The face of game development has changed dramatically with the increasing availability of 3rd party engines, cutting out the brunt of the technical work. One of the most popular (if not the most popular) of those is Unity, allowing studios to more easily create cross-platform titles. However, latest rumors uncovered by CNET suggest that the Unity game engine may be going up for sale. While yet unconfirmed, this poses a big question about the future of the tech, particularly for the thousands of indie game developers relying on it.
Unity has grown to be the de-facto best cross-platform engine, boasting over three million registered users. If someone plays a game on their iPhone or Android, chances are, it is powered by the engine. It has even become a choice for a number of big, triple-A studios including Blizzard’s popular Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft card game or the recently successfully kickstarted role-playing game Wasteland 2 by inXile Entertainment. It has especially been a boon to smaller independent studios, cutting out a lot of typical technical headaches when developing complex 3D games across multiple devices.
The Unity engine was officially announced almost a decade ago, at the 2005 Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference. It provides a well-designed and comprehensive 3D and 2D engine that can be easily extended via 3rd party assets. The integrated development environment also makes development and testing much easier. Traditionally, developers would create their own codebase from scratch, only reusing it for sequels and rarely licensing it to competitors. This made the whole process much longer and costly. Having the same, reusable and accessible engine cuts down on a huge brunt of that work.
However, perhaps the biggest of Unity’s strengths is the built-in cross-platform compatibility. Developers no longer have to use separate programming languages or account for hundreds of platform variations. They can develop their game knowing it will natively run on PC, Mac, Linux, mobile iOs and Android, as well as home consoles including Playstation and Xbox. Even though additional platform-specific adjustments are necessary, they are very minor compared to developing a proprietary engine from scratch. Consistent updates, such as the latest addition of 2D mode and Oculus Rift support, are further enticing. Needless to say, Unity is a complete package that makes game development much easier and more accessible.
Which is also why the rumors of Unity game engine going up for sale are so important. The CNET report states that, according to their sources, a presentation about the company and its venture potential has been making the rounds in the tech industry. The pitch has supposedly reached a number of big firms including Google, and Unity Technologies behind it has been in talks with at least one potential buyer in the recent months. The report also speculates EA as a potential suitor. Unity Technologies has not commented on the rumors yet.
With nearly half of all mobile games running on the engine, Unity is definitely not going away anytime soon. While there are a number of alternatives, such as Epic’s Unreal Engine 4 or Crytek’s Cryengine (both cheaper), none of them are as popular or robust as Unity when it comes to cross-platform development and adoption of new platforms. Thus, a potential buyer has a lot to gain from acquiring the engine, if they keep steering it in the forward direction it has been going.
However, the rumored sale also casts a shadow of doubt at the state of the company. After all, if it is doing so well and has so much potential, why is it even looking to sell? Another big potential worry is that if certain companies, such as Microsoft, Apple or Sony, acquired the engine, they could push the scales in favor of their consoles by providing superior performance on their own platforms. Facebook or Google, on the other hand, could lead to increased privacy concerns. The direction of the engine could be dramatically affected over the years.
Nonetheless, it is too early to predict what the sale of the Unity game engine means for developers just yet. Coming weeks will undoubtedly prove rampant with speculations from analysts and tech firms. However, all the concerns aside, perhaps the infusion of new capital and ideas could help Unity introduce even more built-in features and stay relevant and competitive in coming years.
By Jakub Kasztalski