Demystify the world of game engines as we compare Unreal Engine and Unity, helping you make the right choice for your game.
Picture this: You’re standing at the crossroads of game development, armed with a vision for your next big gaming masterpiece. You’ve got the concept, the creativity, and the determination, but there’s a critical decision to be made first: Which game engine should you choose? It’s a choice that can make or break your project, influencing everything from graphics and gameplay to development time and cost.
In the world of game development, two giants stand tall: Unreal Engine and Unity. These aren’t just tools; they’re game-changers, quite literally. Each has its strengths, quirks, and unique capabilities that can turn your dream game into a reality. But how do you decide between them?
In this article, we’ll dissect the strengths, features, and practical applications of both engines. By the end, you’ll have the insights needed to confidently steer your game project in the right direction.
Unity’s Key Benefits
When it comes to game development, Unity stands as a versatile powerhouse, offering a multitude of advantages that make it a top choice for developers across the globe. Its array of benefits spans from its multi-platform mastery to extensive learning opportunities and deep customization capabilities.
Unity’s Multi-Platform Mastery
One of Unity’s superpowers lies in its exceptional cross-channel development capabilities, which make it a go-to choice for developers looking to conquer a multitude of platforms. Whether you’re aiming for mobile devices, immersive VR experiences, or cutting-edge AR applications, Unity has your back.
If you have a brilliant game idea that you believe would captivate players on various platforms, Unity can turn that vision into reality with minimal fuss. This game engine offers support for a staggering 25 platforms, covering a wide spectrum of devices and environments – and has the ability to switch between platforms effortlessly.
Imagine working on a project that seamlessly transitions from a PC game to a WebGL experience for web browsers. Unity makes this a reality, allowing you to maintain a single codebase while adapting it to different platforms. This not only saves valuable development time but also ensures consistency across multiple channels. Your game remains true to its core, regardless of where it’s played.
Learning Opportunities with Unity
Unity is not just a game development engine; it’s also a rich source of learning resources for developers. Whether you’re new to game development or looking to enhance your skills, Unity offers a wide array of educational materials.
One standout feature is UnityLearn, where you can access over 650 hours of free training videos. These videos cover various aspects of game development, from the basics to advanced topics. Whether you’re interested in programming, design, or animation, you’ll find resources to match your interests.
Additionally, Unity offers structured lessons complete with assignments, providing a guided path for skill development. For those looking to validate their expertise, Unity offers certification programs, allowing you to earn official Unity certificates that can bolster your credentials in the industry.
Deep Customization with Unity
Unity’s versatility extends beyond its cross-channel mastery and extensive learning resources. It also offers developers the power of deep customization, allowing you to tailor your game development experience to your unique needs.
One of Unity’s standout features is its robust support for scripting. It uses C# as its primary scripting language, providing developers with a powerful toolset to shape their games. With C#, you have the flexibility to create custom behaviors, mechanics, and game systems. This level of control empowers you to bring your creative vision to life with precision.
Moreover, Unity supports the creation of custom shaders through its Shader Graph system. This enables you to design unique visual effects, textures, and materials for your game, enhancing its visual appeal and immersiveness.
In addition to code-level customization, Unity allows you to extend its functionality through the use of plugins and extensions. The Unity Asset Store, for instance, offers a vast library of third-party assets and tools created by developers worldwide. These assets can be seamlessly integrated into your projects, saving you time and effort while expanding your game’s capabilities.
Community and Documentation
Unity’s strength lies not only in its software but also in its community and documentation. You’re not alone on your journey. A vast and supportive community of developers, artists, and enthusiasts eagerly shares their knowledge and experiences. When you hit a roadblock, chances are someone has already faced the same challenge – and found the solution. Additionally, Unity boasts comprehensive documentation, ensuring that you’re armed with all the information you need to troubleshoot, innovate, and elevate your game.
Unreal’s Key Benefits
Unreal Engine, a formidable contender in the world of game development, brings a host of distinct benefits to the table. These advantages have positioned it as a go-to choice for developers aiming to achieve high-fidelity graphics, streamline customization, and harness the full potential of visual storytelling.
When it comes to pushing the boundaries of graphical fidelity, Unreal Engine stands at the forefront. Its real-time rendering capabilities, often hailed as industry-leading, allow developers to create visually stunning games with unprecedented realism.
