Comment & Opinion

Unity isn't an engine. It's about a providing successful games-as-a-service. So why don't developers get it?

Unity isn't an engine. It's about a providing successful games-as-a-service. So why don't developers get it?

If you were to mention Unity to a developer in passing, they would most likely associate the company purely with the wildly-popular game engine it has produced and refined over the years.

Beginning life as an engine purely for building PC games, it has slowly added new platforms over the years, and can now be used to make games for just about every device and console on the market.

But Unity is far more than just an engine.

The company has expanded out from simply game design, and built a successful ads department and powerful analytics tools to accompany its games.

Though, if Unite Europe 2016 was anything to go by, it seems like the developers are yet to take notice of this.

A helping hand

It's not as though Unity isn't trying. Even during the opening keynote, CEO John Riccitiello was keen to push the potential of mobile.

He offered tips to developers on potential areas for high revenues in mobile, such as synchronous multiplayer and rewarded video ads, but didn't offer anything to console or PC developers.

And when unveiling the new subscription models for the Unity engine, which now gives developers access to all platforms without buying add-ons, mobile was brought up once more.

Instead of simply saying that all platforms were available, the company was especially keen to point out that Android and iOS development was open to all.

It was a small choice of phrasing, but it spoke volumes about the angle Unity is trying to push.

Everyone's a winner

A cynical mind would likely see Unity's decision to push mobile as more of a decision to push its Unity Ads platform, which is where the company generates most of its revenues.

After all, while Riccitiello repeatedly stated that Unity wanted to help make developers money, if they can do it through Unity's monetisation platforms, the company wins too.

It was interesting to see how many developers in the room weren't tracking key data points.

But for all Unity's effort, it seemed like the advice was falling on deaf ears.

Sitting in on Unity evangelist Oscar Clark's talk on analytics, it was interesting to see how many developers in the room weren't tracking key data points that can help them sell IAPs.

Even the number of developers in the room actually making use of analytics seemed worryingly small.

Money isn't fun

And during the Q&A for a panel on rewarded ads, one developer took it upon themselves to ask why all ads are "boring" and what we can do to "fix" them.

It might not be the case that Unity developers aren't interested in mobile, then, but more that they still don't get free-to-play.

This was entirely evident in Alex Trowers' talk on the history of We Heart Dragons, which launched its second game, Super Glyph Quest, as a premium mobile game.

The first game was released for free, and saw 200,000 downloads, with 14,000 players converting to paying players.

The second game, however, received a paltry 8,000 downloads, even after dropping the price in a sale.

A hard lesson

But why did Trowers switch to a premium game after making a free game?

Because, as he admitted, he didn't know how to do IAP, and he'd roped a couple of friends in on the first game to add in the IAPs for him.

Trowers did mention that Unity actually makes it really easy to add in IAPs with its editor, and the next game from We Heart Dragons will be free-to-play, so hopefully some of the audience took his story on board.

Slow to start

So it's clear that Unity are trying to help developers go into the free-to-play market as much as they can, by making it easier for them to add IAPs and implement ads.

But, for whatever reason, it feels like developers are still slow to understand the importance of building games with F2P in mind.

It feels like developers are still slow to understand the importance of building games with F2P in mind.

The market just isn't built for premium games anymore, and that's a fact that's been proven time and time again.

And there are always going to be games that don't fit an F2P model – monetising Sam Barlow's Her Story in that way would have been nigh-on impossible, for example.

But mobile developers who want to make money on mobile need to start listening to Unity, and making use of the tech being made available.

It's the aim of conferences like Unite to teach developers these things, and show them how to conduct their businesses in order to be successful.

But only time will tell if the lessons are actually being learned.


Deputy Editor

Ric has written for PocketGamer.biz for as long as he can remember, and is now Deputy Editor. He likes trains.

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Corey Skiffington Lead Programmer
You touched on the reasoning when you mentioned that Unity started as a PC development platform (Although technically it started on Mac back in the mid-00's). Although Unity has developed many of it's new cloud-based services and tried to make things as easy as possible for mobile, it's most experienced developers are still the ones that started with PC and Mac. As a consequence, we pass our assumptions and ideals down to newcomers and many of us haven't been keeping a close eye on how Unity's focus has shifted. I'm not sure Unity themselves fully realize how alienated some of us PC devs are starting to feel now that the only attention the PC channel seems to receive is in VR. FTP models are still not the accepted norm among PC and Console developers or even most players on those platforms. Casual gamers are much more receptive to the interruption caused by an ad but hardcore game developers expend an incredible amount of energy trying to stop anything from breaking the player's immersion. It's almost impossible to introduce ads to a game and still avoid that except in the case of product placement.
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