The word “free” didn’t mean what it used to. These days, in gaming, free typically comes along with the option to purchase in-game items. The new Unreal Tournament is not that kind of free.
Today, Epic Game announced its plan for a new entry in its classic Unreal Tournament first-person-shooter franchise, and the company is going for something a little bit different. The developer revealed that it will start making the game today — as in right now — with a small group of Unreal Tournament veterans. Along the way, the studio is inviting fans as well as developers who use the company’s new Unreal Engine 4 development kit to weigh in on every design choice in the shooter. Once the game is in a playable state, Epic will give it away for free — no microtransactions. The new Unreal Tournament will work on PC, Mac, and Linux.
It’s an interesting strategy that is clearly a marketing campaign for Unreal Engine 4. Epic licenses the Unreal SDK out to developers for $19 a month and then take 5 percent of a final product’s revenue. By working openly with the community, Epic is hoping to excite people about working with its tools.
This is the first new Unreal Tournament game since 2007. Between then and now, the company has produced (and then sold) the popular Xbox 360 shooter franchise Gears of War. It also published the Infinity Blade iOS games from developer Chair.
While its consumer software performed well, Epic has transitioned into more of a technology company than a game developer. During the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 era, a significant number of big-name games from publishers like Electronic Arts and Activision ran on Epic’s Unreal Engine 3. That includes major hits like the Mass Effect series and BioShock.
This new free Unreal Tournament is more evidence that the company is focusing on selling tools to help others make games rather than on making games itself. While it is still a big developer — it is producing the defense-building shooter Fortnite right now — the company is likely making a lot more money from its engine.