Unity 4 has launched, and a lot of game developers worldwide are extremely enthusiastic about it. For end-users like you and I, it means that more games (and better games) will be available across all platforms, and for game developers, it means more features, better tools and a larger opportunity to leverage their work (make money) on new platforms. In you are not familiar with Unity, it’s a cross-platform game engine that uses used by a very large number of developers. It provides most of the infrastructure to build a game (if you’re a developer) and can be recompiled across platforms (PC/Mac/iOS/Android, Blackberry… ).
Unity’s added-value: most of the Unity-powered games would not even exist without it
We talked with Unity CEO David Helgason about Unity and about his company’s direction. The success of Unity simply comes from the fact that it brings tremendous value to small teams of developers who don’t have the “how-to” or can’t afford to spend hundreds of thousands of man-hours on building the infrastructure behind a cross-platform game. By every single metric, the success of Unity as a middleware is unchallenged, and it is an extremely popular platform for a number of developers.
The key to short-term success: cover more platforms
With a host of new platforms supported since Unity 3.0 (list here), becoming “massively multi-platform” (as David Helgason puts it) has been seemingly the first order of business at Unity. It makes a lot of sense, since the mobile market remains the fastest growing segment for them, and it is exactly where Unity brings the most value. Unity also supports next-gen consoles too. Among the new platforms: PS4, PS Vita, Gaikai, Wii-U, Blackberry 10, Windows Phone 8 just to cite the more famous ones.
In-house engines remain Unity’s main competitors
Outside of mobile, things are a bit more difficult: PC gaming, PS3 and Xbox are tougher markets to crack because developers have a lot of existing code, so investing in a new production flow is rarely obvious – at least for established players and those who can afford in-house development. It is also difficult for Unity users to build an “AAA” title on PC or consoles, since they often require the highest performance (including good multi-threading), latest lighting technology (like global illumination) and scalable production flows (to build big levels, with a lot of designers working on them). Unity 4 has improved upon all those aspects, but there is more work to be done to convince developers using a good custom-made game engine.
I’ve been very impressed with how far Unity has gone in the past few years. Games like Dead Trigger 2 shows that it is possible to build very good looking games with Unity, and the number of developers keeps increasing at a relatively rapid pace. Unity will also support PlayStation 4 when it comes out, so this is going to be a major step for both Unity and the platform it serves. Sure you won’t build BattleField 4 with it right now, but I suspect that 10 years ago, few people would have guessed that such middleware could be so successful.
Business-wise, Unity is also becoming a game publisher and the company has been quite smart at picking successful (or promising) games, and help developers port to more platforms, taking a cut in the extra revenues along the way. Developers have practically no additional work to do. “With Unity you make money” — is what David Helgason wants the developer community to think about Unity, and so far it seems to work. I know for a fact that even in established companies, there is mounting pressure (at least from management) to use Unity to save on internal development.
What is your perception of Unity-powered games? Which ones are your favorites?