Unity CEO David Helgason on next generation consoles and the rise of mobile gaming.
Unless you are living under a rock, you should be aware that mobile gaming is on the rise and more and more people are gaming on the palm of their hands. Unity is a development engine which supports a wide variety of platforms ranging from current generation consoles to mobiles and tablets. To top that, Unity will also support the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. We got in touch with the CEO of Unity, David Helgason and asked him about the rise of mobile gaming, improvements in development tools and whether consoles will be able to keep up with mobile gaming.
Ravi Sinha: Unity has been making a lot of noise lately, from its partnership with Sony to making Unity Mobile free for indie developers and small studios. How did this change come about, where Unity became one of the most important middleware companies on the market?
David Helgason: While we originally started the company to make games, we realized we were much more passionate about the technology behind gaming, and we set out to build the Unity engine to enable more developers to make better games than ever before.
The need for this was dire, as most of the industry players sold gaming technology for millions of dollars or charged a large percentage of games’ revenue. We modeled our business after Photoshop or Final Cut Pro, understanding that our model and technology had to be easy-to-use, accessible and affordable for developers. Plus, we knew we had the talent to make our technology more advanced and better than anybody else. Over time this has proven to be true.
In the last year, we got into a position where we could partner with some of the biggest players like Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft in order to give the awesome community using Unity the most opportunities at success as we can. We’re also consistent in our efforts to reinvest in our development tools to make Unity the most complete development solution available. The 2D development tools due in Unity 4.3 are a great example of this.
Also, earlier this year, we made our mobile technology products free, launched theLearn site, and created a subscription service. We’ve also been very active in education with Unity being used in over 2,000 educational institutions which means there are a lot of professionals entering the market with Unity expertise. These moves have been instrumental to our recent success.
"Unity now has a community of well over 400 thousand monthly active developers and over 2 million registered developers. We’ve become one of the most popular engines and toolsets in the world for cross-platform game development, as well as for other types of interactive 3D and 2D development."
Ravi Sinha: What are the numbers like for Unity’s use in games and development worldwide? We last heard that it was in use by over a million developers worldwide.
David Helgason: Unity now has a community of well over 400 thousand monthly active developers and over 2 million registered developers. We’ve become one of the most popular engines and toolsets in the world for cross-platform game development, as well as for other types of interactive 3D and 2D development. It’s pretty much impossible for us to track the number of games being created, but it’s at least thousands per year, and quite possibly a lot more.
Ravi Sinha: Do you feel that the decision to make Unity Mobile free to developers will help grow the market for mobile and social games in countries like India that lack a full-fledged game development industry to speak of, but still hold potential?
David Helgason: Definitely. Our vision has always been to democratize development, regardless of studio size, budget, or country. Small gaming studios are responsible for the top-selling mobile games, and we want to bring these opportunities to more places than ever before. Angry Birds and Clash of Clans, for example, were built by small companies that got big as a result. In order to help level the playing field, we offer free tools to developers everywhere around the world to encourage more cool companies to form and more cool games to launch.
Ravi Sinha: Unity has become a boon for developers on Kickstarter as well. This includes designers like Richard Garriott, who is working on Shroud of the Avatar. What are the advantages Unity is bringing to game development to trump the traditional means of developing, especially on PC?
David Helgason: I think there’s a couple of reasons that we’re seeing heavy adoption of Unity in Kickstarter projects. The first is that Unity is affordable. When you’re looking to make your money go a long way, as is generally the case with anyone participating in Kickstarter, there is no other tool that is better. This is because of the second main reason, which is cross-platform development.
Making games cross platform takes a significant amount of resources when building an engine from the ground up or even with most middleware solutions. Unity takes the pain out of the process and makes it as efficient and easy as it’s going to get. We minimize the cost of the process and allow these developers to offer more platforms which will bring in more pledges. On top of those major reasons, Unity is an efficient, well designed engine and editor that can be used for any range of games. We’re not tied to any particular point of view or genre. With Unity, only the developers’ imaginations are the limit.
"Mobile gaming is still relatively young and gaining momentum. There’s little doubt that the mobile market will outreach the console market in the future. There are more devices in the hands of gamers now than there ever have been."
Ravi Sinha: The smartphone and tablet market just seems to keep growing, even though the most money is still being spent on home consoles for gaming according a report by the NPD Group. What are your thoughts on this?
David Helgason: Mobile gaming is still relatively young and gaining momentum. There’s little doubt that the mobile market will outreach the console market in the future. There are more devices in the hands of gamers now than there ever have been. As technology gets smaller and smaller yet faster and more efficient, the capabilities of mobile devices will be impressive enough to entice more and more gamers into purchasing games in the mobile market. There will still be space for consoles for quite some time of course, especially this next generation, but we’ll definitely continue to see an increased importance placed on mobile.
Ravi Sinha: The debate over hardcore and casual games still rages on, despite games like Deus Ex: The Fall being released for mobiles. Do you see a day where mobiles end up becoming the de facto means for gaming? Is this the second-last, if not last, cycle of consoles we’ll be seeing?
