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Unity CEO: Explosive growth helping indie game devs save — and make — big bucks

Above: Games using the Unity Technologies game engine.

Image Credit: Unity

Unity Technologies chief David Helgason painted a happy picture of the explosive growth of indie game developers using his company’s game development platform.

Speaking today at the Unite 2014 conference in Seattle, Helgason said that the nearly three million Unity users have seen more than 8.7 billion downloads of their apps to date. He added that more than 600,000 developers use the Unity game tools every month. Since Unity finds use from both small and big game developers alike, those numbers are a good proxy for the growth of the indie game economy.

Of course, Unity hasn’t updated the 600,000 number for a few months. So it may be possible that growth is slowing in terms of new developers using the Unity tools. We just don’t have enough information to discern that. Just three years ago, the number of monthly active users was 120,000.

But mobile games, which are a part of the game industry where indie game makers have thrived, has become the fastest growing part of the industry. And the whole game industry continues to grow, based on the chart below from market researcher Gartner.

“That’s really fucking big,” Helgason said. “I’ll try to limit that [language] in the future. … It’s a big world and a big industry.”

Mobile game growth, compared to overall game industry growth.

Above: Mobile game growth, compared to overall game industry growth.

Image Credit: Gartner

Helgason said that the growth of the Unity platform has created a larger responsibility for Unity, which competes with rival game engines such as Unreal Engine, Cocos2d, GameMaker, and Marmalade.

“We are an important, enmeshed part of your lives,” he said. “We try our very best to fulfill that. We have a responsibility to lean in and make sure we are slightly ahead of the curve on technology.”

Unity productivity measured

Above: Unity productivity measured

Image Credit: Unity

Helgason said that he calculated a back-of-the envelope estimate of how much money Unity can save indie developers who reuse content from other developers through the Unity Asset Store. As shown above, the amount saved per year adds up to $1.4 billion.

Unity’s overall goal is the same since it was founded in 2004, Helgason said.

“We wanted to democratize game development,” Helgason said. “The core of what we have done with our technology is to focus on the community. That’s why we run these conferences. We want to transform the way you work.”

David Helgason of Unity at Unite 2014 keynote

Above: David Helgason of Unity at Unite 2014 keynote

Image Credit: Unity

Helgason showed how games with Unity are moving up the quality curve in terms of realistic graphics. A few years ago, the 3D graphics on mobile devices and mobile games wasn’t that impressive. Now, it’s much better.

“What I really like is the variety of the games,” Helgason said.

Helgason noted that Palmer Luckey, founder of Oculus VR, said that about 90 percent of games built for the Oculus Rift development kits are built on top of Unity. And he noted that Google was going to give away development kits to Unite attendees so they can make Unity games work on Android TV settop boxes.

And Joachim Ante, chief technology officer, showed improvements for creating beautiful 3D graphics in the upcoming Unity 5 tool release. You’ll be able to see “specular” maps on the surfaces of objects that reflect light from the sun and other sources. That makes for more realistic imagery.

Assault Android Cactus

Above: Assault Android Cactus

Image Credit: Witch Beam/Unity
More information:

Unity Technologies is the creator of Unity, an intuitive and flexible development platform used to make wildly creative and intelligently interactive 3D and 2D content. The "author once, deploy everywhere" capability ensures developers... read more »

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