What's next for Unity, one of the world's most widely used game making tools (Q&A)

David Helgason, head of Unity, discusses his company's efforts to become the top software coding tool for video game consoles, mobile and VR.

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David Helgason, Unity's CEO, in a promotional video in 2013 Unity

When Monument Valley shot to the top of Apple's App Store in April, it was something of a coup.

The game, made by an eight-person development team at Ustwo in the UK, had grabbed the app world's attention with its M.C. Escher-inspired puzzles The company's $3.99 app defied convention, first by charging cash instead of offering an initially free download, and then by gaining attention so quickly where most successes climb the stores rankings slowly.

It also notched another success for Unity. The San Francisco company, which builds tools to help developers make apps and games that work across a range of devices, has been slowly taking over the coding world. Today, nearly half of mobile game developers are using Unity, the company says. The company's influence is growing outside games as well, extending to desktop apps and virtual reality goggles.

David Helgason, Unity's CEO, said his team has been working on initiatives such as advertising and video-replay technology as well, helping developers both earn money from their apps and help users send gameplay clips to their friends. Unity also manages an app store of its own, helping developers sell artwork to one another to make it easier to build game worlds. So far, Helgason said, he estimates customers have saved $1.4 billion worth of work.

Unity has also been extending partnerships with major device makers in recent years. Today, Unity has agreements with Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft to ensure developers creating apps for their devices can use Unity for free.

Helgason spoke with CNET about his those efforts, as well as what's coming up for the game technology maker. The following is an edited Q&A:

Q: You've become one of the standards of the mobile and game industries. What are the places you want to see Unity get to?

Helgason: The way we frame it is that there are these two big challenges for developers: Create a great game, and then connect that game with an audience. For the longest part of Unity's history, we've gotten really good at helping you create the game...Now we're addressing the question of how you monetize, how you connect, how do gamers find out about your game.

You set a lot of these console agreements in the past couple of years. How widely has your technology been adopted?

We heard some data that a lot of games are built on Unity, but I don't have anything to quantify it yet... But there are some magical things happening with Unity supporting the consoles so well.

There's this team called Colorblind making a game called Aztez and it's a two-person studio, and they're pretty experienced, but they're two people targeting eight platforms including console. Doing eight different platforms would not even be something a 20-person studio could do. And they're acting like they're 20 or 30 people now. They're fantastically sharp, but they're also using Unity.

A lot of games built for virtual reality technology like Oculus are using your company's software. What do you think of these upcoming VR devices?

I'm a huge fan of VR. Ever since Brendan Iribe [CEO of Oculus] came to our office shortly before their Kickstarter and I got demo, and it was a lopsided demo that was taped together and the (screen) tilted and it was a mess, but even then I was like, "Holy moly, this is fantastic."

It's just fantastic how the development community has adopted it. And of course with the strides Oculus has done to make it better, and Morpheus coming up, it's looking good. I think it will be an important category. I don't know how big, but could it go into the 10s of millions or hundreds-of-millions of units? I think it's likely enough.

And of course games and other 3D experiences will be a key category of content for it. It's really that and HD videos with 360 degree cameras.

I have a version of Flappy Bird running on my watch. When's it going to be run by Unity?

No comment yet, but we're definitely watching that space and excited by it as well.

About the author

Ian Sherr is a senior writer for CNET focused on social media and video game companies. He has previously written for The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and the Agence France-Presse. He's a native of the San Francisco Bay Area, though he knows what real weather feels like too.

 

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