Unity 3D, iPhone, and a Small Favour

The tagline beside our corporate logo currently reads “We Make Flash Games”. This is a temporary tagline. i don’t think it’s wise to put all of your eggs in one basket, particularly when framing a game studio. And in light of Adobe/Macromedia’s handling of its product line (ie forcing a dramatic and difficult shift to Object Oriented Programming while rendering the timeline animation tools largely useless), i feel it’s wise to explore other options for creating games. We’re not finished with Flash quite yet, but we need to start scanning the horizon for new and better technologies.

Enter New and Better Technologies

Unity 3D Logo

Unity 3D

One of those technologies that you’ve likely heard of is Unity 3D. Unity (for short) is a game creation tool with a similar schtick as Flash – players accept a one-time download of a web player plugin, and from there they can download and display content created for the player. In this case, the content is THREE-DEE, baby. And i’m not talking about Flash 3D, which is like drinking non-alcoholic vodka, or even Papervision 3D and its ilk, which is like trying to turn a car into a plane by stapling cardboard wings to it. i’m talking all three dees, in glorious Technicolor, with … Blast Processing and 64 … i dunno … blytes of processing and render power. (Technical specs are not my strong suit. Could you tell?)

i love this post by Ethical Games, Confessions of a Flash Game Developer, which sums the situation up very nicely.

The Unity 3D Web Player, which i encourage you to download now in anticipation of all the awesome stuff we’ll be building, is currently 3.18MB. That’s only slightly larger than the Flash Player plugin at 1.87 MB. Penetration rate is the the real difference – i heard somewhere that Flash Player, with its various incarnations, is the most installed piece of software of all time. i think penetration is up somewhere around a thousand percent (all numbers approximated).

John Holmes

The Flash Player has a higher penetration rate than this guy.

But What Does It Cost?

From a developer standpoint, price is a big difference. Unity rocks out on multiple platforms including Wii and iPhone, but it also rocks out on different prices. The product appears deceptively inexpensive at first, but when you look at purchasing a real software solution and the accompanying programs it requires, you’ll find yourself wondering which credit union or train you’ll have to rob to afford it. Leave it to penny-pinching me to give you the breakdown:

Product #1 Unity 3D core engine. You must purchase this engine to be able to develop on any other non-PC/Mac platform. (ie you can’t just skip ahead and buy Unity iPhone on its own)

  • Unity Indie – $200
  • Unity Pro – $1500

Unity iPhone

Next up is the iPhone license. The Pro version is pretty crucial as it gives you stripping rights, which means that you can disable large chunks of the Unity3D framework that you don’t need, freeing up space and memory for your game. You also don’t have to display the Unity logo in front of your game.

  • Unity iPhone Basic – $400
  • Unity iPhone Advanced – $1500

Then there’s the Wii license. i see a lot of people mentioning it when they talk about Unity, but they obviously haven’t done their research – otherwise, it wouldn’t be a thought in their minds. You’ll notice from the Unity 3D pricing page that you have to contact the company to ask about Wii license pricing, and that it’s also listed with the source code for their entire app. It’s the same rule as restaurants: if they don’t list the price, you can’t afford it. When i spoke with a Unity 3D rep at the Casual Connect conference in Seattle this year, he intimated that the then-current pricing was $10000.

Unity WiiWare

Suffice it to say, Unity Wii is not part of our current strategy.

But That’s Not All

One of the biggest barriers to entry for us exploring the Unity 3D space is the 3D software we’d need. It’s all fine and dandy to have a great program like Unity with a smooth pipeline that integrates with a number of leading 3D software packages, but you need one of those 3D software packages, don’t you? The enormous cost of these packages has led us to explore various less expensive options – Cheetah3D, Blender, Sketch-Up … but in the end, none of them are as familiar or decent as the package i learned on in college, 3DStudio Max.

Raytracing in 3ds Max

3ds Max: for all your miscellaneous chrome object needs.

