Game engine giant Unity Technologies has announced that its suite of mobile game development tools will be made available completely free of charge to indie devs.

Announced late yesterday by chief executive David Helgason, the move sees the Unity software development kit (SDK) for Android and iOS platforms released completely free of charge. Previously, mobile support was a chargeable extra to the free Unity Basic software release. Those who have already downloaded Unity need do nothing aside from run the update tool to unlock the new features.

'There are no strings attached, no royalties and no license fees,' claimed Helgason. 'This is just an extension of Unity Free which we launched in 2009.' Using the tools, developers are able to write games using the Unity Engine and publish them to iOS and Android platforms as well as the usual desktop and laptop targets - and not have to worry about licensing, even if they come up with the next Angry Birds. 'You can make as much money from your games as you like – this limitation is about large companies not using our free products, not about sharing your future revenues,' Helgason added.

The iOS and Android extensions to Unity Basic will be followed in the coming months by similar deployment tools for BlackBerry 10 and Windows Phone 8, which will again be made freely available under the same terms. As a result, independent game developers will soon be able to publish for all four popular mobile platforms without having to pay a penny in licensing costs for the Unity engine or its toolkit.

Despite Helgason's reassurances, however, there is a definite catch to the offer - but it's one that should come as no surprise: designed for smaller indie devs, the offer does not extend to a company or other incorporated entity with a turnover over $100,000 in its last financial year. Anybody meeting those criteria will need to pay for a Unity Pro licence, at a cost of $1,500 for the basic software and an additional $1,500 each for the iOS and Android deployment tools.

Those who had already splashed out on the Unity Basic iOS and Android extensions in the last 30 days will be offered discounts on future purchases by way of compensation, Helgason announced, as well as the usual discount offer for upgrading to Unity Pro.

Unity Technology's move is a clear response to growing interest in rival Epic's Unreal Engine for cross-platform development: the Unreal Engine has long since been ported to mobile devices, while work is well under way on a browser-based version for client-agnostic gaming. With smartphone and tablet gaming spend beginning to exceed that of dedicated hand-held gaming devices like the PlayStation Vita and Nintendo 3DS, mobile is clearly to be the next battleground for engine and middleware providers.

If you fancy giving Unity a go yourself, you can download the software free of charge from the official website.
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