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Unity CEO reflects on the company's move to embrace mobile
Unity CEO reflects on the company's move to embrace mobile
May 9, 2014 | By Alex Wawro

May 9, 2014 | By Alex Wawro
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"I want more power to premium games and storytelling games, games that are more culturally relevant than the hardcore-est of hardcore freemium titles. Apple and Google support that to some level, and I think they’ll support it more."
- Unity CEO David Helgason describes his vision for the future of mobile game development in an interview with GamesBeat.

As Unity continues to expand by
acquiring complimentary companies like Playnomics and bolstering its mobile game toolset through regular updates, it's worth taking a moment to read through the interview Unity CEO David Helgason conducted with VentureBeat during the recent Mobile Gaming USA conference.

The edited transcript of their conversation spans a wide variety of topics, among them Helgason's explanation of why the company is getting into the mobile game marketing and analytics business and how it came to be dominant in the indie and mobile game development markets almost by accident.

"The not-so-often-told story is we started out as indie developers. We were going to make our own games, but there was no tool like Unity out there, so we had to make it for ourselves," said Helgason. "Then we realized we weren’t great game developers."

According to Helgason, the fact that Crytek and Epic seem to have drastically revamped the pricing models of their engine licensing businesses in an effort to challenge Unity was unthinkable when he was starting the company.

"It’s so different, how we think about the world [now]. At some point we said, 'We’re going to be cheaper,' and then we said, 'We’re going to be cheap and free,'" said Helgason. "In 2009 the other guys went free as well, but they failed to get traction from that. They’re trying to revamp their offerings now, with subscription and the backend, and updated tools that are better than they used to be."

"Bizarrely enough, it’s not showing up in our numbers at all. Nobody actually left, it seems. Our numbers are just as stable as they’ve always been. But it’s interesting to see the industry being more competitive now than it used to be."

The full interview, in which Helgason goes into much greater detail on the origins of Unity, what he hopes to see from the Unity Asset Store and more, is worth reading over on VentureBeat.



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Comments


Jason Eubank
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I can't say enough about how awesome Unity is for mobile, but the comment about "the numbers" not being impacted by by other offerings is not what I want to hear (probably not what other loyal community members want to hear either). IMO few have left yet because Unity has not really responded to the price point of Unreal or Crytek, but if they do nothing and keep the barrier to entry for the pro features how can they expect the loyalty to remain?

Unity is not without its problems and if you read the Unity forums its clear that we are waiting for many things to be addressed, and have been waiting for them for quite awhile; really hope some of these become a priority.

Gregory Booth
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They obviously feel they don't have to respond. Maybe their head is stuck in the sand.

UE4 isn't up to speed on Android, yet, in the roadmap though. Updates seem to be regular.

Crytek hasn't hit and who knows if they'll include mobile under that $9.90/month tier.

"... it’s not showing up in our numbers at all" right, ok ...we'll see how many buy Unity5.

Time will tell.

Gabriel Acosta
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Who says that Unity has to respond to anything at all? Price isn't everything. For example, I do freelance 3d and VFX work. I charge certain prices and clients aren't always happy about that, they say things like "Why so much, I can get someone else to do it cheaper!". That very well may be the case and I tell them as much. "If you think you can find someone who can do it just as well for less, well don't let me waste your time" and I show them the door (of course I don't literally say and do all that since I try to be as diplomatic as possible, but that's the general idea) . Interestingly enough though, most of the time they end up coming back.

My point being, just because the competition does something that may or may not be cheaper, that doesn't necessarily have to affect what you're doing or how you do it. Sometimes you need to stand your ground.

Phil Maxey
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Why Unity haven't mirrored Unreals/Cryteks pricing is a bit of a mystery to me. If Unity released a version of it's platform for $9-$15 pm without a great big Unity Splash screen and including mobile export, I would sign up to it in a heartbeat.

But they haven't, and there's no sign of it happening, so for now all options are on the table.

Nicholas Koza
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The last thing we need is a race to the bottom on the engine side of things as well. A lot of devs get furious when they see high quality $4 games being called overpriced - let's not turn around and do the same to the extremely talented individuals that are providing a lot of our tech.

Phil Maxey
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?? no one is suggesting that Unity start selling their tech at a loss, I wish them all the best and hope they keep on making good profits as that's the best way for the company to thrive and for them to keep on making a great piece of software.