Here’s the trouble:

  • Autodesk 3ds Max – $3495

Ouch. There used to be a lower-priced entry level program called gmax that the company discontinued, because they realized that they weren’t getting 3495 bloody dollars for it.

Putting It All Together

So let’s tally that all up. We have two developers, so we’d want two copies of Unity 3D core . But i figure we only need 1 pro license for deployment (i think?). We’d also only need 1 copy of Unity 3D iPhone, because we only have one Mac (and an Apple computer is required for iPhone deployment). Ideally, we’d buy two copies of 3ds Max, but unless and until the government approves gay marriage and i get hitched to Ritchie Rich, we’re looking at one copy.

Ritchie Rich

Hey big spender … spend a little time with me.

So that’s:

  • 1 Unity 3D Core Pro License – $1500
  • 1 Unity 3D Indie License – $200
  • 1 Unity 3D iPhone Pro License – $1500
  • 1 Autodesk 3ds Max seat – 3495 friggin’ simoleans

Grand total: $6695

The Small Favour

i hope this has been an enjoyable learning experience, and a glimpse into the types of things that give a small business owner a grand mal seizure. The last time i spent over $7000 on something, it had a roof and indoor plumbing.

Indie Game Dev Podcast Show

But you can help! The Unity 3D crew did a podcast interview wit the folks at Indie Game Dev Podcast Show. They gave the site a free Unity iPhone license to give away in a contest, which we entered. We very rarely enter contests, but in this case, all you had to do was write up a game idea. Preference will be given to the entrant who is the most likely to finish his project.

Well looky here … who’s got a perfectly AWESOME-LOOKING game in the works called Kahoots, which was modeled enirely in clay and built for the iPhone screen spec? (Answer: us.)


Kahoots™ FTW!

i get annoyed when people say “go here and vote for us!” What if their entry isn’t the best one? In this case, i’ll only say “Go here!” Click the link. Read the entries. And if you like what we have to offer the most, just leave a quick comment to tell the site owners you want to see us bring Kahoots™ to the iPhone.

According to the site, “Winner gets all the Unity tools needed to make an iPhone game using their platform.” i don’t know if this means they’re giving away the core engine along with the iPhone license, and whether they’re giving away pro or indie licenses (i suspect indie), but at the very least, it’ll knock $400 off the cost of our Unity 3D ambitions. And at the very most, it’ll cut the total down by $3000. Wowzers!

So search your heart! And if you find it in yourself to vote for us (we’re entry #8), i thank you very, very kindly. Voting ends today!


  1. We won … hooray! Thanks for voting.
  2. A few quick questions to Tom Higgins from the Unity team cleared up some of my questions. Since a single company is not allowed to mix licenses (Pro and Indie), the cost of my software solution jumps up by a big $2400 to $9095. That’s almost ten-large for Unity3D iPhone for two people, and one copy of 3ds Max.

    By biting the bullet and learning Blender instead of buying 3ds Max, the price comes down to $5600. That still be one spicy meat-a-ball.

26 thoughts on “Unity 3D, iPhone, and a Small Favour

  1. Jean-Guy Niquet

    I’d encourage everyone to vote for Ryan on this. Unity is a great tool, we have been using it for about 6 months now and are doing some great stuff with it. Ryan, I would double check though, you might not be able to combine an indie licence with a pro licence. Unless you are modelling Kahoots entirely in 3D which I believe is not the case you actually don’t need 3DSMax yet. Give me a shout at work if you have any questions. Good Luck and everyone vote for Ryan so we can see Kahoots on the iPhone!

  2. Richard Hart

    Hi Ryan,

    Great to see another Unity studio coming online.

    Just a few things you and your readers may find of interest. I believe you Unity licenses allow you to legally install on 2 computers and that this applies for your iPhone license too. You can confirm this with Tom Higgins the Unity product evangelist. Tom is all round super nice guy and always willing to help out and point people in the right direction.

