Unity goes big on publishing, the cloud and 2D

Unity goes big on publishing, the cloud and 2D
Craig Chapple

By Craig Chapple

August 29th 2013 at 1:50PM

David Helgason discusses the latest changes coming from the middleware firm

Yesterday Unity made a number of key announcements for its popular game engine during its annual Unite conference in Vancouver.

The middleware firm is stepping up its publishing operations with a new initiative through Unity Games, and it has also opened up an ad network through its new cloud services allowing devs to cross-promote their titles.

On top of that, Unity is also working on new 2D dev tools for the platform, making the process of making 2D games through the engine a whole lot easier.

Develop spoke to Unity CEO David Helgason to find out what these changes mean for developers.

What’s different about what you can do with Unity now in terms of 2D?
A lot of people use Unity for 2D, and it’s perfectly doable. But we just looked at the workflows, and there were some fundamental silliness’s, people were kind of fighting the engine, and there were some tricks you had to play to do it, especially to do really complex 2D games with lots of layers and stuff.

We basically looked at what was needed, we implemented a few things, and it turned out it wasn’t a whole lot to make it really nice. It will go into pre-release soon. It’s still something we’re going to be working on for another year, but we’re really happy with it.

We also looked at other 2D engines, and I usually try not to say anything about others, but when we looked at what other 2D engines are doing, it’s all kind of primitive. There wasn’t really any workflows that we fell in love with and thought that game developers were well served with. Either the low level source code bases that they have to hack or the really contrived tools really weren’t designed for it in the first place.

I think even the stuff we’re launching on day one is going to be ahead of what anyone else is giving. And then of course we’re going to try and make it perfectly Unity style over the next 12 months. It turns out that a lot of games are still great, and we also like the fact you can mix 2D and 3D, there’s a lot of value there.

We’re also focusing on how to strip the engine down so you don’t have to ship the entire 3D engine when you make a pure 2D game. The whole thing could be more lightweight when not shipping a full 3D engine, and so that’s also something we’re going to be working on.

We thought about making it a separate licence and so on, but we actually decided to put it into Unity Free and Pro, so most of the features are free.

But the difference is because most of the technology in 2D is actually kind of quite simple; we’re actually pretty much putting almost all of the 2D into the free version. So you can pretty much do anything with 2D you want without paying us. It just feels right. Simple technology, it’s less maintenance, and I think it’s only fair we don’t charge so much for it.

Why was now the right time for you to embrace the cloud with your new services?
Honestly, the right time was like a year ago. The right time in theory could have been years ago. This is really useful stuff. It’s not been a secret for a long time that developers needed this and have been using it – but built by others.

For a long time that was our kop out - we'll provide the engine and other companies will provide the services. We’re really good at making engines and the other guys are presumably really good at making cloud technology.

We did a survey of our community a while ago asking what they were using, what they wanted to be using, and how they liked it. And it turned out there was a huge disappointment and frustration with all the services people knew of.

We had 20,000 people respond to the survey, there was a really broad research into what people were using, which technologies they are using, and what they would like from their services, and they seemed generally discontent about the frustration with Unity and so on.

Taking that to heart we realised that we should at least try our hand at it. The cross promotion network we’re launching will be fantastic. It’s got some really nice properties. We’re going to work on some really lovely ad units and use the fact that it’s Unity to make it interactive and awesome. I think it will just come out really great. There’s nothing exclusive about it, if people prefer other services they’ll use them of course, but we just want to make sure there is a really good solution that we offer.

Is that offered as a separate service from Unity? How will it be made available for developers?
It’s only for mobile in the beginning. And basically you use your Unity account to sign up. Then you put in a couple of lines into your game, it’ll be really simple. It’s not adding any runtime, because it’s relying on Unity runtime, so there’s no extra download files, it’s really lightweight and then you basically say when you want to show apps.

Also you can put into your game when you might want to show an app. And then from a web interface, you can actually control it. You can put it in without showing any ads, just having the option to later turn it on if you have a lot of downloaders for instance. You can experiment with it.

It’ll just be lightweight, simple, everything we like about what we do. Then of course we’ve also been working very hard to make sure there’s buyers that actually want to advertise on the network. We’ve got a lot of big players that are excited to get access to the players, a high quality audience. Those who are presumably playing good games, they care about games, so that means they’re an interesting audience for advertisers. Not all games will have ads, but I think it’s a good option and helps some of our customers make more money.

How will Unity as publisher work? How does it relate to Union?
Union has been successful in its own way. I think they’ve published around 50 games on a number of platforms, even a couple of games on open platforms. Gears has been heavily promoted  by Google right now, and we’ve been doing a lot of work with Google to make sure that happened.

The idea is, we know what a good game developers is, we see a lot of games, and we see who we can help more. We can’t do this at scale, it’s not like we can publish all Unity games that exist, we don’t have the resources for that. But we’re starting slow, upgrading form the Union group, and calling it Unity Games.

Already we’re announcing a few developers we’re already working with. We want to help elevate them and help them be the best they can be. We know a lot of stuff about the industry that we can help them with. We have pretty fantastic relationships to the platform holders, so we want to help them be noticed when the games are really good.

It’s about elevating some games and showing the best of what you can do with Unity and trying to make them more successful. It’s the same team, it’s grown a bit, but it’s basically the Union team that’s been working with developers for a couple of years now.

We already know a lot of people, there’s a lot of trust and we’ve proven we’re solid partner that doesn’t fool around. It’s also showing what a good game publisher should be. Someone who isn’t greedy, someone who isn’t going to push you too hard, that really cares about the developer.

People love indies, and sometimes look at publishers as evil. Are you trying to do publishing with the 'Unity spirit'?
You can already ask the people who have been in the Union portfolio. I think it’s a lot about only actually working with people when we can actually do something for them, and working hard showing that we actually have some relationships that matter, and being transparent with them as we go, what we’re doing, what we’re not doing and why we’re doing it.

And of course at least breaking our backs to make sure they have some more income they would have had otherwise, and get opportunities for positioning, and placement and promotion on platforms they wouldn’t have had otherwise.

That’s where we really can help, because we have relationships both with the big ones, and also the smaller platforms. It wasn’t really announced in the West, but in China we’ve been partnering with a couple of big Android marketplaces.

And these kind of now have special provisions for Unity games, so they’re promoted more than other games. You’ll see in the relationship with Samsung on the Tizen platform, and a few other things, that we can put games in a pole position.

Your cloud announcement and the publishing schemes seem to compliment each other well. How will they work together?
The teams are working together, and of course the cloud team is going to make sure it gives the best practices to the publishing group. We expect to be using the network to advertise the games and things like that, but the details are kind of still up in the air because we haven’t really figured it out yet. But definitely these are going to be connected.

But we’re also going to make sure there’s a certain arms length so we don’t mix things up. It’s not like we’re going to force apps on other titles for the games for publishing and not pay for them and so on, it’s going to be transparent and straight forward.