Unreal’s flagship feature, Ray Tracing, is a game-changer. This technology simulates the behavior of light in the virtual world, resulting in lifelike reflections, shadows, and global illumination. Imagine crafting a game environment where every surface reflects light realistically, creating a level of immersion that was once reserved for big-budget Hollywood productions.
High-quality materials and textures are also Unreal’s strong suit. The engine offers a wide array of tools to craft photorealistic surfaces, from intricate metals to lush vegetation. With the Physically-Based Rendering (PBR) system, you can achieve materials that react convincingly to lighting conditions, making your game world feel tangible and believable.
Blueprint Visual Scripting
Unreal’s Blueprint Visual Scripting is a game-changer in its own right. It’s a powerful visual scripting system that allows developers of all backgrounds to create complex gameplay mechanics, interactions, and even entire game systems without writing a single line of code. This opens the doors for designers and artists to contribute to the development process in a meaningful way, reducing the reliance on traditional coding expertise.
Imagine creating intricate enemy AI behaviors, interactive puzzles, or complex quest systems through a user-friendly, node-based interface. Unreal’s Blueprint system empowers creativity, streamlines iteration, and accelerates development.
Unreal Engine’s toolkit doesn’t stop at its impressive visual scripting capabilities. It extends a warm welcome to those seeking a deeper level of control through its robust C++ support, allowing developers to tailor their game experiences with finesse and supercharge performance.
In the intricate world of game development, where every detail matters, Unreal’s C++ support stands as a beacon for those aiming to craft unique gameplay mechanics and achieve peak performance. Whether you aspire to create complex AI behaviors that challenge players’ wits, simulate intricate physics interactions, or construct intricate game systems, C++ gives you the keys to this virtual kingdom.
The true strength of C++ in Unreal lies in its capacity for performance optimization. In resource-intensive projects, where fluid and responsive gameplay is paramount, C++ allows developers to reach into the engine’s core and make precise adjustments. This can involve fine-tuning memory usage, optimizing algorithms, and squeezing every drop of performance from the hardware, ensuring that the game runs like a well-oiled machine, even on the most demanding setups.
Beyond performance, C++ empowers developers to integrate seamlessly with external libraries and technologies. This adaptability opens doors to innovative possibilities, whether you’re interfacing with specialized hardware or implementing groundbreaking features that elevate your game to new heights.
Unreal Marketplace & Enormous Asset Library
Unreal Marketplace isn’t just an online asset library; it’s a developer’s haven. Within its digital aisles, you’ll discover an extensive collection of top-notch (free and paid) assets and plugins, spanning from intricate 3D scans to fully-fledged characters. With monthly releases and an expanding catalog, the Marketplace significantly streamlines the development process, saving time and ensuring professional-grade assets and tools are readily accessible.
The true beauty of the Marketplace lies in its ability to simplify and expedite game development. Instead of painstakingly creating each asset or functionality from scratch, you can browse this virtual marketplace, select what you need, and seamlessly integrate it into your project. This not only saves precious time but also guarantees that you’re working with professional-grade assets and tools that have been crafted by experts in the field.
Unity vs Unreal: Key Differences
When it comes to choosing a game engine, Unity and Unreal stand out as formidable options, each with its unique characteristics and strengths. Let’s delve into the key differences between these two engines, taking into account factors like the learning curve, scripting languages, performance, built-in tools, and integration and support.
Unity boasts a relatively gentle learning curve, making it accessible to beginners. It provides an abundance of online resources, tutorials, and a supportive community. For those new to game development, Unity’s user-friendly interface and high-level scripting language, C#, offer a smoother entry point.
Unreal, on the other hand, demands a steeper learning curve for certain advanced functionalities. However, it excels in providing a beginner-friendly environment for those starting with game development. The Blueprint visual scripting system simplifies complex tasks, making it approachable even for newcomers.
Unity predominantly uses C# for scripting. C# is a high-level language that strikes a balance between ease of use and performance. It’s a powerful language well-suited for game development, allowing developers to create gameplay logic efficiently.
Unreal offers a dual approach with scripting: C++ and Blueprint. While C++ provides low-level control and direct access to system-level functionalities, Blueprint offers a visual scripting system. This combination empowers developers to choose the right tool for the job, with C++ for intricate systems and Blueprint for rapid prototyping.