However it's because Unity is so good that they are missing out on a huge opportunity to sell what they do to a lot of indies who would love to jump and use Unity. The current price (off the top of my head) if you want the pro version with iOS export is $150 pm?? that's insane. Compare that to what Adobe offers? I pay roughly $75 pm for the ENTIRE adobe range of software. Are you also saying that Adobe are in a "race to the bottom" ? of course not, they are just making their software affordable to the masses and good on them for doing that.

A msg to David Helgason.

Take out the Splash screen from the free version of Unity, include Android and iOS export, make it $19.99 pm and I'm in.


Nicholas Koza
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My point is that's the same sort of logic that routinely gets applied to our games. "X game is selling for $Y, why not yours also?" $9-$15 a month is a small fraction of what they're charging right now for the engine, so you suggested a steep discount. Or in other words, you're saying that the engine is worth only a fraction of what they're charging for it currently. That's fine if you feel that way - maybe it's not worth that much to you. That is the same sort of pressure that devs have been feeling though. A decrease in the perceived value of their software is a big part of what has caused the race to the bottom for games. When we say that an engine as powerful as Unity is worth only $9-$15 a month then we're massively undervaluing it, in my opinion. Especially considering what they're already giving away for free. My point is: let's give the engine-makers some credit where credit is due by not undervaluing their work. The price they're asking is not unreasonable.

Phil Maxey
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You think the free version of Unity without the Splash screen for $19.99 is unreasonable?

Wes Jurica
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@Phil
What is your hang up with the splash screen?

david canela
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As a one-person indie developer, I'm quite irritated by Unity's console licence pricing model and their lack of transparency when it comes to those particular licences (it's rigid and expensive AND they're not upfront about it). I hope they grow a little more flexible in that area in the future. For the time being, I'll think twice about fully commiting to this engine (getting Pro, learning how to use it beyond for what I need it right now...) and am checking out the alternatives.

Jeremy Alessi
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Crytek and Unreal aren't really useful for all types of games. Unity is. Once you add the Asset Store, the other guys really don't compare. If you're only doing a highly detailed 3D game then I could see maybe using one of those but Unity does everything, it's not just a game engine but a much broader platform.

Amir Barak
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No product is good for all things. Unity has its benefits and drawbacks, claiming it's good for all game types is disingenuous at best.

Jeremy Alessi
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I didn't use the word "good" so watch where you place "disingenuous".

That said, I actually use Unity for everything (Sims, games, apps, etc.) so when I said Unity does everything that was completely genuine because that's how I use it.

Are there better tools for certain jobs. I'm sure there are. But when Unity is so good (there it is) at so many things who cares if tool x is marginally better at y?

Amir Barak
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"Crytek and Unreal aren't really useful for all types of games. Unity is."
You've compared Crytek and Unreal to Unity and stated that Unity is better than them by being useful for everything. You can mince words however you want but that's being disingenuous since Unity is not useful for everything given that not everyone is using Unity (nor should they). Unity is useful for some things and not so much for others. Some things it does well and then again it fails at other things.

"I actually use Unity for everything"
This anecdotal evidence at best to show that Unity is useful for everything.

"But when Unity is so good (there it is) at so many things who cares if tool x is marginally better at y?"
Because if I'm looking for a tool that gives me access to source code then Unity is useless (for example). Also if I want a highly optimized 2D engine, Unity is useless. If I want a tool that support ECS in a not-deranged way than Unity is useless. If I want a tool that supports easy code sharing and modification in a large team then Unity is useless. Anyway, I get it that you like to use Unity, so do I (when it doesn't piss me off). But claiming that it's useful for everything and that it is unequivocally better than other engines is, guess what, disingenuous.

Jeremy Alessi
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Sorry you haven't been able to accomplish your goals with the tool. I've never had that problem. It's not disingenuous, it's just my experience.

Amir Barak
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Whether you or I have managed to accomplish our set goals using Unity (or any engine) is irrelevant to the claim that Unity is useful for everything. I'm glad you found Unity and you're obviously enjoying it immensely and using it to great effect, that's awesome!

Saying "Unity is useful for everything" is still hyperbole. Crytek and Unreal, I'm sure, are solid engines as well. Ogre3D and MonoGame are also great kits. SDL is awesome in its own right, much love for Allegro. And if someone hand-codes their own engine on top of either OpenGL or DirectX (or both) it's still a worthwhile endeavor.

There are so many factors in choosing a technology that a blanket statement concerning the process is not really that useful. Would you be able to expand on your reasons (and workflow) in choosing Unity over other engines in regards to specific game types?

