The battle for the games

The Unity and Unreal development platforms have taken over the industry and allowed thousands of small studios to make millions

The battle for the games
72 ~ 5 мин. четене
Автор: Александър Александров

In recent years, the video game sector has surpassed all other entertainment segments, reaching $ 179.7 billion in worldwide revenue last year, according to IDC. This makes it larger than the global film industry and the American sports segment combined. And this difference will only increase. For several years now, the most popular game titles have been earning more on the first day of their release than the most-watched movies of the entire screening period.

The leading e-sports tournaments, on the other hand, have prize pools that surpass those of iconic traditional events such as the Grand Slam tennis competitions. With its interactivity and the ability to choose how to develop the plot, video games are definitely becoming the entertainment of the future.

And if we believe the saying that during a gold rush it is best to sell... shovels and pickaxes, two companies have positioned themselves to gain the most from the rapid development of the gaming market. They are called Epic Games and Unity Technologies and they own the two most popular engines (game development platforms), through which thousands of independent studios create their new titles - Unreal and Unity. They are in

constant competition

between each other - something like Microsoft and Apple, or Google and Facebook. As they fight each other, however, they increasingly facilitate game creation and have helped a huge number of new gaming projects see the light of day. And if large studios like Activision Blizzard, Ubisoft or Square Enix use their own technology to create their megahits, the smaller ones work with these two engines. In essence, both platforms allow you to create two-dimensional or three-dimensional virtual worlds, add your own content, move different elements in them, program different events, play online and everything else we would need to make a full game.

One of the most significant technology trends in recent years, unnoticed by the general public, is the introduction of tools that facilitate the creation of new projects and content by non-programmers. It is most visible on open platforms for websites such as WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, OpenCart and PrestaShop, which have made launching new internet projects extremely easy. Platforms such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's AppInventor have facilitated the process of developing mobile applications through simple drag and drop actions without the need to write code. It is no exaggeration to say that Unreal and Unity are a kind of WordPress for creating video games.

Starting as paid game development platforms, they eventually became free, introducing flexible licensing and billing models. Today, anyone in the world can use either system for free to create their own projects. And only if his video game starts earning a pre-specified amount (in the order of hundreds of thousands of dollars), he pays contributions to the platform with which he developed it. This flexible business model has allowed thousands of small teams without a serious budget to successfully enter the industry, creating popular titles. The result is a whole new ecosystem involving over a million independent developers, many of whom are already making millions of dollars from their game projects.

Unreal Engine

The older of the two platforms was created in 1998 by the company Epic Games to "run" a specific game - Unreal Tournament. However, the company quickly realized the potential of its engine and launched it as an independent tool for creating games from external developers. Over the years, he has made popular titles such as Final Fantasy VII, Deus Ex, Batman: Arkham VR and the super hit Fortnite, which is also a product of Epic.

In 2015, the company released the fourth version of Unreal Engine for free with the stipulation that it will take 5% of the revenue from winning games. In addition, however, it provides it completely free of charge for projects in the fields of architecture, the automotive industry, film, television, live events, training, simulations and other non-gaming projects. Today, there are over 7 million users of the system in these segments.

Unity

This is the newer and much easier to use game engine. It was created by Unity Technologies in order to democratize and facilitate game development, even compared to the capabilities of its competitor Unreal. It was launched in 2005 as an exclusive engine for Apple's Mac OS X, but today it already supports dozens of platforms, including Windows, Linux, iOS, Android, Facebook, the most popular game consoles, virtual reality systems and more. Adding technologies like WebGL makes it much easier to play directly through a browser. It has been installed 24 billion times in the last year alone.

The company introduced a free business model a year after Unreal and also relies on flexible charging. The platform can be used for free forever by projects generating less than $ 100,000 in annual revenue. It can be used to create two-dimensional and three-dimensional games, as well as games with virtual or augmented reality, as well as simulations and other virtual experiences. The company is also experimenting with entering other segments, including the film and automotive industries.

Unity is so easy to use by non-programmers that it even gets criticized for the entry of many inexperienced developers into the game industry. However, its policy invariably remains to liberalize the making of games, including among pupils and students. "I think it's sad that most people are just users of technology, not creators. The world is a better place when people know how to create, not just consume, and that's what we're trying to promote," said CEO John Richitello in an interview, reaffirming Unity's long-term commitment.

The engine is especially successful in mobile games because it is available for the first iPhone model. Gradually, the stereotype is that it is for mobile titles, virtual reality and other easier to do projects, while with Unreal you can create more complex games, but it is more difficult to use than novice developers. Over time, however, both companies have addressed their weaknesses, and today it is much more difficult to distinguish their competitive advantages.

Over the years, other popular game development platforms have emerged, such as Cryengine, Source and id Tech. However, none of them managed to reach the popularity of Unity and Unreal, nor to have such a big impact on the game industry. These two engines have contributed to the emergence of a huge number of new business projects and this figure is yet to increase. In addition to creating a whole new ecosystem of game developers, the two have also helped create another secondary digital ecosystem - the creation of digital assets.

This is made possible through their online content stores. In them, an independent developer who does not have the resources to create everything himself can simply buy various virtual characters, weapons, machines, buildings, monsters and other elements to use in his game. Artists and other content creators can create their own set of digital assets to sell, earning many times over from each of them. There are already more than 10,000 products in Unreal's online store and more than 31,000 in Unity's, and the latter has generated more than 40 million downloads in a few years. In this way, two independent platforms managed to democratize several creative sectors simultaneously, facilitating the development of video games and at the same time - creating a huge new global market for designers, artists and animators.

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