Unity Software, which makes software for building video games and other digital simulations, is turning its focus to fine-tuning tools for game developers to work on multiplayer properties, particularly battle royale games. The company announced a new game server-hosting service Tuesday, allowing developers to scale up their titles without needing to build their own cloud infrastructure. It also touted the release of a game matchmaking service it had been testing, allowing studios to use a new queuing system.
Unity to invest more in battle royale, multiplayer game development
Unity’s competitor, Epic Games, developer of the battle royale smash hit “Fortnite,” also owns Unreal Engine, which is used by developers looking to develop first-person shooters and multiplayer titles. The new approach from Unity looks to catch up to the popularity of battle royale titles like “Fortnite” and “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds” (PUBG), both games with robust player bases.
“We’re investing heavily in multiplayer game support because we see it as a trend for the last couple of years,” said Jeff Collins, Unity’s senior vice president of engineering, in an interview with The Washington Post. Historically, the company had attracted small, indie creators.
Still, Collins said some of the world’s major battle royale games such as “Apex Legends” and “Call of Duty: Warzone” were already using Unity’s multiplayer solutions — though those titles aren’t built on the Unity engine. He pointed to “Among Us” and “Valorant” as well as examples of games that use Unity services to support a large player base. “Call of Duty: Mobile” is also built on the Unity platform.
The game server-hosting service relies on Google Cloud and other infrastructure. The matchmaking feature was previously available for blockbuster studios in closed beta. It launches for everyone Sept. 20.
Unity also showcased the potential of its engine by adding a sample battle royale game. The sample game demonstrates the capabilities of Unity’s software, including the capacity to support up to 80 players. If game studios wish to expand this to up to 200 players, they must contact Unity and work with the company to obtain specific hardware to support this experience.
The company debuted on Wall Street in September of 2020. In 2022, it reported a net loss of $204 million in the financial quarter ending in June, up from its net loss of $148 million in the same time period last year. Earlier this summer, Unity laid off part of their staff as a cost-cutting measure, as first reported by Kotaku. The company did not share dollar amounts of its investment in tools for multiplayer games.
To shape its priorities, Unity surveyed about 1,500 gamers in the U.S., U.K., South Korea and Japan, with findings released in a report about multiplayer gaming Tuesday. Collins said the report could help Unity’s clients, game developers, determine what features appealed to gamers the most and focus on on those.
“If I’m a game developer, one of the hardest decisions to make is, ‘Are you going to invest in a certain kind of play mechanic in your game’ because that’s going to say everything about whether your game is successful or not,” Collins said.
The survey showed the battle royale genre was most popular, while turn-based titles were the least. For Unity, that means support for turn-based titles is not the priority.
“I can tell you that we don’t work very hard on them because of this,” Collins said.
Asked whether it was too late to begin supporting battle royale features for developers now, five years after “PUBG” and “Fortnite” took the world by storm, Collins said players would vote with their feet, and if the market is indeed oversaturated, they would simply not gravitate toward new battle royale titles.
“Now because of the strength of battle royale for so long, the rise of ‘Fortnite,’ it’s hard to predict a downturn in that yet,” Collins said. “But yeah, if I’m a new developer right now, I’m probably thinking about a twist on some of these titles.”
One of the features Unity highlighted in its report is that 31% of players considered in-game chat an important feature to have in their games. Unity acquired Massachusetts-based company Vivox in 2019, adding its voice and text chat capabilities to its software offerings for developers.
“Unity has been playing catch-up with its multiplayer capabilities, an area where it historically has been lacking,” said Joost van Dreunen, a lecturer on the business of games at the NYU Stern School of Business. “Unity brings a wealth of expertise to developers, for sure, but that also means taking market share from rival Epic Games, which continues to dominate with ‘Fortnite.’ The announcement comes at a time when Unity could use a win, since its share price has dropped to $37, down from over $200 in December last year.”