David Helgason: The death or end of consoles is greatly exaggerated. There is a lot of money to be found in consoles and gamers commit to making more of an investment in them, which means they’ll continue to purchase games for them. However, I think mobile gaming will inspire the next-generation of consoles to be open, less expensive and include fun games from smaller developers.
We’re going to start seeing better control solutions, including gamepad controllers for mobile devices, that will certainly push mobile even farther into the realm of consoles as well, especially as mobile games and apps are more easily displayed on big TVs in the living room. I do think it will be some time before the hardcore gamers used to their home console systems will become true believers in mobile.
Ravi Sinha: Can you please talk about Unity Cloud and how it will help to promote and monetize mobile games?
David Helgason: Today, game developers must take control of the gaming business, including distribution, user acquisition and monetization, forcing them to handle economic aspects previously not a part of their trade or skill set. In a 2013 Unity survey with over 22,000 respondents, roughly two-thirds of game developers expressed a strong demand for cloud services, indicating a market need for help with user acquisition, marketing and monetization. The most important part of this survey, to us, was the fact that these same responders told us that they wanted this solution to come from Unity itself!
Enter Unity Cloud, which will do the heavy lifting for developers in a lot of these areas. The initial offer of Unity Cloud services enables developers to run advertising—such as full screen interstitials—in their mobile games, as well as exchange installs with other Unity developers, to unlock the combined power of over half a billion mobile game installs for free.
"The PS4 and Xbox One are both very powerful devices. We’re completely excited to offer up the ability for our community to take advantage of this power. These are also exciting opportunities for our developers to get their games in front of audiences completely hungry for new game experiences."
Ravi Sinha: Unity will soon support PS4 and Xbox One. What does this mean for the company in terms of games and the business side of things?
David Helgason: The PS4 and Xbox One are both very powerful devices. We’re completely excited to offer up the ability for our community to take advantage of this power. These are also exciting opportunities for our developers to get their games in front of audiences completely hungry for new game experiences. Including the next-gen platforms in our line-up of supported platforms only makes Unity more appealing to the entire range of developers looking to create artistically and financially successful games.
Rashid Sayed: Sony and Microsoft, both have different philosophies towards the video games market. How will the Unity engine adapt to the different needs and demands of both the next gen consoles?
David Helgason: Unity is a facilitator. We want to make tools that make it as easy as possible to put games and other products in front of as many eyeballs as possible. We will, of course, offer complete compatibility with any unique features that the various platforms from Sony Computer Entertainment and Microsoft.
As you’re likely aware, Unity’s own philosophy is largely about inclusiveness. We’re doing what we can to get professional and powerful tools in the hands of as many developers as possible. We want every developer, whether they’re large publisher funded studios or one man teams, to have the same chance at success. SCE, and more recently Microsoft, have been moving towards a position of being much more open to smaller developers putting games on their systems and we’re very happy to see that shift. It’s something that we think is good for the industry as a whole and the gamers themselves.
Rashid Sayed: This may be a long stretch, but in the next five years or so do you see mobile/tablets graphics rivaling to those on the PS4 and Xbox One? If not, then what kind of improvements do you see for mobile/tablet platforms?
David Helgason: I don’t really think that’s much of a stretch. Improvement of mobile technology is increasing as such a rapid pace that even if they’re not as powerful as PS4 or Xbox One, they’ll certainly be more powerful than the current generation of consoles.
"We aim to empower developers to make better games. From supporting a lot of platforms to providing tools, we make it as easy and affordable as possible to build cross-platform games. This includes our new free versions and subscription models—giving more people access to our engine."
Rashid Sayed: The PS4 comes packed in with unified architecture across the CPU and GPU, along with a blazing fast memory of 8 GB GDDR5 RAM. Do you see that as an advantage for any developer using the Unity Engine to develop games on the PS4?
David Helgason: Absolutely. This architecture simplifies development, and makes techniques that previously were in the realm of science fiction doable. We intend to make this extremely powerful and extremely easy to use, like everything else we do!
Rashid Sayed: What is next for Unity and what are your plans to keep updating the developer tools?
David Helgason: We aim to empower developers to make better games. From supporting a lot of platforms to providing tools, we make it as easy and affordable as possible to build cross-platform games. This includes our new free versions and subscription models—giving more people access to our engine.
In doing so, we’re closing the gap and eliminating barriers to allow any game developer the chance to compete in today’s market. We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing, basically. We’ll never stop looking to improve the engine. We’ll never stop looking to find new ways to help our community make money following their dreams of game development.
Rashid Sayed: Is there anything else you want to tell us about Unity and the promise it holds?
David Helgason: We are blessed with having some of the best people in the industry working on one of the most exciting piece of software in the industry, and enough people buy it to make us able to reinvest in it. We feel that as a huge responsibility, and push as hard as we can to improve the lives of our customers. I think we’re only just getting started!
A big thank you to Melissa Sheridan from Point Blank Communications for setting this interview up.