The $10 Banana

Why Unity is a Big F*@#$ing Deal

How game developers are working faster, better and smarter with Unity3D—the Photoshop for Games

When I first encountered Unity3D I was nonplussed. Oh, it’s another “make games the easy way” tool, like Game Maker, Scratch, or Stencyl.

I was dead wrong. For professional game developers, Unity3D is a big f*@#$ing deal.

A few key things are changing right now in games, and Unity is the right place at the right time with the right product.

Absurdly cross-platform (editing and publishing)

Image Credit Unity Technologies

Unity’s games can be pushed to iOS, Android, OS X, Windows, Linux, Flash, Unity Web player, Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, Windows Phone 8, Blackberry and Google Chrome Web Player.

Unity’s game editor (and bare bones C# code editor IDE, MonoDevelop) can be used on both OS X and Windows.

Unity Editor running on OS X
MonoDevelop in Windows (image credit MonoDevelop)

Game developers today need to target mobile. Games on portable devices will account for $20B revenue by 2018, so you can bet your ass any game company worth its salt is working on baking a piece of that pie.

Unity started out in 2000 as a way for Unity’s creators to build games for the Mac:

“The ridiculous and bizarre thing was literally the first and only platform we supported in the very first months was the Mac,” said Helgason, who is now based in San Francisco. This was before the Mac’s resurgence, and the Mac’s place in the gaming industry (especially compared to Windows) was even punier than it is today.

Now they’re targeting mobile, web, and console.

The Death of Flash and Facebook-as-a-testbed

Adobe’s abandonment of Flash for mobile development and Facebook desktop’s general decline as an app consumption platform4 hit a lot of companies hard.

Facebook is now partnering closely with Unity and select gamedev outfits to drive adoption of the Unity web player on Facebook canvas.

Developers can now hit Facebook and mobile in one fell swoop. This is significant:

Iterating on a game by A/B testing is simple on Facebook Canvas, a pain in the ass on mobile. Do your experiments, improve your funnel, solidify your game, then push to iOS.

Get Paid to Refactor: the first App Store for Code

Unity’s asset store is perhaps the most important development in code re-usability since Perl’s CPAN.

Apple’s App Store is to apt-get / yum install

as

Unity’s Asset Store is to cpanm Module::

Unity tempts you to make time/money tradeoffs.
How long will it take you to write an iOS integration layer? A data persistence system?
  • Can’t do 3D art? Get Lily for $10
  • Can’t make particle effects? Get the Cartoon FX pack for $20
  • Don’t want to have your engineers spend 3 weeks at $12,000 / week developing a cross-platform in-app-purchase solution? Get Unibill for $150

Unity3D game developers are happy to pay you for good work, and when you buy most modules you get the full source code. Write good code, get paid (enough to make a living).

—and there’s a wonderful trend of not obfuscating code for assets. Buy it and hack on it as you wish.

Search your project and no banana comes up?
Why not buy a banana model without leaving the editor?

Making Asset Store plugins pays more than making games

From the author of NGUI, a popular UI framework:

Meanwhile, NGUI was still earning me 3 times of my previous job’s pay… 11 months after its initial release.

And earnings from the game he was working on? Earned $800, spent $71,000 and 8 months of development time.

In the end, after 8 months of development and as of this writing, I have sunk about $71,000 into its development, not including my own time, and have sold around 100 copies at $7-$10 each, earning me roughly $800, with a final net loss of about $70,000.

And the game starter kits he threw together and put in the Asset Store? Earned $13,000.

Looking back at the stats (which I’ve tracked daily), even the simple Game Starter Kits that I’ve put up on the Asset Store over a year ago, and spent roughly 2 weeks of my time on, have been pulling in about $700 to $1500 a month. That’s a gain of roughly $13,000 for something I created over a year ago and barely spent any time on… versus a loss of $70,000 for 7 months of my time working 100 hours a week.

He gets paid more to refactor his code than the product you’re making. Maybe I don’t get out enough, but I haven’t seen anything like this before.

The Helpful, Huge Community

Have a problem with your game? Want to figure out how to make a crazy whirlpool camera effect?

Google it. Unity’s support and education community has hit terminal velocity, if you get a stack trace, JFGI, there’s a discussion about it already.

If you want to do something you haven’t before, there’s probably already a 1) YouTube video series on doing the thing, 2) Unity forum post about an asset store plugin that does it, and 3) a Unity Answers (StackOverflow site) post about the 3 different ways to do it and their benefits and drawbacks.

And if you need advice quicker, there’s a bustling IRC channel (irc.freenode.net #unity3d) and a Unity3D subreddit with ~10,000 subscribers.