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Facebook expands ties with Unity to make cross-platform 3D games easier to build

Above: Shadowgun: Dead Zone

Image Credit: Facebook

Facebook expanded its alliance with Unity Technologies today to make it easier to build 3D games that work on the social network, whether those games run on iOS, Android, or Facebook’s Canvas platform on the web.

It’s difficult to create a game that runs on Facebook, on the web and, without modification, also runs on mobile platforms. But Facebook and Unity are working on this problem for two reasons. First, making cross-platform games easier to build will help developers reduce costs and get more development efficiency. On top of that, many Unity games use high-end 3D graphics, an area where Facebook has been lacking. By making Unity work on all aspects of Facebook’s platform, the social network can attract more 3D hardcore games and midcore games, titles that appeal to hardcore gamers but only take a few minutes to play. The companies revealed the effort today at the Unity developer conference in Vancouver, Canada.

Cmune's Uberstrike

Above: Cmune’s Uberstrike first-person shooter.

Image Credit: Facebook

The effort is part of Facebook’s plan to bring its game business into a healthier state. During the days of Facebook’s fast growth, it was a lucrative platform for making games. But big players such as Zynga have faltered, and many game developers have abandoned Facebook on the web for the greener pastures of mobile.

“We have spent time bringing the games ecosystem back to a place where it is healthy,” said George Lee, the product manager for games at Facebook, said in an interview with GamesBeat. “We did that for much of 2012, and as we exited that year, we thought of how we could better serve game developers.”

Facebook and Unity first unveiled their partnership in March at the Game Developers Conference. Unity makes a cross-platform 3D development engine that makes has become extremely popular among independent game makers, whether they’re working on online, mobile, or social games. Facebook has more than 260 million people playing games each month. The number of Facebook gamers who have the Unity plug-in for their browsers has now crossed 90 million, or triple the number from a year ago. While Unity’s audience is more like the high-end 3D game fan, Facebook’s is moving in Unity’s direction as casual gamers start caring more about graphics.

Lee said that Facebook wants to enable seamless cross-platform play for its members and bring them the highest-quality games, whether they play these on Facebook on the web or on mobile. Back in March, Facebook worked with Unity to make it easy to share something with Facebook friends without having to leave the immersive, full-screen experience of a game. In the past, a Facebook pop-up would interrupt the game if someone wanted to share something. Now, the game stays inside the Unity-based experience, even when sharing on Facebook, thanks to some native Unity dialog boxes for inviting friends and such. Loading games is faster, too. Developers such as Cmune, the maker of the fast-action shooter Uberstrike on Facebook, have adopted the features.

Now Facebook is launching a new platform software development kit (SDK)  that makes it faster and easier to integrate a Unity game with Facebook. The developer can write a game in the C# programming language and launch it as a Facebook game on iOS, Android, and the web. Taking a mobile game to the web is as easy as writing one line of code. Facebook will make it easier for people to find and play Unity games on Facebook. Besides Cmune, another beta partner is Madfinger, maker of Shadowgun: Deadzone [pictured at top]. Lee said Facebook’s acquisition of Parse in April enabled the simpler mobile app development.

“It took less than a day to enable their game to be published on Canvas,” Lee said. That game now has 200,000 more users and some of them are monetizing. That is gravy for Madfinger, Lee said.

“They can maximize their audience,” he said.


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