The biggest game development news of the past few days broke at the Unite Conference, a gathering of Unity 3D devs and hopefuls held in San Franciscy this week. The core engine, which previously cost $200, is now FREE. Video Game sexual positions journal Gamasutra dished the news in their article In-Depth: Unity Launches Free Option, Announces Xbox 360 Support.
It’s true: if you go to the Unity 3D site RIGHT NOW, hit their store and ask them if you can pay them any dollars for a copy of Unity, they will say “No, [sir or madam]. Your money is no good here. Please have a copy of our software for FREE.”
Know what else is free? Tibet, apparently.
No Such Thing as a Free Lunch (or Game Engine)
Of course, to a skeptic like me, nothing is free, and this offer is no different. A free copy of Unity comes with a few stipulations:
- the extensions that enable you to target the Wii and the iPhone platforms will still cost you – so contrary to what other sites are reporting, you CANNOT deploy to the Wii, WiiWare or the iPhone with your free copy of Unity.
- All of the fanciest features are reserved, of course, for the Pro license, which will still run you $1500 American clams.
- Something about your first-born. i dunno. i didn’t read the fine print.
Sorry, Semiazas. Where do i sign?
As you know, we bent over backwards trying to win a copy of Unity Indie that the Unity 3D people likely knew damn well was going to become free in the next month. But we did also win a copy of Unity iPhone Basic (a retail value of $399.00). i’m just kinda glad that i didn’t shell out for that extra copy of each for our game developer Jeff (who, as an aside, has LASER HEAT VISION.)
This is, i believe, a very smart move for the Unity folks. The move to free will hopefully have the impact that Unity is gunning for: a slew of developers trying out the engine now that there’s essentially no barrier to entry. And, like Flash in its heyday, to use Unity is to love it. The tool feels instantly friendly, powerful and full of the promise of making that game you always dreamed of – in all three dees, no less, which for some of us two-dee guys is a bit of a thrill.
Can’t I just warm up with two-point-five dees?
But as Unity removes one barrier, a much larger one remains: the plugin problem. In order to play Unity 3D games in your browser, you have to install the Unity plugin. The Unity Web Player weighs in at a very reasonable 3.09 MB, which is not quite twice the size of the Flash Player. The difference between the two is that while Unity is specifically a game engine, Flash content can pull off all kinds of neat tricks. People use Flash to create games, web applications, forms, quizzes, entire websites, website elements like navigation bars, ad banners, and, of course, video players.
Flash’s commitment to video at around version 6 or 7 was where the Flash Player penetration really started to take off, with megasites like YouTube requiring an upgrade with each new version of the Flash player. Until then, it was always a head-scratcher trying to figure out when to target the new player.
Me: Wow! Thanks to some new features, Flash 8 is going to save me weeks and weeks of work on this new game. Can i target Flash Player 8?
My Former Employers: What’s the penetration rate?
My Former Employers: Well, that’s a little low …
Me: Seventy-eight percent is a little low? Three quarters of the civilized world has this software installed on their computers.
My Former Employers: Yes, but one quarter does not.
Me: And the people who don’t are either old or retarded.
My Former Employers: Go to your room.
Me: I hate this place! I hate you and your STUPID FACE! You’re not the BOSS of me!
My Former Employers: Er, actually …
Me: SHUT UP!! [tantrum]
Mommy! Somebody’s failing to realize that i’m always right!
That Special Something
Unity faces an uphill battle with its web player penetration. The engine is not nearly as versatile or as accessible as its two-dimensional cousin, and Unity has yet to discover that magic bullet that will make the Web Player a must-have for Joe Public. i don’t think 3D graphics in the browser are enough to compel the average mope to sit through the one-and-a-half-minute plugin download.
So the question becomes “What is Unity’s Silver Bullet?” For Flash, it was video. Macromedia searched far and wide for the video technology that would enable them to play movies snappily, and eventually settled on the on2 Video Codec. That was a game-changer for the technology.
For Unity 3D, perhaps it will be a killer app like Facebook that drives people to install the plugin? Or perhaps some sneaky egghead will cook up a neat tech voodoo trick to make the Flash Player install the Unity Web Player? Who KNOWS what the future holds? (Sandwiches that you can eat straight through your belly-button, i hope.)
If the move to free has pushed you over the edge and you’re curious to learn more about the platform, remember that the first Toronto and Montreal Unity Users Groups kick off this month.
And keep your eye on our Unity Nuub feature, wherein i try to add an extra dee to my technological toolbelt, and document the road blocks i encounter along the way.