If you were a PC gamer at the turn of the century, there’s a good chance you remember Unreal Tournament. Perhaps it was your gateway drug to online multiplayer, or the game of choice for LAN parties in your college dorm.
Fifteen years later, Epic Games is bringing back the classic first-person shooter for Windows, Mac and Linux. But instead of selling the new Unreal Tournament on store shelves, Epic will offer it for free.
Epic promises that this won’t be a typical free-to-play scheme, riddled with microtransactions and premium subscriptions. Instead, Epic will make money through a couple of unorthodox methods:
- The game’s code and content will be available to anyone with an Unreal Engine 4 subscription, which costs $20 per month. Epic says that it will turn to Unreal Engine 4 developers from outside the company for input on the game.
- Developers will eventually be able to create mods and other custom content, and sell them to players through a controlled marketplace. Epic will take a cut of the sales.
Essentially, Epic is using its position as a maker of game development tools to circumvent the usual (sometimes exploitative) free-to-play business model. Unreal Tournament won’t just be a free game, but a marketing hook for Epic’s lucrative game engine business. It’s a smart tactic, at least in theory.
There’s a lot we still don’t know. The game is nothing more than a promise at the moment–Epic says it’s involving outside developers from “the very first line of code”–so all we have to go on is nostalgia until Epic has something to show. Also, we don’t really know the extent to which outside developers will influence the game, and how well their participation will work in practice. Project lead Steve Polge told Polygon that a playable alpha will take “several months” to create.
But as a concept and a business model, it sounds more promising than Quake Live, which has been around for five years but has languished in recent years under its freemium business model. As someone who remembers the old Unreal Tournament vs. Quake III Arena rivalry, and preferred the former, part of me hopes Epic can get the last laugh.
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