    The Pro version of Unity and Unity iPhone is not necessary for a lot of developers getting started, so I’d recommend sticking with Indie until you land a contract or have the extra cash kicking around.

    At Ethical Entertainment, we are all to aware of the cost of many of the 3D packages. Although we have been using Maya, we currently migrating towards a combination of Modo and Blender. These packages are much less expensive and in the case of Blender, free. You’d be surprised how much Blender has evolved over the last 2 years! We’re using Mode for a lot of our modeling and Luxology just released a new version which we have found to be really worthwhile.

    Best wishes on your quest. Welcome to Unity.

    1. Ryan

      Thanks, Richard! Blender makes baby Jesus cry. i couldn’t figure out how to do a single thing when i opened the program. i couldn’t make a sphere. i couldn’t figure out how to get a 4-view layout like i’m used to seeing in 3ds Max. None of the buttons made any sense to me. So i opened up the Beginner documentation, which was an inch-thick pdf, and started reading. It also blew my mind.

      When i saw someone using Blender for a project during the last TOJam, i was agape. i had no idea how he had actually created a rigged character and a set. i didn’t think Blender could do that. i thought it was written explicitly to make my eyeballs bleed.

      If there’s a Blender resource for borderline mentally retarded folks like me, i’d love to see it! A recurring problem i have with learning new technologies is finding the right starting point.

      – Ryan

  3. Ryan

    Thanks, Merve!

    Thanks, Jean-Guy … i know you’ve been a big proponent of the software, and it’s great to think that the grass is actually greener beyond the nonsense Flash makes developers endure. You’re correct that we don’t need 3D software immediately – Kahoots is entirely 2D. (You can build a 2D game in Unity, i understand, by mapping images to flat 3D planes.)

    We’d like to have the 3D software to better learn the application. i suspect there will be a lot of demand for 3D in the browser (be it through Unity or HTML 5 [did i get that right?] or whatever), so it could be a very good investment for us.

    As far as combining licenses goes, you’re right – i’ll have to check with the Unity team. i’ll post the answer here once i find out.

    – Ryan

  4. Matt Diamond

    Suggest your backup plan be to forego the 3ds Max licenses and the Pro versions of Unity at first, and bootstrap yourself up to the Pro versions by first earning money with the Indie licenses. It’s quite inexpensive to get started that way.

  5. Jean-Guy Niquet

    You can build the simple shapes from inside of Unity for the planes that you would attach your images to. I would actually suggest getting the pro version on Unity iPhone as well so that you can use your own preloading screen rather than the “Made with Unity” one. I’m not sure what restrictions they have put on indie with the latest update but the latest Unity IPhone is a rather large update.

    Also regarding the 2 machines/licence, each licence is intended for 1 developer. This licensing allows us to have a developer work on his own laptop from home and the one at work, or work from Mac and PC. It is not intended to give to two developers.

    Sadly you will also probably want to budget $500/licence for the Asset Server. It is a life saver when working with more than one person. If you have two people working on the project then you will also need 2 Macs, one for each person. Once you start working in Unity IPhone you cannot go back to Unity proper.

    Finally, learn C# the JavaScript is very limiting.

    1. Ryan

      Jean-Guy – these are HOT SPICY TIPS. Thank you! i must confess i’m not a big fan of any solution that makes me buy more Macs (we’re a PC shop), but i’m sure i’ll get over it.

      Good thing i know a little C# from my adventures in XNA.

      – Ryan

  6. Yilmaz Kiymaz

    I’m glad you guys are finally making the jump Ryan. I’m the guy that posted about Unity in your forums (VoxelBoy). I’ve actually been using Unity to make games for the iPhone and it’s a blast. The documentation is 99% win and the forums are great. Hope to see you there!

    1. Ryan

      Glad to hear you’re having fun, Yilmaz. i want to jump into that swimming pool as soon as i can. Don’t let the party die down without me!

      – Ryan

  7. Bwakathaboom

    For learning Blender I highly recommend the CartoonSmart.com tutorial videos. For $40 bucks they walk you through modeling, texturing and rigging a character (11 hours total). Most importantly the first thing the instructor does is show you how to set up a multi-view layout as your default!

