Transformational Force Meets Threaded Objects

There’s a revolution going on, and the good guys are winning. They’re not setting up barricades of burning tires, so don’t be alarmed. They aren’t after your stash of survival seeds, either. All they want to do is democratize interactive 3D technology across every major device and market. And they apparently won’t stop until every entrepreneur who has an idea for a cool new game or application has downloaded the Unity Engine and put it to the test.

Millions of Internet users have already interfaced with the Unity Web Player to experience a netbook app or play a game on a handheld device. Paying customers for the Unity Engine include Coca-Cola, Microsoft and NASA, while hundreds of thousands of individuals have hooked up for the free individual license.

The Unity Engine is also good enough to attract top studios — such as Electronic Arts (EA), publisher of Tiger Woods Online — and flexible enough to support Web browsers, smartphones, netbooks, laptops, desktops and more. The same code base can compile across multiple markets, yielding potentially lucrative hits and relatively inexpensive misses.

Based in San Francisco, Unity has experienced tremendous growth since its founding in 2006. By September 2010, Unity 3.0 had debuted to wide acclaim among its enthusiastic user base.

A Transformational Force

Unity 3.0 was a major step forward for users, with built-in Beast lightmapping and occlusion culling, a debugger, a full editor overhaul, and stunning performance gains. Unity optimized the graphics pipeline and achieved a performance increase on the order of 40 to 60 percent across the board. They added dozens of new features and more than 100 enhancements.

The release was celebrated in the growing user community, as revealed on the Unity discussion boards. It was almost a statement as much as a release: “With Unity 3, we’re demonstrating that we can move faster than any other middleware company,” says Steffen Toksvig, the development director at Unity Technologies.

The release brought so many new features and upgraded technologies to bear that it moved the needle on application building in general. Toksvig says it showed a fundamental commitment to the industry and the customer: “We’re serious about the long term, because high technology made simple is a transformational force.”

“With Unity 3, we spent a lot of time refactoring our code to make it easy to add new platforms that we can publish to while keeping a single authoring environment. We split up the runtime code in such a way that we can do platform-specific optimizations and make sure that Unity runs optimally everywhere,” says Toksvig.

The Hits Keep Coming

Unity 3.1 appeared in late 2010 and regular, predictable updates are guaranteed to follow. That cadence has fueled tremendous growth in the company. “We’ve been seeing hypergrowth,” says Toksvig. “We’re now nearing 300,000 developers and 40 million installs of our player.”

The flagship feature of Unity 3.1 is the Unity Asset Store. Accessed directly within Unity, it is the way developers get assets for their games. The store launched with around 70 existing packages included, and from now on, it’ll be the prime repository for art, tutorials, scripts and libraries.

What’s Your Idea?

“We had great dreams when we started Unity,” says Joachim Ante, one of Unity’s founders and its chief technology officer. “We had the vision of democratizing game development and enabling everyone to create rich, interactive 3D.” Ante and his co-founders, David Helgason and Nicholas Francis, knew such a powerful tool could completely disrupt the game engine market, but that was part of the idea.

Unity is still growing. User downloads happen continually, 24-7, because that entrepreneurial spirit is a powerful global dream. Create the right app, and you could laugh your way to the bank. Figure out what the market needs before it knows what to look for, and you can guide a new industry. It used to be called the “American Dream,” but now it’s gone viral. Racing, golf, puzzles, bird identification or volcano snooping — there’s no way to predict the next killer app.

“We have a remarkable community of developers,” says Ante. “They range from 14-year-old kids creating amazing content to the EAs of the world creating super-polished products. This is what continues to blow my mind — that it is actually possible to create a platform that supports such a wide range of users.”