.

On Sept. 4, Epic announced that it will give students full access to its next engine for free.

In a blog post on the Unreal Engine website, General Manager Ray Davis says the company has been courted by educators and students interested in access to the game-making engine without paying up front.

"The steady increase in interest made us realize we need a much simpler way to partner with academia, and so we’ve decided to go with the simplest solution of all," Davis wrote. "Unreal Engine 4 is now free for academic use."

The full UE4 suite is being given to students enrolled in accredited programs of video game development, computer science, art, architecture, simulation and visualization, according to a company press release.

Access to the engine also includes the complete C++ source code, allowing students to dip their feet in the raw elements of the engine.

The choice to make the engine free for academic use comes on the heels of Epic's decision to change its commercial licensing structure. With UE3, professional game developers had to purchase a license to use the engine, often paying millions of dollars in fees, Epic's CEO Tim Sweeney told gaming industry news website Gamasutra. With UE4, Epic has decided to widen access by offering its engine for a monthly subscription fee.

In an interview with tech site Ars Technica, Davis said the announcement of monthly pricing sparked feedback from the academic community, leading the company to consider a free offering for students.

"A lot of educators reached out right away, and it quickly became apparent that there was a better opportunity for everyone involved," Davis said.

Davis told Develop that offering the engine for free lowers the barrier of entry for students seeking a career in video game development by giving them access to the tools that professional game-makers use. Familiarity with these tools has become a selling point with developers.

Teachers and administrators can apply to Epic for the free UE4 license.

Epic Games
Sep 10 2014