Jeremy Alessi
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Well before I began using Unity I had a game I wanted to make. I prototyped it in Torque, Shiva, and Unity. I found Unity to be adequate (the others could not supply deterministic physics) and then after that I never ran into a reason not to use it, no matter what the project was. That was 6 years ago! It just seems to be capable of anything.

I'm not saying everything else is irrelevant but simultaneously I wouldn't recommend anything else to a friend.

David Moron
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"code sharing and modification in a large team" we're using Git just fine, I'm pretty sure it would scale easily to any number of team members.

We've also done stuff in 2D and achieved great performance, I guess the use of "highly optimized" could be subjective, but I have to say your posts seem more "hater" driven than anything. If not sorry, but that's how it looks.

Amir Barak
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More scene sharing than just code sharing to be honest, I should have clarified it better. I personally use Mercurial. Project sharing is also a bit lame because of the way they've chosen to implement UID values I think.

I do nothing but 2D work with Unity and can tell you that Unity3D is a 3D engine. Optimizing Unity for 2D isn't just about the GPU, but alright.

Raising legitimate criticism of a product is not being a "hater". I've explained myself clearly (I hope) and haven't yet resorted to ad-hominems. Where's the hate? I actually use Unity a lot. Although I also work on my own tech using MonoGame and frankly, I like working with MonoGame better. Heck, I still like writing C++ code for fun.

Unity is a decent product but it's not the end-of-all-things. And I think that the over-reliance of developers on 3rd party tools like Unreal, CryEngine and Unity is detrimental to the industry in the long run.

ben coleman
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What makes you say that the current version of Unreal is not useful for all types of games? After using Unity for 4 years I can say that it stumbles when trying to make FPS and 3rd person action games. I think there are many developers like myself that have been waiting for Unreal to do exactly what they did so we could make the switch. Unity isn't quite ready for high end console and pc titles. The shaders, lighting and physics models are holding it back.

Wes Jurica
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Unity seems to be addressing those 3 things you listed in Unity5 (physically based shading, realtime global illumination and PhysX 3.3).

I haven't tried making an FPS or 3rd person game in Unity so I have no idea how suited Unity is for those. Some seem to have successfully pulled those types of games off with a high degree of quality, Shadowgun being the most obvious example. And that is one of the better looking mobile games which flies in the face of some of the most popular criticisms about Unity, that it isn't a high performance game engine.

ben coleman
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Unity 5 does sound like it will be much improved. However, its best titles are still on mobile and I think that is where Unity shines. Based on mobile/tablet game sales, I think most of the higher end features of Unity are not needed/used. They are in a tough spot IMO.

The $20 monthly, source code,blueprint and amazing authoring tools makes Unreal something Unity can not ignore. Blueprint allows non-engineers to create gameplay systems on their own. Whereas Unity requires knowledge of C# or Java in order to create a game. There is the asset store, but most of the frameworks/code there require C# knowledge to fit them to your needs.

Wes Jurica
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Kentucky Route Zero, Wasteland 2, the Oddworld remake, ShipBreakers, Sir You Are Being Hunted, Lovers in a Dangerous SpaceTime, Gone Home, Kerbals, Rust (just to name a few that Unity has Showcased)

Clearly you have the same misconception about Unity that a lot of people have.

$20 monthly, but 5% royalty. This makes UE4 more expensive for all but the smallest of releases. Source code is a huge plus, no denying that.

I haven't looked into Blueprint much but I assume it is like uScript, PlayMaker, etc. which are available on the Asset Store.

edit:
Do checkout the new Oddworld (http://www.oddworld.com/oddworldgames/new-n-tasty/). It is looking great!

ben coleman
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All great games :) Oddworld looks amazing

Those games are awesome examples of what Unity can do. They also strengthen my opinion that Unity is not suited for high end pc and console development. It just has problems with consistent performance when trying to render high tri-count scenes with complex shaders and lighting.

It is suited for awesome games though :)

David Moron
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It does still have some draw backs for AAA stuff, but we were talking about this at the office the other day, whenever they can output the same or you know, pretty much the same detail that Unreal or CryTek does, it's going to be tough for those engines to compete, so many people are learning Unity that once they start doing bigger stuff, they'll just use the fancy stuff that will be available in Unity, instead of learning a new engine completely.

Michael Thornberg
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Edit: After some thought I decided to stay out of this... no point in arguing when he is bent on *not* lowering prices. There are better options available anyway. Cheaper too.

