Earlier today, Microsoft and Unity have made a joint announcement about the fact that Unity is coming to Xbox One, and that Microsoft Developers who already have a Unity Pro 4 license will get the Windows support (re-compiling the game on Windows/Xbox 1) for free (a $1500 value). If you are unfamiliar with Unity, it is a game-engine that comes with all kinds of ready-to-use libraries (graphics, physics, collisions, particles…). It has been extremely popular on Mobile devices because a game can be recompiled on a number of platforms, and that’s a huge time (and money!) saver for game developers.
While the multi-platform advantage is key, Unity also brings a lot of technologies that allow a small team to build good games without having to program everything from scratch. It is clear that no Battlefield 4 will come out of it at the moment, but Unity developers have built very cool games like Dead Trigger (and soon DT2) and have been able to focus on the “fun” while using incredibly few resources. For more background information, read my GDC 2013 post about Unity 4.
It was just about certain that Unity 4 would be supported on Windows 8.1 and Xbox One, so this is not a surprise. I suspect that the $1500 value offered by this joint announcement to developers will help developers for whom $1500 is no pocket change (AAA game budgets can be as big as movie budget these days), but it won’t fundamentally change the outcome. Any Unity 4 developer who has a finished game would gladly spend that much to enter a new huge market.
For the Windows Store, this could be a great way to get high-quality games very quickly, since many of the top iOS or Android games are built with Unity. This would help Windows tablets the most since PC Gaming has never been better. Still, Microsoft can’t spare any efforts to accelerate the arrival of quality apps in its store.
From what I have gathered by talking to hundreds of people in the industry, apps quality is the #1 issue that prevents them from switching to a Windows 8 tablet device (mainly business/productivity app quality like Dropbox, Evernote etc…). Not all apps are games, but this deal with Unity will contribute to solving the overall “app challenge” that is presented to Windows 8 on new form-factor PCs