How Unity Technologies helped the creator of Ultima to regain his mojo.
There was a time, not so long ago, when Unity Technologies struggled to find figureheads for its growing community of developers. The sort of august professionals whose long, storied careers could lend this upstart engine some much-needed credence.
The opening keynote of the annual Unite conference is reserved for just such a person, but this year's totemic veteran, Richard Garriott, believes that the tide has now irrevocably turned. Unity can now offer more to a distinguished developer than they could ever provide in return.
"My first game, I wrote in seven weeks of after-school time in high-school, so therefore my costs were close to zero," Garriott says when we meet after his keynote address. "I earned $150,000 in sales, and it's been downhill ever since.
"The total money has been bigger, but the return on investment has gotten smaller and smaller, and that's been true of the whole games industry: more expensive, more risky, smaller margins."
For Garriott, Unity is a "watershed moment" not just for his own career, but for the industry at large. Despite existing for less than a decade, Unity Technologies has fashioned a workable solution to the spiralling cost - risk, time, money, you name it - of game development. "Unity has fundamentally changed that paradigm," he says. "The risk and the time and the cost have been going up and up and up, and with Unity that has been reset dramatically."
As evidence, he offers his latest project, the Kickstarter-funded RPG Shroud of the Avatar. Garriott has been working in development for long enough to remember a time when it was necessary to build each game by "brute force" - a small team, a pile of money and a lot of hours. Within 90 days of choosing Unity as the environment in which to build Shroud of the Avatar, Garriott and his team went from nothing to a rough version of the entire game that any of his team could log into and play. In that first few months, they accomplished what Garriott believes would once have taken, "literally years."