Menu PocketGamer.biz
Search
Home   >   Features

5 things we learned at Unite 2014

The stars (and Starbucks) come out in Seattle
5 things we learned at Unite 2014

San Francisco. Amsterdam. Vancouver. Seattle.

Unity's choices of locations for its annual conference Unite over the last few years reads like stops on a glamorous world tour: as anyone who has attended any of the above will attest, the firm simply doesn't choose bad venues.

Seattle – the most recent port of call on Unity's sweep of global hotspots – was no different.

With the three day conference taking place underneath the gaze of the city's famous Space Needle there was an added glitz to this year's proceedings, though the typical warm nature of the conference itself remained in tact.

But why is that? Of all the trade events PocketGamer.biz attends, Unite is undoubtedly the one that attracts the largest body of hobbyists and enthusiasts, meaning this isn't just an excuse for developers to sell their games, services tout their businesses or suited up CEOs hobnob over overpriced fizzy wine.

Rather, Unite has all the passion of a consumer expo mixed up with the conviction and delivery of a trade event.

So, aside from the fact that Starbucks tastes infinitely better the closer to its source you get – the all-conquering coffee chain undoubtedly Seattle's most notorious export – what did we learn from Unite 2014?

Click the button below to find out.

#1: Unity is as much a pop star as it is an engine

It says all you need to know about Unite that one of the biggest cheers in the hall during Unity CEO David Helgason's keynote speech was the news that all developers in attendance could take home a free t-shirt with their admission.

Free t-shirts are a fairly regular giveaway at trade shows, but most are either plastered with logos paid for by one of the sponsors or are typically humdrum affairs with the event's icon slapped on a black, shapeless XXXL stretch of cotton.

The font of enthuasistic learning
The font of enthuasistic learning

Unite's t-shirts, however, are – dare I say it – almost fashionable. Decorated by whatever iconography picked for that year's particular splash (a Dutch design agency, I'm told, handling 2014's focus on cute little blobs with eyes), they're a genuine draw if only because Unite attracts Unity's most dedicated of followers.

Talk to developers in attendance and you quickly gain the impression that most are there to invest themselves in Unity. One of the most popular sessions, for instance, is one the press aren't allowed to report on: a future roadmap panel where the audience is free to tackle Unity's top bods on just where the engine and its associated services are headed.

The fact the details laid out within never hit the web means the company is free to talk openly about expansive ideas – many of which may never come to fruition – without the fear of it generating sensationalised headlines.

And that's the point of Unite. Though there is hands-on advice aplenty for those looking to brush up their Unity skills – and indeed a day long training session the day before the conference proper kicks off – Unite appears to be an opportunity for the engine's fans to celebrate with its makers, pressing the same buttons as attending a pop concert or splashing out on your sports team's latest jersey.

#2: Everyplay's going beyond video

Obviously all of Unity's growing list of acquisitions get to share the limelight at Unite, and Everyplay – the brain child of the now Unity-owned Applifier – had its time on stage during the conference.

It's very easy to get wrapped up in the idea of things getting "bigger" and "better" at these events – at any conference, half the battle is scouting out the genuine announcements often hidden amongst the ones puffed up mostly by hot air – but Everyplay genuinely seems to be changing.

Applifier moves from video sharing to social platform
Applifier moves from video sharing to social platform

No longer will it merely be a tool for gamers to upload gameplay videos. Rather, as detailed by Applifier CEO Jussi Laakkonen when we caught up with him at the end of day two, Everyplay is soon to become a social platform that sits neatly within your game, operating almost as a self-managing Facebook page.

Skinned to fit the game in question, the whole idea is that it gives players a way to communicate with the developer in question, sharing high moments with fellow fans, setting each other challenges and highlighting any problems they may have in an open manner.

The studio can then choose to engage as much or as little as they choose, setting the agenda or letting fans dictate the conversation without prompt.

#3: Equality makes the world go round

We like to think we have a two way relationship with our audience here at PocketGamer.biz.

Fitting, then, that the winning developer at our Big Indie Pitch in Seattle during Unite - Juraj Hlavac of Game Collage – signed up not just out of a determination to push his game Axl & Tuna, but also because of something he'd read on the site.

Juraj Hlavac with his winner's bat
Juraj Hlavac with his winner's bat

Penned on a laptop perched on the knees of PocketGamer.biz's editor in Manchester, Hlavac read of our push for equality when it comes to representation of LGBT people in games a few months ago and, almost on the back of that alone, decided to engage with us when we were in town.

Of course, from the perspective of his success, it helps that his endless runner was (according to the judges) the best game on show in Seattle, though the knowledge that his presence was triggered by something written on these pages completes the circle, as it were.

#4: Unity loves open source

"We're already participating in open source a lot – actually, we haven't talked too much about it, but there are a number of components in Unity that are already open source," detailed Unity CEO David Helgason during our interview at Unite.

"Open source is exciting. It's a particular way of engaging with a community of developers, right?"

The news that really excited Unity developers, of course, was that the engine's much-heralded UI tools and some test tools are both going open source, and – if Helgason's interview is anything to go by – it's just the start of Unity opening up to its userbase more and more in the months and years ahead.

"Taking a component like the UI system and saying 'okay, this could benefit from being open source' and that there's still a lot of innovation ahead, it's interesting how we with the community can evolve it." he continued.

"We're also open sourcing some test tools - it's an interesting way to give back [to the community], and it's exciting. I mean, we expect some things will be sold in the Asset Store that are based on our open source, and that's cool."

#5: Going multiplatform requires a roadmap

It's hardly unexpected that much talk at Unite revolves around going multiplatform – that is, after all, one of Unity's strong suits.

However, the guys behind Snuggle Truck – Owlchemy Labs – had a few words of warning for developers simply looking to pump games out on multiple platforms without doing their research.

Left to right, Alex Schwartz and Devin Reimer
Left to right, Alex Schwartz and Devin Reimer

"There are wrong platforms for your game," said Devin Reimer. "So, twinstick shooters on iPhone? Not a good idea. The number of people we talk to who are like 'yeah, I'm going to ship on seven different platforms.' That's maybe not the best idea for your first game."

According to Alex Schwartz, developing for every platform under the sun can also stretch small studios "too thin from a production standpoint."

He continued, "We don't recommend doing dissimilar ports simultaneously. You also have to watch out for building for the lowest common denominator."