    Blender does enough that I just can’t justify 3D Studio Max. Max is better, as are Maya and Lightwave, but they aren’t $3,000+ dollars better.

    At say $40 bucks an hour (or whatever your time is worth) 3DS Max equates to 87 hours of “value”. If you can learn Blender in less than 2 weeks of *full-time* study (which you can) then 3DS Max just isn’t worth it.

    And my biggest pet peeve for 3D Studio Max still stands – in order to get it to “work” you end up buying $800 bucks in plug-ins to do stuff it should do out of the box.

    1. Ryan

      Bwakathaboom – excellent points. i might have to give Blender another shot – it sounds like most people here are recommending it.

      – Ryan

  8. Rob

    Is the Flash scene slowly dying then?

    I’m a uni student whos been using 3dsmax for a while, but after reading about flash games and finding the pimp my game series I really want to build a flash game for my final year project. I suppose that’ll be alright as long as I scan the technology horizon with the rest of you chaps.

    Love the site and blogs Ryan. Lead me to the indie developer promised land please!

    1. Ryan

      Thanks, Rob! As far as leadership goes, i’m more of a Pauly Shore than a Moses.

      i don’t know if Flash is dying. i DO know, having used Flash for ten years, that by comparison the Unity team really seems to be lean and mean, and they’re putting together a really kick-ass product that does what you expect it to do. Flash development seems like a case of too many cooks – it’s been pulled this way and that, and features that devs have been clamouring for for YEARS are just showing up now, and it feels like they’re too little, too late.

      3D is the obvious exmaple. Flash does 3D, sorta, just like Flash does OOP sorta, just like Flash does everything it does. It’s always a compromise, and nothing just works the way you’d like it to. There’s a workaround for absolutely everything. Other, less obvious features, that should have been in the program at version five are just showing up now six or seven years later in version ten, like the ability to swap out one symbol instance for another on the timeline and update the entire animation (instead of clicking on every individual keyframe and swapping the instance manually).

      Now, i’ve only used Unity very briefly, and i haven’t completed a project with it yet, so i suspect i’m harbouring a lot of grass-is-greener thinking. i’ll be sure to tell you how my voyage into Unity development goes with up-to-the-minute reports.

      As for you, Rob, i’d absolutely recommend learning Flash and making a game for your final project. You’ll be able to get it in front of far more eyeballs than with Unity, thanks to the Flash player’s ubiquity. You can still use your 3ds Max skillz to create pre-rendered 3D graphics. AND you can make fractions of pennies on it right out of the game by implementing MochiAds.

      Go forth and code!

      – Ryan

  9. Ryan

    Ok – i just polled Tom Higgins from the Unity team with my licensing questions;

    Q: Can i have one team member using Unity Indie and the other using Unity Pro?
    A: No. Within a single company, it’s all or nothing – the whole shop has to use either Indie or Pro licenses. (Jean-Guy – you had it right)

    Q: Can i install Unity core engine on my home and work PCs, and Unity core with Unity iPhone on my Mac?
    A: No – two machines is our tolerance. Those two machines could be a Mac and a PC, or two PCs, or two Macs. Three machines is a deal-breaker.

    Q: If i install Unity on two PCs, and later i want to de-authorize one of the PCs and install on a Mac, can i do that?
    A: Yes, but it has to be done through our support team. Eventually, de-authorization will be built into the app.

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  11. peter

    you can reduce your budget by using Blender instead of 3DS Max, Blender is F-R-E-E! (no idea if someone already said so, I dont read all the blogs).

    1. Ryan

      Peter – i’m aware of Blender, and i’ve given it a shot … i even bought a USB number pad for my laptop to make the going easier. But i find it’s the most preposterously design program on the planet, and the controls just don’t make any sense whatsoever. i can’t determine whether the torture of learning it is worth it, even at free.


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