Distributing a free editor with a UE4 game

Hello there, I think it’s time I post about this topic in this (the apropriate) place.

The FAQ states the following in relation to releasing tools:

What kinds of products can I release
under the Unreal Engine 4 subscription

The only parts of the Unreal
Engine you can’t release to the
general public are the source code and
tools or modifications to them; these
components may only be distributed to
other licensees with access to the
same version of the Unreal Engine.

Can I share the Unreal Engine source
code or tools with others?

You can
share the source code or tools, along
with any modifications you’ve made,
with anyone who is an Unreal Engine
licensee who is authorized to access
the same version of the engine as
yours, e.g. the 4.x.x version number
of your installed build.

this means that if we make a game and want to add mod/editor support, we have two options:

  1. Tell the public they need to pay $19 for the editor. then either make our code open-source, or code everything as UE4 editor plugins and releasing only the plugins.
  2. Create a custom editor completely outside of UE4

both solutions come with huge caveats: the first one creates a very high entry barrier by requiring payment and learning of a very complete and complex toolset (for a game that would need more simple modding tools like map editing). the second one implies a huge time investment in the creation of [end-user exclusive] tools, something completely unnatural because the developers already have their tools.

we can already see some division of opinions regarding this topic in the new UT sub-forums, and the potential availability of a free UnrealEd for the new UT isn’t even decided yet.

Still, not everyone can afford to create/market a free game like UT. Some (like myself) might want a community-driven game and can’t afford to lose potential customers/fans because of this entry barrier. Others (like the company I work in, where we use UE3) might be required by their publisher to ship a free editor for their game.

there’s other potential problems as described in this forum topic (which as you know, includes Tim Sweeney’s view on the topic), but I want to focus on a solution here.

now, I remember some topic/post (which I cannot find anymore) where an UnrealEngine employee mentioned something along the lines of “but feel free to use portions of the UnrealEngine code if you wish to create your own editor”

it’s along this lines that I’d want to propose a solution. my idea is a stripped-down version of the engine that we can distribute freely with our games. This version would be locked to the project it ships with (i.e. shouldn’t be compatible with UE4, probably also not with other UE4 titles’ free UEd), and would (IMO) only need to include the following features:

  • Landscape editor
  • Object placement, movement, etc
  • FBX import
  • StaticMesh viewer, SkeletalMesh and animation viewer/editor (i.e. apply materials to meshes and such)
  • Material Instance editor, no creation of new Materials at all
  • Blueprint sub-class editor. Fine with me if it can only edit defaultproperties
  • Trigger editor (the equivalent of Kismet). This is the Level blueprint but it has too much features, would need to be stripped
  • Particle editor (maybe). Since only MaterialInstances would be supported, the whole usage of Cascade would become severely limited. Perhaps removing some of the cool modules like VectorFields and such, if needed
  • Matinee (maybe). RTS games would do without it, while Adventure or Action games might need it but it’s far from being a deal breaker
  • No UE4 marketplace, no UE4 plugin support, etc.
  • Did I miss something important?

how to do this? by adding a “#if WITH_EDITORFREE” feature flag in a number of places in the code, and then enabling it on compilation. I know I’m oversimplifying it and it would probably come with inter-dependency problems, but that’s the rough idea. Limiting compatibility with UE4 could work via headers in the file system or something similar.

who would do this? it can be done either by:

  • Epic (they would have absolute control over what’s included, all the time)
  • by the developers on their own (time consuming but probably not as much as writing an editor from scratch, would need validation from Epic all the time)
  • As a group/community effort (would produce a ‘general’ version of the FreeUEd that Epic could have control of, and
    as a group effort means it could be done faster)

benefits for all developers:

  • can ship their game with a free editor.

benefits for Epic:

  • UE4 becomes more appealing for game projects that need a free editor
  • You can slap “this is a basic version of UE4” all over the place
  • Once the mappers learn how to use the editor of SomeGame, they are already past the skillset entry barrier and so they become potential UE4 customers

I hope you give this some thought :slight_smile:

  • Chosker

Uh, Why isn’t anybody answering this? Someone from the staff?

Very nice idea!

Sorry for the 3-month lag. There have been some ongoing forum discussions on this:

We’ve designed the EULA to allow developers of UE4 games to open up their games to modding, with the caveat that the modders have to be UE4 subscribers in order to access the UE4 tools and source. There has been a lot of community feedback on the desire to make some of the tools redistributable freely without requiring a subscription.

We understand this, but this is a delicate area, for several reasons:

  1. Each type of game and each individual modder has a different view of what tools and degree of programmability would be essential for modding, and the union of everyone’s desires is the full UE4 editor plus the full UE4 source! We’d hate to go to the effort of developing an awesome new feature if it was only available to a limited subset of the community, and inversely we sense general discontent in the communities of content creation tools around reduced-feature versions available for free or for a reduced price.

  2. We are very reluctant to do anything that would bifurcate the community by proving access to UE4 outside of the official channels or with a reduced feature set. There is a positive feedback loop associated with keeping the entire set of UE4 game developers and modders together in a united community, such as a larger Marketplace enabling content developers access to more developers, etc.

My feeling is that it’s worth proceeding to develop moddable games with UE4 on the expectation that folks who are serious enough to invest the time into modding a major game can afford $19 to subscribe to UE4 for one month and then cancel.

We see a very high value to keeping the entire UE4 community united with a common feature set and Marketplace, so philosophically I can’t imagine Epic distributing a reduced-feature version of UE4 for free, or for creating a framework for moddable games redistributing a reduced-feature version of UE4 for free.


Hi, I just some comment for this UE4 Staff Answer for this “communities of content creation tools around reduced-feature versions available for free or for a reduced price.”.
More better not give the source code free, and not reduced-feature UE4 version.

finally an answer! but to me a disappointing one :frowning:

I understand the delicate nature of the matter, but I still think some middle ground would be beneficial.
While I would agree that modding would be different for different game types, there’s one thing that remains constant: level creation. It was part of CounterStrike just as it was part of Starcraft2. Besides that there’s probably some basics we could all agree on, while you reserve the important stuff for full-UE4.

Aditionally I really think a limited editor wouldn’t really bifurcate the community per se, because they would be targetted at a different audience (UE4 pro/indie developers vs. SomeGame map creators and modders).
Aside that you’d harness the oportunity that the map creators and modders of SomeGame would learn this limited-UE4 and a number of them would jump ship to the full UE4 for their own purposes.

The way I see it, this is clearly better than, A) SomeGame’s mapping/modding never to become popular because of the entry barrier, plus SomeGame’s developers needing to either make their game as a UE4 plugin (to have it closed-source) or release the source code (so UE4 users can compile it), B) SomeGame’s developers deciding to use a more editor-friendly engine instead of UE4, C) SomeGame’s developers needing to create their own mapping/modding tools

we’re developing Might & Magic Heroes VII for Ubisoft with UE3 at work, and we’re extending the editor to release it freely with the game. This is to build a map making community (possibly mods too) as required by our publisher.
with this policy however, I know for sure we would never be able to make a M&M Heroes VIII with UE4 :frowning: