Last week, Epic Games surprised developers when it revealed that it would begin giving more money from each sale on the Unreal Engine Marketplace to the creators who built them. While the standard is a 70/30 split in favor of the creator, Epic has an 88/12 split instead. This is great news for people who build assets and tools to sell to other developers who use the Unreal Engine.
The only entity that might not view this as positive news is Unity Technologies, the company that makes Unity, which is Unreal’s primary competitor in the field of game-development toolkits that debuted in 2005. In its press release last week, Epic said it has had 8 million downloads for the 5,000 assets from 1,500 creators on its Unreal Engine Marketplace. On Friday, I spoke with Unity asset store boss Peter O’Reilly, who pointed out that the volume of commerce is significantly greater on Unity.
“Since [the Unity asset store] launched [in 2010], we’ve done around 40 million downloads,” said O’Reilly. “We’re currently averaging around 12 million downloads every year. That number has rapidly grown year on year. We have well over a million developers coming into the store every month to discover 56,000 packages we have available. We get around 10,000 new packages submitted every year, from the tens of thousands of creators we have – we call them publishers, but they’re creators – who create these packages.”
And Unity courts an audience that both wants and needs third-party content for their projects. The engine is especially popular with students, hobbyists, and small indie developers, and that’s a group that would struggle to hire artists, but they can pop into the asset store to buy a door or a tree.
Unity may have that audience now, but Epic could begin to threaten that by creating a more appealing marketplace for asset creators. To compete, Unity could cut its own take of the asset store revenue — it captures the standard 30 percent. But the company does not have a Fortnite to rely on — it has scale. O’Reilly makes it clear that Unity can continue to attract the best asset publishers because of this.
“Honestly, it was an interesting angle for [Epic to cut its take],” said O’Reilly. “As they said, they can do this because of the money coming in from Fortnite. But the reality is that they have a very small marketplace in comparison to us. We’re vastly bigger. When you think about publishers — giving away 88 percent is amazing. It is amazing. I totally applaud them for doing that because anything that feeds more money to creators means they can devote more time to build more content. It’s great for us. It’s great for publishers. I love to see that happen. But the reality is, 88 percent of a small number is still a small number. In fact it’s pretty much nothing. That was my initial response. It’s a bit glib. But honestly, as I came along — wow, 88 percent, that’s amazing.
“But the rational side of me says, 88 percent of a small number is a small number.”
Epic has also pointed out that the number of people who are installing and trying Unreal Engine is increasing at a good clip. It has 6.3 million users as of July, but that is up 1 million just in the last four months. A lot of that growth is likely attributable to, you guessed it, Fortnite. The Unreal Engine is just a button press away for anyone who installs the Epic Games Launcher to play the shooter, and the law of large numbers means that a portion of Fortnite players are going to have at least a passing interest in making their own games.
Unity is larger for now, but that could change. O’Reilly isn’t sitting around basking in the knowledge that his platform has more content and users. Unity is working to improve the platform for people who use it and people who build packages for the store.
“It’s all about adding value back into the ecosystem as we keep growing that marketplace,” he said. “There’s a big belief among all of the C-suite that the asset store could be bigger and more impactful for developers. My job is to think about that, and I want the asset store to be the starting point for every Unity developer — where they can come to find, source, and sell anything they need to be successful. A lot of that is content, and for sure, expanding the offerings we make to make sure we have the best content that exists on the store. But there’s still a ton of content that exists outside the asset store. Companies have huge libraries of content that doesn’t exist on the store today. We’re working to partner with a lot of these places and bring the best content into the store.”
O’Reilly is also focusing on a lot more than arts or plugins for the Unity store. He wants to create an ecosystem for a vast array of tools that automate difficult aspects of development for small times.
“You think about development, it’s so much more than just art content,” he said. “There’s [software asset management] solutions, compiler tools, backend-as-a-service solutions — that’s where we’re growing as well. We want to partner and bring in more and more different types of services, products, and offerings so we can satisfy developers. No matter what they need, they know they can come to the asset store first. We’re starting that process now, and that’s going to accelerate through the next year.”
Unity already has a huge number of creators working in its store now, and O’Reilly wants to improve their workflow as well. The company is planning to engage directly with these community publishers to help them understand what makes high-quality content as well as what makes a piece of content useful for developers.
O’Reilly also wants to help asset creators understand the gaps in the store. If developers need something that they can’t find, Unity wants to inform creators of the high potential return-on-investment for servicing that demand.
“There’s a number of programs I’ve got in the works,” said O’Reilly. “We’ll see some of those launch later this year.”
Finally, Unity wants to continually improve the shopping experience on the store. Since it does have so much content, browsing is sometimes difficult. The company is working on ways to address that at all times.
“A lot of my investment this year is going into overhauling the asset store experience to ensure that it’s very easy to navigate,” said O’Reilly. “And that’s not just for the webstore. We also need to tackle it in the editor. Today the editor experience is really just an i-frame of the asset store on the web. We could be so much more if we integrate more natively into the engine, so that it’s really part of the workflow. You’re building your game and you say, I need a chair, I need this kind of tool, and you can easily access it from the right panel, just drag it and get right back to work without having to get out of your developer mindset, your development space, to find content.”
The battle between Unreal and Unity isn’t going anywhere. Epic is making waves with its reduced revenue cut, but asset creators on its store I spoke with are asking for similar improvements to what Unity is promising. In the end, Epic has more money to invest, but Unity butters its bread with its engine and asset store — it has no choice but to make it an appealing product for developers. Epic obviously wants that as well, but it can go to sleep on piles of money every night thanks to Fortnite. And Unity sees the opportunity to compete in ensuring that it is always making its tools better.
“I think there’s a huge opportunity for us to continually improve the experience and add value,” said O’Reilly. “That, I think, is what is going to help us stay ahead. The more that we grow the base, that means that any creator or publisher who’s creating content will see the best return on their investment by having that content on the asset store.”