Clive Downie: “We’re trying to be the singular destination for people who want to create in a digital space”

Unity CMO Clive Downie on why is there no AAA-titles made with Unity, what are the difference between Unity new subscription plans and how can Unity Certification Program help you get a job.

Unity

What are the main challenges Unity faces with today?

We don’t really have challenges – we have opportunities. And the opportunities are around more than ever. There are more people playing games. There are more platforms for developers to make games on. And we got more than ever these new technologies that can enhance the creativity. There’re VR and AR, and Unity itself has 25 platforms and counting, and we have 1,5 mln active developers a month. And it’s global now, not just in one area. It’s a complicated world, but we see it as opportunities, not challenges.

To give you a bit more of that – when you got that complicated ecosystem, one of the challenges that you might have is how do you maintain the quality across so many things you do. And that may be one of the areas where Unity has started to have some stress in the last six month. But we recognize that and we change that. That probably the one area of the friction but we are addressing that.

The company is the leader in the engine market, but there is no AAА console project with it. Why is it so?

What about Firewatch? Or Hearthstone?

Ok, I see your point!

Unity is not perceived as having many AAA-products. It’s “the engine of the masses”. Maybe that’s the perception. AAA really means that the game is critically acclaimed AND makes lots of money. It’s subjective, but that’s really what it means. There are a lot of games made with Unity that fit that characteristics. The challenge that the perception is not the case. Because actually as well as those games there are hundreds of other games that are either not critically successful or not commercially successful or both things. And that, I think, happens when you have a very large ecosystem of developers. There are some companies who make engines and who don’t have a very large ecosystem. They have a very small set of developers. And all of them happens to be very good. So the perception is that engine just makes great things. When you have 1,5 mln developers, some of them make really great games. A large number of them make games that are critically successful. So what that means it’s just the perception that Unity is not used to make great games.

Would you call it the minus of the huge democratization?

I’d say that is one of the challenges of us being “the engine of the people” – the perception that Unity is not used to make great games. But it is.

According to David Helgason, Unity’s democratization will be completed when game making is as simple as movie making. But not every smartphone owner is James Cameron. And no YouTube video has ever won an Oscar. Aren’t you afraid of lowering the standards of the industry?

There’s natural stress between a tool for everyone and a tool for specific people who are great. And we’d rather give a tool for everyone, and the result of people creativity would be the difference maker. The tool is quite capable of making world-class AAA products – I gave you examples. It’s a very powerful tool. It’s suitable for experts. But it is also suitable for beginners. So the result is always down to the hands of people using it.

Here’s an another example. You can give a Ferrari to a child. And he’ll probably drive very slowly or crush the car. Or you can give a Ferrari to a Formula One driver. And he’ll win a race. It’s still a Ferrari.

Speaking of experts: Unity is starting the Unity Certification Program. Doesn’t that move raise the entry threshold to the industry for the developers?

It’s not mandatory. It’s just a tool that some people can use if they want to have another level of ability to understand who the candidate is.

But doesn’t that mean that everybody will want to use it? If you can choose, you want to choose from the best.

I think that certificate is an additional layer. It’s not the core. The core thing that people are always looking for is – show me your work. What’ve you done.

The portfolio.

Yeah, show me what you’ve done. The challenge is that lots of people have good portfolios. And sometimes you might need something else on top of that – to show that the foundational theory is also there. And in that case, you might have five candidates, all of them have great portfolios, but only one has the сertificate. And that might help you make the decision easier. That’s from the side of someone hiring, from that perspective. And from the perspective of a developer – the certification can help an employment in that case. But more than that, it can continue to give you the latest best practice skills. On the engine that is always evolving, you want to be able to keep up-to-date with. Cause you may not have worked on the game that used 5.3, you may only have worked on 4.5 game. So you might need to accelerate your learning on products to make yourself better. And the foundational skill certification is a great way to do it.

Let’s move to the new subscription plans. Before that, there were three ways to own the engine. One way is to have it for free, the other – is to buy a subscription and the last one is to buy a perpetual license. In the announcement, you said that Unity changes the way it selling its licenses. But in fact – nothing has changed: you still have the subscription and the option to buy a license aka ‘pay to own’. Or you can have it for free. So what has really changed?

The Pay to Own version is slightly different from what we had called ‘perpetual’ in the past. Perpetual in the past has had no end day. There are two phases of what was called perpetual historically. The phase that you buy a product and you commit to it. But then you get upgrades on that product. And we say that we will upgrade your product. With Pay to Own what we are saying is – give us the money upfront, commit to it on 2- or maybe a 3-year deal. On the end of that deal, you keep the product but you get no upgrades. It’s a slightly different way to own the product. And that means that some of your services wouldn’t work. It’s quite different from the perpetual today because with the perpetual you get all the services. And until we create a big changed engine version, like a 5 in the past, you would get all upgrades. Until you have to pay us for another upgraded version. To sum it up, is the Pay to Own similar to perpetual? Yes. But it’s not the same.

