Marc Whitten of Unity: "There are more players… But payers are in decline."

Released today, the 2023 Unity Gaming Report serves up both solutions and challenges for developers both big and small

Marc Whitten of Unity: "There are more players… But payers are in decline."

We caught up with Unity's senior vice president and general manager Marc Whitten to discuss the findings of their released-today 2023 Unity Gaming Report. With games being made faster, by smaller teams and player numbers on the increase, on the surface the future's looking bright. But with more players, spending less money, what's the real state of play?

Looking at the report I would say this reads like good news. Would you say as much?

Marc Whitten: I've been in games for quite a long time and the one thing that you often see is that gaming is pretty resilient. That doesn't mean that there's not work to do for people, but at the end of the day, we're humans, and we like to play and to be entertained, and to relax. And therefore, gaming, typically, finds a way. One of the things I thought was interesting, when we saw this report, was that in the face of a pretty reasonable set of complex macro economic conditions, that there are more mobile games being launched, that smaller developers are launching them faster, and that there are more players year over year. I thought that was really awesome.

Players up, but revenue from them is down?

While there's more players, the number of payers is in decline. And so I think there's still experimentation that people are doing as they find their way through that. But like you said, I find a lot of optimism in the report, across the board.

We love the idea that people are making more games while working less hard.

That's one of the reasons that I always love getting this report back. We're talking to people all the time, and we're pretty up to date with what the key trends are. But then you're always surprised by the implications of some of those trends. And there's a lot that people have learned; how to get started, and find the fun faster, and figure out how they can get to the end state of their game and waste as little time as possible. And sometimes the results of that are that they can get those things done faster, which is really good to see.

It must be a satisfying figure for Unity. You're all about making things easier, allowing smaller studios to make bigger products.

It's actually what's always inspired me about this company. If you walk the halls, at any point, you'll hear this refrain of ‘how do we make it simpler’? And how do we democratise access to these tools? And when you see that work, it's always very, very encouraging.

We believe the world is better with more creators in it. And we want to make sure that those creators are successful.
Marc Whitten

How fast can someone pick up Unity development these days? Can someone with a programming background really make a mobile game?

Well, I think we're never done. And I think that it's still too complicated for people that might have a great idea for a game to sit down and make a game. And that's why we continue on our mission to figure out how to democratise access to tools. But given what you said, hey, someone with a little bit of programming background and the Unity ecosystem? Yeah, I think it's a great way that you could get started for three reasons. First, we've built up a set of tools that are reasonably easy to use, and give you the power to target whatever platform you want. But also, because of the community that exists here, there's just an extraordinary amount of content for learning and tutorials when you get stuck. Whether it's our site, or YouTube or wherever you're going to find your way through the tricky parts. And then third, because we have things like the Asset Store, for the part, that you're not an expert in - whatever it is - you could find the assets, you could find a system, and plug it in and get much closer to what's in your head much faster.

I think that's always been something that holds people back. This notion that I might have an idea and I might be able to program but… I can't afford to employ an art team…

I'm a bit of a programmer. So it's my background. But I would tell you that any game I made would be ‘The Cubes And Spheres Game’… I'm a terrible artist. I have no facility with any of those tools. And so, being able to go to something like the Asset Store and download character assets or environments or tools that help, that lets me work on the parts of the game that I'm really excited about and have the skill to do. And one of the things in this report that actually shows that they're using it as one of the ways that they get there faster. You see this idea of using packages and assets earlier in the cycle. So even if you're ultimately going to make the art and content yourself, you can really iterate on what the loop of the game is, and the core idea and decide that it's fun, before you then go spend time on it. And we see that in VR and we see it in lots of mobile experiences as well.

Thinking about the big guys and the big teams for a moment and specifically about the upswing of everything moving to multiplatform. Where does Unity fit in with that?

Well, I think that's actually kind of the fundamental of Unity. When I think about what are our core values at Unity, we want to make it easy for anyone to target the platforms that matter to them and their players and be able to take advantage of those platforms. But also to minimise the ‘having to deal with’ multiplatforms as much as possible. And that's as meaningful for the big guys as it is for the small guys.

The real answer - as you can see in this report is - is an extraordinary need to spend time on how to drive player engagement, all those sorts of things. Now, you compare that to 'what's the differences between these two VR platforms?' Or 'how do I manage the support matrix across multiple versions of Android?'… Those are the sorts of things that attack the part about getting your game right. And we at Unity worked very, very hard to try to help solve that particular problem.

Honestly, the only difference between the big guys and the small guys is, in some ways, the budget that they're going after to spend on those things. The stakes are even higher if you're big, because now you're spending a whole bunch of money, and you really need those bets to pay off to make sure that your ROI is going to be right.

Do you feel that Unity is in a place now to help boost monetization as well as creating the actual framework around the gaming experience?

I do. One thing I'd like to think about that particular trend is that this is the first time for this report in a post pandemic era. People are actually out and about more, and therefore, maybe aren't buying as much. Now, what that means for game developers is that they need to be even more focused on whatever their economic model is for the particular game and how those pieces are going to work. And obviously, at Unity, our goal is to really build an end to end platform that helps whether you're at the creation stage, whether you're scaling, with the multiplayer side, and the monetization points. And you know, we've done the merger with ironSource, which is to strengthen those components. It's a really big, important part of how we serve the needs of our creators.

Would you say that Unity is a tool for making money and monetizing great ideas? Or is it a tool for making great games?

At Unity there's definitely not an order there. I will actually say that Unity is a tool to create in real time 3D. I was just talking to someone the other day that was using Unity for visualising physical physics interactions at CERN. And the importance of being able to do that in real time 3D is super, super critical. And obviously, you see that on the game side, you see it with people that have an extraordinary ideas, even if they never intend to monetize it, and you and you see it with people who say, you know what, I'm gonna leave my other job and I'm going to a full time game creator and this is gonna help me to make money.

We start first with our fundamental mission, which is that we believe the world is better with more creators in it. And we want to make sure that those creators are successful. And for a large number of those creators success is defined as ‘and I made money and therefore I can keep doing what I'm doing’… It's like, how do we make them successful? Make great games? For us, it's whatever success means for them.

Take a look at the released-today 2023 Unity Gaming Report here.

Editor -

Daniel Griffiths is a veteran journalist who has worked on some of the biggest entertainment media brands in the world. He's interviewed countless big names, and covered countless new releases in the fields of videogames, music, movies, tech, gadgets, home improvement, self build, interiors and garden design. Yup, he said garden design… He’s the ex-Editor of PSM2, PSM3, GamesMaster and Future Music, ex-Deputy Editor of The Official PlayStation Magazine and ex-Group Editor-in-Chief of Electronic Musician, Guitarist, Guitar World, Rhythm, Computer Music and more. He hates talking about himself.