Unity is known for its flexibility but may require more resources for complex scenes and tasks. Since many elements need to be created from scratch, it can be resource-intensive. Unity provides various options for visual effects, allowing developers to tailor performance to their needs.
Unreal takes a different approach by having many advanced features ready “out of the box,” such as real-time reflections, shadows, ray tracing, light scattering, and volumetrics. These built-in features provide stunning visuals by default and often require fewer resources compared to Unity. Unreal’s default settings often result in visually impressive scenes without extensive tweaking.
Unity offers a vast range of tools and assets through its Asset Store, allowing developers to expand their capabilities. While it provides a solid foundation, the extent of available tools and assets depends on third-party contributions.
Unreal excels in providing a rich set of built-in tools and graphical assets. These tools are designed to streamline the development process, reducing the need for extensive reliance on third-party resources. Unreal’s approach to in-house assets and tools ensures consistency and quality.
Initial Cost: Unity offers a free version. However, there are paid versions tailored for professional studios, and the pricing structure depends on the number of licenses.
Runtime Fee: Unity introduced a runtime fee for games that surpass specific revenue and install thresholds, starting from January 1, 2024.
Thresholds: The runtime fee applies to games making more than $200,000 in revenue and having over 200,000 installs in the last 12 months. The fee varies based on the game’s install count, ranging from $0.005 to $0.20 per install.
Eligibility: The runtime fee is applicable to Unity Personal and Unity Plus if they earned $200,000 USD or more in the last 12 months and have at least 200,000-lifetime game installs. For Unity Pro and Unity Enterprise, the thresholds are $1,000,000 USD and at least 1,000,000 lifetime game installs.
Existing Games: The fee applies to eligible games already on the market on January 1, 2024, based on lifetime installs.
Subscription Plans Update: Unity will enhance its subscription plans with additional tools and services at no extra cost in November 2023. These include Unity DevOps, Unity Asset Manager, Unity Sentis, and Team Administration.
Unity Plus Retirement: Unity Plus is no longer available for new subscribers as of September 12, 2023, but existing subscribers will receive an offer to upgrade to Unity Pro for one year at the same price.
Initial Cost: Unreal Engine is free to download and use, with full source code access and every feature included out of the box.
Royalty System: Unreal Engine employs a royalty system for revenues generated above a certain threshold. This royalty fee is only applicable when distributing an off-the-shelf product that incorporates Unreal Engine code, such as a game.
Royalty Threshold: Under the standard EULA, you owe royalties only when the lifetime gross revenue from your product exceeds $1 million USD. The first $1 million is royalty-exempt.
Use Cases: Unreal Engine is free for learning and internal projects. It also allows the distribution of many commercial projects without fees, including custom projects for clients and linear content like films and TV shows.
In summary, Unreal Engine offers free access with royalties due only when revenue exceeds $1 million USD, making it an attractive choice for indie developers. Unity, while offering a free version, introduces runtime fees for more extensive commercial games, aiming to align its pricing with developers’ success. Your choice should consider your project’s revenue expectations and whether royalties or runtime fees align better with your game’s business model.
Integration and Support
Both Unity and Unreal are designed to facilitate easy integration of third-party assets and tools. Their open ecosystems allow developers to incorporate various assets into their projects seamlessly.
Regarding support for newer technologies like ray tracing, both engines are at the forefront. They enable developers to harness the capabilities of cutting-edge hardware and software to create visually stunning games.
Who is Unity for?
Let’s explore who Unity is for and why it’s the preferred choice for various groups.
- Accessibility: Unity’s user-friendly interface and approachable learning curve make it a welcoming platform for indie developers, many of whom are learning as they go.
- Affordability: Unity offers a free tier that allows developers to create and experiment without upfront costs, making it ideal for small indie studios and solo creators.
- Asset Store: The Unity Asset Store is a treasure trove of affordable, high-quality assets and tools, saving indie developers time and effort in asset creation.
Mobile Game Developers
- Cross-Platform Development: Unity’s ability to export games to multiple platforms, including iOS and Android, streamlines development for mobile game creators.
- Performance Optimization: Unity provides tools and features for optimizing mobile game performance, ensuring a smooth gaming experience on a wide range of devices.
- Monetization: Unity offers integrated monetization solutions, helping developers generate revenue from their mobile games.
