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Unreal Engine 4 free for schools, students

Epic drops subscription fee for academic use of tech as company continues accessibility push

Right from launch, Epic Games' Unreal Engine 4 push has been all about accessibility. That's reflected in everything from its business model (a $19 monthly subscription with revenue sharing on the backend) to its visual scripting system so users don't need elite programming skills to get something up and running.

"It's not enough to make a tool that's fully powered and functional," Unreal Engine general manager Ray Davis told this week, "but to also make something that people stand a chance of learning."

Epic today made its latest nod to accessibility, making Unreal Engine 4 free for universities and students, waiving the subscription fee and allowing them to integrate the technology into their curricula however they see fit. (However, the same revenue sharing requirements will apply to any student projects that go on to see commercial release.) The move was prompted in part by feedback from students on Epic's forums.

"We thought $19 would be a great, affordable price point for everybody," Davis explained, "but students have even more constraints on their finances. So this seems like a great way to get them access."

Davis also believes allowing schools to incorporate Unreal Engine could help address one of the big challenges academic institutions have been facing with game development education thanks to the pace of innovation in the field.

"Our industry has basically reinvented itself more or less, or made major pushes forward at least every three or four years," Davis said. "I can only imagine as a professor trying to keep up with that while having students demanding real, practical use cases is really challenging."

Davis' hope is that Unreal Engine 4's documentation and tutorials will help professors teach students more efficiently. On top of that, the Epic tech's footprint within the industry could mean students wind up using the same tools in their first job that they used in school, even if they're working on a different platform.

"There are some people who believe any day now PC gaming will be dead, or no, console gaming will be dead," Davis said. "From our point of view, we're just always paying attention and listening to the platforms people want to go after."

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Brendan Sinclair avatar
Brendan Sinclair: Brendan joined in 2012. Based in Toronto, Ontario, he was previously senior news editor at GameSpot.