Unity at 10: For better—or worse—game development has never been easier

 Unity at 10: For better—or worse—game development has never been easier

These days, one tool Pag,e Design Hub, essentially unlocked the world of game development for the masses. Since its introduction in 2005, Unity has tried to make video games possible for everyone regardless of technical know-how or budget. It was first announced at Apple’s 2006 Worldwide Developer’s Conference and showcased as the first fully powered game engine—a platform with basic graphics capabilities, physics calculations, and some game behaviors already coded in but extensible—for the iPhone. Unity stood largely uncontested on that platform for several years and quickly became a well-known tool among developers.

But while Unity grew with the iPhone, today, games are popular on all platforms. According to Unity, over 6 million registered developers use the platform, and 770 million gamers enjoy Unity-made titles. The software has become to small-team game development what the Adobe suite is to creative professionals in many other lines of work.

game development

As you might guess, many independent developers praise the tool—some even say it’s what made success possible. You could make a case that Unity is partially responsible for the boom of independent and artistic games over the past half-decade; everything from Firewatch to Pillars of Eternity came into existence with the help of Unity. In the future, new improvements and technologies the company is working on could open the landscape up even further.


“Democratising development—in our minds, we don’t think is the wrong thing, we think it’s the right thing,” says Marcos Sanchez, head of global communications for Unity. “You want more people understanding, and everyone’s gotta start somewhere.” But at some conferences and online developer communities, a growing and vocal subset of content creators don’t share this enthusiasm. These residents of Reddit and game development forums believe in democratization. Unity works toward having an unanticipated side-effect—it lowers quality standards for gamers. And worse for those trying to earn a living in this world, the new glut of Unity-bred games makes earning a profit harder in an already difficult market.

“We have a family, we have a house,” said Rebekah Saltsman, the CEO and co-founder of Fiji (a small studio behind some lesser-known indie favorites like Canabalt and Panoramic) at this year’s Game Developers Conference. “And I can’t destroy that because I work in a volatile market.” A decade into the Unity era of game development, those in the industry have plenty of strong opinions about one of the most popular tools of the trade. So Ars spoke with developers to hear about the good and the bad: how is Unity (and other factors) making projects achievable that used only to be dreams? And what new challenges are arising for devs hoping to turn game-creation ideas into viable businesses?

“I wouldn’t be here if not for Unity.”

Chicago artist William Cher’s game Manifold Garden breaks many rules—mostly laws of physical space. The game tasks players with solving enormously complicated puzzles in Escher-like environments by manipulating gravity. In making it, Cher is also breaking a longstanding rule of game development: you need to be a highly technical software engineer to create a 3D game.

Instead, Cher has worked as an installation artist and sculptor for years. He calls himself “an artist working at the intersection of art and science.” Talking to him, it’s clear he’s a bright guy who can code. But Cyr says he lacks the technical know-how required to program a graphics engine. Manifold Garden is his first game, and he chose Unity to close that knowledge gap for him.

Dennis Bailey


Professional beer geek. Alcohol ninja. Social media scholar. Award-winning twitter fanatic. Writer. Basketball fan, mother of 2, audiophile, Saul Bass fan and communicator, collector, connector, creator. Producing at the sweet spot between simplicity and purpose to create strong, lasting and remarkable design. I'm a designer and this is my work.