What’s the idea of Pay to Own and subscription? Why did Unity switch to it?

A: We’ve switched to subscription for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s the way the world is going with so many services. And so it’s simple, it’s easily understandable for people. It’s easily understandable for the majority of the existing customers. And also for the majority of people who aren’t our customers yet. It’s a known thing when actually a perpetual is known by the minority. So it’s not something you can offer for the future of the company. The second reason – we felt that subscription matched the upgrades of the product now. Historically, Unity has been based around big incremental upgrade. There were big step changes – from 1 to 2, 2 to 3, 3 to 4, 4 to 5. That’s not how Unity works right now. What we’ve been doing for 14 months is a far more steady release of features of products. It fits a subscription. So we are doing that. That’s the other reason we’ve switched. The other reason takes us back to what I’ve said before. When there are 1,5 mln people using this tool every month across 25 platforms what we need to do is to provide a very latest technology to that people. The market is moving so fast that you need those latest technologies anyway – you can’t wait a year for it. Those are the reasons why we switched to subscription. But to some people it’s hard. To people who have been developing on one platform it’s hard cause the prices have gone up.

Yes, we’ve seen that kind of question on Twitter! People who have been developing on one platform were paying $75 for Unity Personal. And now they ask why do they have to pay almost double.

They don’t have to pay double – they just have to pay another 50 dollars. That’s not the double. They also don’t have to pay cause they still can stay on the $75 option, they can still stay on current subscription till 2018. So they have time – as do we – to continue to provide features that these customers think are valuable.

What are the time limits to switch to the new subscription model? If I buy a $75 Unity Pro subscription on June 14, will I need to pay $125 on June 15 when the new subscription model is applied?

To my point, you can stay on $75 model until June 2018.

And what will happen after June 2018?

Well, after it we’d like you to transition to the new model. And we will give you time to transition.

What if I don’t want to transition to another model? Will my subscription be canceled?

We’re talking about something which is 23 months away. In 23 months time, I think there’s going to be a number of use cases for our customers. At some point between 23 months and now you may think – oh, really what I should do is to take my idea to another platform. So it actually may become realistic for you to think that Unity offering more platforms is a good thing. That’s one scenario. The second scenario is you stay on one platform, but Unity in 23 month time provided even more value to the current product – through technology, though VR and AR. And you’re ok with paying extra money. Third thing – you are actually not making more than 100 000 dollars, so you can just use the Personal version. You just have to get over the fact that it has the Splash Screen on it. People drive cars every day with logos on it! So I’m not sure why they don’t want to have our logo on their game. Especially if the engine is for free. It’s very hard to talk about specifics – I can just give scenarios. And I’ve provided good scenarios. But the bad scenario – you’re still single-platform, you still don’t agree with the new subscription models – and you just don’t pay the money. Well, in that case – I think, we can probably have a conversation. Or you can use the free version.

That actually leads us to a new question. So you have Unity Personal and you have Unity Plus. They both have the revenue cap, they both are multi-platform. What’s the difference between these two?

Unity Plus has the additional features. It has the Asset Store Pack, it features support for up to 50 concurrent multiplayer users, it has priority on Cloud Build access. It also has one month’s free access to Unity’s certification courseware. We’ll certainly listen to how it performs, we’ll listen to customers. We’ll evolve it. Maybe in the future, we will increase the revenue cap or alter the splash screen. We’ll listen – we are always listening to the customers (Update: Unity actually rised the revenue cap to this plan. An also made splash screen optional, like in Unity Pro).

During the past year, the game engine market has changed drastically. Epic Games has made its Unreal Engine almost free (except for the royalty, of course). CryTeck has opened the source code completely. Amazon has also released its own technology and so has King. How does Unity see its place in such a competitive market?

The competition is always good, it’s great. It’s good to the customers. Unity has always been continuing to grow – there is the community of developers. There’s the largest community of developers using Unity versus other engines. That’s a strength. Because if you are a developer coming to an engine you want to be able to learn from a community, you want to be able to get the best practices from the community, you want to be able to optimize your use of a tool. And there is a correlation between a size of the community and the ability to do that. That’s a strength for Unity and it continues to persist. The other strength for Unity is a sheer number of platforms that we support. So there’s choice and optionality in using Unity. And the last thing is our investment in new technologies. As an example, we lead the way in VR and AR. So we are not just a 2D-engine or a mobile engine, and we continue to push towards the future. And we are free. We are really free. Our place revolves around the fact that we democratize development. Everything we do is around that.

Aside from that ultimate democratization, what are the company’s nearest goals? What is the next step in conquering the world?

Democratizing development is our continuing goal. We haven’t done it yet. But we are continuing to do it in so many ways. I think that Unity Connect that we’ve launched – which is kind of like the job finding portal – is just yet another example of how we bring developers together in small ways. So we are not trying to conquer the world. We’re just trying to be the singular destination for people who want to create in a digital space.

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