- ARCore and ARKit Support: Unity seamlessly integrates with ARCore (Android) and ARKit (iOS), making it a top choice for AR development.
- VR Platforms: Unity supports a variety of VR platforms, including Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR, allowing developers to create immersive VR experiences.
- Educational Licenses: Unity offers special licensing options for schools and universities, making it accessible to educators and students.
- Unity Learn: The Unity Learn platform provides free educational resources, tutorials, and interactive courses, facilitating game development instruction.
Web Development (WebGL)
- WebGL: Unity’s WebGL export option allows developers to create interactive, 3D web applications, enhancing the web development landscape.
- Web Apps: Unity’s versatility lends itself to web app development, enabling the creation of engaging, web-based interactive experiences.
Interestingly, iconic productions like Disney’s “The Lion King” and “The Mandalorian” have successfully leveraged Unity for virtual production. It merges physical sets with digital environments seamlessly, opening up new horizons in storytelling.
Who is Unreal for?
Unreal Engine, with its cutting-edge capabilities, caters to a variety of creative minds and industries. Let’s delve into who Unreal is for and why it stands out as a preferred choice for many game developers.
- Graphics and Realism: Unreal’s default high-fidelity graphics and rendering capabilities provide a strong foundation for creating visually stunning games.
- Performance: Unreal’s optimized performance and scalability are vital for triple-A titles, ensuring smooth gameplay and immersive experiences on a variety of platforms.
- Visual Effects: Unreal’s extensive suite of visual effects tools and features empowers developers to create cinematic experiences that captivate players.
Filmmakers and Animators
- Real-Time Rendering: Unreal’s real-time rendering capabilities are revolutionizing filmmaking. It allows filmmakers to see the final result while shooting, saving time and resources.
- RenderMan Integration: Unreal Engine has even integrated with Pixar’s RenderMan for advanced rendering, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in animation.
Visualization (Architectural, Automotive)
- High-Quality Visualizations: Unreal’s real-time rendering capabilities are leveraged by architectural firms and automakers to create stunning, high-quality visualizations. For instance, projects like the Range Rover visualization showcase Unreal’s potential in the automotive sector:
- Interactive Experiences: Unreal’s interactivity features enable users to explore architectural designs and vehicle models in an immersive manner, providing a unique and engaging experience.
Developers Seeking Deep Customization
- C++: Unreal’s support for C++ allows developers to dive deep into the engine’s codebase, achieving unparalleled customization. This is vital for implementing intricate game mechanics and fine-tuning performance.
- Blueprint: On the other hand, Blueprint offers a visual scripting system that simplifies complex tasks and rapid prototyping, making game development accessible and efficient
Why I Chose Unity
My decision to go with Unity as my game engine of choice was influenced by a series of personal experiences and practical considerations.
It all started when I began my game development journey by participating in the Game Development World Championship during my student years. Back then, I was part of a small team of four, and none of us had any prior experience in game development or 3D design. We decided to give Unreal Engine a try for our first project. However, the early days with Unreal turned out to be quite overwhelming. This was seven years ago, and the landscape was different. Online resources were limited, and the challenges we faced seemed insurmountable, and while Unreal was undoubtedly powerful, it felt like a steep learning curve for newcomers like us.
Fast forward to today, Unreal Engine has come a long way, offering a wide range of predefined elements, ready for use with a simple drag-and-drop – but back then, Unity offered a more extensive resource library, simplifying our game development workflow and reducing the complexity we had previously encountered.
Our journey with Unity didn’t stop there. We actively participated in game jams and found success with Unity-based games. I also noticed Unity’s specialization in VR/AR, because while Unreal may have excelled in realism, Unity’s strengths in customization and support for VR/AR technologies make it my preferred choice of game engine.
Making the Right Engine Choice for Your Project
When faced with the decision of whether to go with Unreal or Unity, it’s essential to assess your project’s requirements comprehensively. It’s not as simple as saying one is better than the other: both Unreal and Unity have their unique strengths and cater to different niches within the game development industry.
The key is to align your engine choice with your project’s specific needs, ensuring that your journey through game development is as smooth and successful as possible. So, before you embark on your game development adventure, take the time to analyze, research, and budget accordingly.
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CTO and Head of R&D at Braindance Studio