Wes Jurica
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From our experience with the only game we've released thus far, Unity has turned out to be cheaper than had we gone with UE4's 5% royalty. Plus, we didn't have to solve all those little problems that have been solved a million times before because the Asset Store has so much content available. We might still be coding away if we had used an engine like CryEngine or UE4. Unity is a killer option for small teams. :)

Greg Scheel
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Having yet to release a game, I am finding that UE4 includes much more than the free version of Unity. The included game examples, complete with code, are a godsend. For a visual scripting environment on Unity, I would have to pay for Unity Pro, then buy the scripting. Blueprint is just amazing, and being all C++, I can mod it at will.

Even so, being familiar with your engine of choice, and with its specific utility for your game, are much more important than anything else. I have lived through the Mac vs. PC wars, and have become platform agnostic, and I have come to rely on use case analysis.

Good luck with your game!

Michael Thornberg
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@Wes: I think you misunderstand. I actually do like Unity, and I agree it is good for smaller teams. But it isn't as good as Unreal (or cryengine for that matter) but then we are probably also talking about different type of games :) And the productivity increase I experience using Unreal is far greater (and not by a small amount) but as much as I like Unreal that is not what I am talking about. I am actually genuinly concerned that it is too expensive. And by that I mean 'price of admission'. Because honestly.. if I am (again) to compare the two you get absolutely *everything* for ~$20 even if only paid once, and you never do anything at all with it. Which I have no doubt accounts for many of the sales for Epic. But here is the thing.. because it is so cheap (and they get everything) they have also opened the door on creativity. They get many people experimenting and doing things with exactly the same tool major companies use. They gain experience (and probably love for the tool) that will benefit them later on. They might also create a game that turns out to be a big hit. And they could probably do this because they were not limited by some strange limitation they could not do without. And maybe I am a fool, but I don't think Unity benefits at all by having silly limitations like they do now. And I am also fairly certain a good number of potential customers turn away as soon as they see $1500.. $1500 etc.. when their competitor says ~$20 all inclusive (or even ~$10 as in the case with CryEngine).

Wes Jurica
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@Michael
I don't think I misunderstood anything because all I did was address the "better" and "cheaper" points; the first point being truly subjective and the second only being true if you are certain type of developer.

For a student or a hobbyist, UE4 is cheaper than Unity Pro, but then again there is Unity Free which would most likely suit them fine (I do give you the points you made about having "everything"). For a small team that doesn't expect to sell many copies of their games UE4 is also cheaper.

If you think you are going to sell $30k/$60k/$90k (1,2, or 3 platform Pro Licenses) or more then Unity Pro becomes cheaper. If they make a game that becomes a big hit that 5% starts looking pretty big, especially after platform holders are already taking their 30%.

If a game dev is looking to make a living making games and not just doing it as a hobby, they should probably ask themselves, "Why are Epic and Crytek making their engine so cheap?" The answer probably isn't because they are just being nice. If I were to guess, the answer is two-fold.

Firstly, just like AutoDesk with their free student licenses for all their products, they are wanting their engines to be the standard in the industry by getting as many people accustomed to it as possible.

Secondly, they believe that this model will make them more money. Successful games will be subsidizing the hobbyists.

All that said, I have no problem with any of these models. In fact, we have seriously looked at UE4 for use in a game we have way further down the pipe. We may be able to live with the royalty in that specific game.

Michael Thornberg
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@Wes:
For me, 5% of money earned (gross income) is literally nothing to worry about. But then I have never really cared about money either, even when I didn't have any :) (Although I sense from your reply that the though of having to pay 5% is painful :) ) I am mostly concerned about their 'price of admission'. Because (again) I do like Unity, and seeing that they charge several thousands of dollars for functionality that others nearly provide for free; simply can't be good for business. I (personally) really don't think it is possible to look at it another way. I am not going to repeat the points (they are above) and no party are idiots here, they know very well what they are doing, and why they do it. I just happen to be of the view that Epic & CryTek are doing something much better here. And for a large majority of people as well (their personal agendas aside) And sooner or later Unity will have to face the facts. I think their model is no longer sound (while it still may work for a while) and quite frankly is a bit greedy. Not to mention I have the distinct feeling they have grown too much too quickly, and now have trouble changing their model because of it. But I could be wrong, it is just how I feel about it.

Wes Jurica
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All fair points. I think we understand each other. :)


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