The Unity Labs keynote at Game Developer Conference 2017 started with an introduction by CEO John Riccitiello at Unity Labs. who spoke to the growth the game engine had seen and how it’s looking forward to the future.
Unity has seen a huge growth in the number of platforms it supports over the years now including upcoming platforms such as Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Hololens (for augmented reality) and virtual reality devices such as HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR, Google Daydream and Samsung Gear VR.
According to Riccitiello, in the last quarter games using Unity reached 2.6 billion unique devices. This is up a solid billion devices from the same quarter last year.
The keynote felt somewhat complicated and involved a lot of different people speaking about specific elements within Unity and its vision for 2017. As a result, only highlights of what was spoken about can be easily summarized here.
Unity 5.6 with Lucas Meijer, Technical Director
This new update to Unity does a lot of work in the area of lighting.
At the editing level, the development dashboard provides a full overview of the total lighting of a given scene. Developers can specify color, intensity and shadows amid other attributes. The lights can also have different settings such as runtime or contribution—allowing developers to choose how CPU heavy lighting will be to help mobile platforms.
Unity 5.6 adds progressive lighting, which causes “baked” lights, which are written directly into the lightmap (and not dynamic, meaning they don’t use processor time) to have changes admitted earlier. Meijer called this putting the light feedback sooner.
“Unity 5.6 delivers a mixed lighting experience for art designers that is much better than before,” said Meijer.
He then boasted that Unity has implemented Vulkan’s API and increased Metal API support. This means that Unity developers do not need to learn APIs and implement them because Unity can do that with just an upgrade and a checkbox.
Unity now comes with a new native video player that is capable of running 4K video.
According to Meijer, quality and stability is important to developers and therefore is important to engine development. When the engine is being run in the wild, errors and telemetry submitted to users can be looked up by developers on the online dashboard to get a better idea of what users are experiencing.
Unity 5.6 added support for native crashes, including native plugins or even Unity. The new dashboard provides a greater amount of information about errors experienced by users, even with C or C++ builds, right down to the crash information.
The online dashboard also now supports build priority and distribution. This has been extended with a beta feature called Collaborate, details at unity3d.com/collaborate.
Unity 5.6 is in open beta today at unity3d.com/beta. The final product will launched on March 31.
Ingrid Lestiyo, VP Product, Developer Revenue
Lestiyo came onto stage to talk about how game developers can make revenue from their games as businesses.
As an example, she brought up advertisements and engagement baked into games themselves by presenting how Next Games used wagons with advertisements that delivered adverts in the games themselves.
She also brought up the success of Finnish company Colossal Order with the development of City Skylines using the premium model (i.e. buy to play).
Lestiyo says that the road to success is to have new player acquisition revenue exceed the cost of development. The two models above include the free-to-play model with advertising (with Next Games) and the box sale model (shown with Colossal Order).
The birth of Job Simulator started with Valve reaching out to Owlchemy Labs and asking them to build one of the first games for the Vive. With the release of Job Simulator across HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and PlayStayion VR, the game succeeded in becoming the number one top selling game on the PlayStation Store.
The developers said on stage that the use of Unity to build the game provided an important platform for rapid prototyping in VR. Unity also provided the needed ability to launch on multiple platforms (listed above) and also made it easy to add it to the app stores on each of those devices, which provided an instant audience.
Lestiyo mentioned Unity IAP, a distribution channel platform designed for developers that can be implanted without an SDK or any code that places Unity apps on over 10 different app store platforms. IAP, or in-app purchases, is a major model used by many mobile and web apps in order to generate revenue by selling virtual items, power-ups and fashion items.
Facebook IAP will also be included with Unity IAP and Facebook wants to help support Unity developers as much as possible when it comes to providing games via Facebook Gameroom. As a website with millions of users, constantly engaged in a social media platform, Facebook is a premier destination for placing and playing web and mobile games.
Facebook Gameroom currently offers premium buy-to-play games alongside free games, all with the capability of providing in-app purchases on both web and mobile.
Unity in 2017: More focus on artists as part of the team!
Riccitiello ended the talk by talking about what stays the same and changes at Unity.
He said that Unity will remain focused on stability and accessibility for developers, but what will change is that Unity will be adding artist and designers to the focus of the company. Originally Unity magnified the needs of developers and programmers, but design and art represents a significant part of any project, as a result Unity wants to provide the tools needed to give artists what they need to succeed.
Riccitiello said that 2017 will see a phased release of new Unity tools that will be designed to aid artists in collaborating directly with developers on content creation. The idea is to provide the tools needed to allow artists and programmers to work side by side and this will be done with the concept of visual scripting.
Natalya Tatarchuk, Graphics Director at Unity Labs, spoke about a vision for content creation dealing with scalability and complexity through what she called “assisted artistry.” She called artist tools designed for gaming as a “deeply fragmented ecosystem,” especially because artists need to prepare for a multitude of platform constraints.
She said that Unity’s vision is to help remove the tears from content creation by providing tools that help abstract-away the complexity by providing platform independence and visual tools for artists.