This is intended to give a general idea of the monetary cost of using Unreal Engine 4 and Unity. It does not have a cost-benefit analysis of the technology involved although it touches on the platforms each engine can deploy on and associated costs where relevant.
I am endorsing neither engine. I refer to Unity 4 as Unity (as opposed to the yet unreleased Unity 5) to avoid confusion with UE4 (Unreal Engine 4).
Unless otherwise stated all dollar amounts are in USD.
Unreal Engine 4
Unreal Engine 4 costs $19 per month as well as 5% royalty of your games’ gross sales. The $19 allows you to access a snapshot of the current source code and you are allowed to keep it despite further updates. Simply pay $19 again (even months later) if you wish for an updated snapshot of the engine source.
UE4 allows you to deploy on Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android. If you are a subscriber and a registered Xbox or PlayStation developer you may also deploy on those platforms. (Thanks to Ryan Evans for pointing this out.)
In case you’re not familiar with gross and net terminology, gross means total sales – not just the money that arrives in your hands.
If your game sold 10,000 units at $5 each it has grossed $50,000. If the platform you sold the games through takes 30%, you net
$50,000 * (1 – 0.3) = $35,000.
If your game was made in UE4 you would owe them 5% of gross which comes out to
$50,000 * 0.05 = $2,500.
However, UE4 also allows a quarterly exemption of $3,000 per product. If a game made in UE4 grosses $3,000 or less in a given quarter you owe nothing in royalties.
If, in a specific quarter, your game sold 400 units at $2 each it has grossed $800. This is less than $3,000 and you owe $0 in royalties.
If, in a specific quarter, your game sold 1000 copies at $7 each it has grossed $7,000. However the first $3,000 is exempt from gross royalties, so you pay 5% for
($7,000 – $3,000) * 0.05 = $200
Royalty payments are due 45 days after the close of each calender year quarter. This may influence when you choose to launch your games.
Unity Pro costs a one-time fee of $1,500 or $75 per month. The subscription has a 12 month contract and upgrades are 50% of retail price (Thanks to Ryan Evans for pointing this out.) The one-time versus monthly cost breaks even at the 20 month mark.
Unity Pro allows you to deploy on Windows, Mac, Linux, Windows Phone 8, Windows Store Apps, and Blackberry. You must pay the same again for iOS and also for Android for Pro features (Thanks to Alex2539 for pointing this out.) That is, if you wish to deploy on Windows and Android (with Pro features) you must pay a one-time fee of $3,000 or pay $150 per month of development, or a combination of the $1,500 and $75 per month payment schedules.
There are no royalties for creating games in Unity Pro. You may use the free version of Unity for commercial products but only if in the last fiscal year your commercial entity (e.g. your LLC) grossed $100,000 or less.
A Unity Pro license allow for a two machine install. You can deactivate a machine to install/activate Unity Pro on another, but it is something you must manually do. (Thanks afroklump for pointing this out.)
Aside from Example 1 which notes platform cuts to explain gross vs. net, this does not include those calculations.
If you’re not overly worried about cash flow or making rent then a strict overview of gross payments may be the best cost analysis.
If you were to build the same game in UE4 versus Unity for Windows and Mac, the game would earn you, the developer, more money up until it grossed over approximately:
Gross * 0.05 = $1,500
Gross = $30,000
This does not take into account UE4’s quarterly exemption whose money saved will depend on the timing distribution of your game’s sales and receipt of payment(s).
If over the course of a calendar year your game sells 10,000 units at $9 each you gross $90,000. If during each quarter you grossed over $3,000 you will have needed to pay UE4
($90,000 – 4 * $3,000) * 0.05 = $3,900
in royalties for that year.
If you had been paying $19 per month that would come out to an additional cost of $228 for a total of $4,128.
So the raw break even point will depend on several factors.
What does all that mean?
It means that as your game grosses more paying royalties for UE4 will eventually surpass the cost of purchasing a (single) Unity Pro license. If you believe your game will gross ~$30,000 USD in sales then UE4 will end up costing you more in royalties.
However that does not necessarily mean that the value you got was less. In general when we spend money we expect something in return. In the case of a game engine we might expect a toolset more suited to our uses, perhaps a more convenient work flow, or something else that a competing service or product does not provide.
Remember that a core assumption of this cost analysis is based on creating essentially the same game in either UE4 or Unity. In practice this might not be a reasonable assumption.
As always perform your own due diligence.
There are other issues to consider – licensing for multiple team members, collaborative workflow, technology familiarity, et cetera. This post was meant to be concise.
If I’ve made a mistake, missed something, or misrepresented something please inform me and I will make all due corrections with appropriate credit. As mentioned above it is not my intention to lead readers in any particular direction regarding which engine to choose.
Thanks for reading,