Metanomics Transcript March 17 2010


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Unity Technologies with Product Evangelist Tom Higgins

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Metanomics Transcript March 17 2010

  1. 1. METANOMICS: UNITY TECHNOLOGY - MARCH 17, 2010 ANNOUNCER: Metanomics is owned and operated by Remedy and Dusan Writer's Metaverse. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Hi. I'm Robert Bloomfield, professor at Cornell University's Johnson Graduate School of Management. Today we continue exploring Virtual Worlds in the larger sphere of social media, culture, enterprise and policy. Naturally, our discussion about Virtual Worlds takes place in a Virtual World. So join us. This is Metanomics. ANNOUNCER: Metanomics is filmed today in front of a live audience at our studios in Second Life. We are pleased to broadcast weekly to our event partners and to welcome discussion. We use ChatBridge technology to allow viewers to comment during the show. Metanomics is sponsored by the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University. Welcome. This is Metanomics. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Welcome to Metanomics. I'm Rob Bloomfield, and our guest today is Tom Higgins, product evangelist for Unity Technologies. Unity Technologies their slogan is "Taking the pain out of game development. We do the hard work so you don't have to." And one of their guiding themes is to pursue what seems to me to be an impossible dream: "author-once, deploy anywhere." Ideally, one would be able to transfer games seamlessly from computer to console to iPhone to, dare I say it, the iPad. So what a coincidence their name is Unity. To tell us about what the company is up to and where game development is headed, Tom Higgins. Tom, welcome to Metanomics. TOM HIGGINS: Thanks for having me on. It's a pleasure to be here and have a chance to talk about Unity Technologies and where we think we're going with our technology. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I have lots of questions, and I'm sure our audience will be chiming in on ChatBridge as well. Before we talk about the company and the recent game developer conference, where I understand you guys were a big hit, what I'd like to do is just give our viewers a sense of what you're making possible. And so our friends at Treet TV have filmed a little clip of one of your online demos. It's called Tropical Paradise. Treet, if you'll go ahead and roll that tape while we talk. I want to remind our viewers, first of all, that this is just right there on the web, sits right in your browser and is a very realistic and wonderfully detailed graphical, tropical paradise. I see Jennette Forager, from Metanomics staff, has actually pasted into Chat with the link. So those of you who want to can actually just go take a look. So while Treet gives us a little tour of a tropical paradise, tell us, Tom, what we're seeing in this. TOM HIGGINS: Sure. It's actually the demo project or example project that is shipped with and included when you install Unity. And when we created the Version 2.0 launch, one of the big additions was a nature and terrain rendering engine. This island demo is a showcase of not only that engine, to be able to draw and paint terrains directly within the editor itself, using brush strokes, a very designer-friendly approach, it also shows off our general graphics and rendering capabilities, the kind of water effects that we have built into our product. So it's just a great showcase of the kind of visual richness and beauty that's available right inside of our product, out of the box, and deliverable on the web. We like to say that it's console quality on the web, and, without being able to showcase content like this piece, folks often want to think that that's just a bit of marketing-speak and not quite the reality. When in truth, this type of content is easily possible and easily deliverable to anyone on the web, inside a browser or on the desktop or now, as we keep making inroads, we want to bring that same experience to mobile devices as well. So that's what it's a great showcase of, and, of course, we've got even more on the way. 1
  2. 2. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I'd like to start just by focusing a little bit on the company itself and your vision. What makes Unity unusual or unique? TOM HIGGINS: Well, I really think it starts with our three founders, and a little back story on them is really going to help understand where we're coming from. They set out on this journey to be a game company. They didn't start off wanting to be a tools company; they wanted to make an engine and create their own games. Somewhere along the way, they changed courses and became a tool company, but the real benefit there is that this is a tool for game developers, made by game developers. And, along the way, their whole vision has been to, as we like to say, democratize game development, "Let's bring these powerful tools to everyone." And so kind of the guiding vision is how do we let everybody into these tools, whether it's the large companies like Electronic Arts on down to the small-scale individual developer just starting at home. And I think that's what's really unique and different as we're competing against the likes of these top-tier engines that cost tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars, as we're putting that same power into your hands for significantly less money or, in the case of our base Unity license, for free. It's that approach of top-quality tools for everybody, in terms of cost and usability that really sets us apart. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So I guess that's a great lead-in to let's just make sure we get the details and the numbers out there. I know that you've been renaming some of your offerings and re-pricing them and so on. So walk us through your primary product offerings and how much they cost. TOM HIGGINS: Sure. To start, whenever anybody comes into Unity for any development, you need to begin with getting a base Unity license. And we offer that in two tiers. The starting license is Unity, and then there's kind of the full-tier license called Unity Pro, and using either of those will let you target the desktop and web on either Mac or Windows. The Pro license is our full-featured offering there, and that's $1,500 per seat. And the base license, which has 80 to 90 percent of the functionality costs all of zero dollars. You can just go to our website and download it, and we don't even mind if you take that and begin doing commercial work with it. You got to come in at zero or that $1,500 price tag. And, with us, you're free to make as many games or even non-games as you like with that. There's not a per-title fee or anything so a very simple licensing model to let you step in and, again, begin making content for the desktop or web. Beyond that we do have an add-on license you can get for iPhone publishing, and that similarly comes in two tiers. Once again, there's Unity iPhone, which is the base version, and then now there's Unity iPhone Pro, which is the full-featured version. The base license is $399, and the Pro add-on license is $1,500. So you can ala-carte add on additional platforms as you like. And later I'm sure we're going to talk about some of our new platform announcements, and we can talk about how those fit into our licensing model. But that's what we have as of today, and we think it's clean and simple and, of course, a very low and competitive price for the type of power and capability we give you. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: There are a couple things I'd like to pick up on in that. I think the first is this theme that Unity has of unity, of being able to author a game once and then actually have it pushed out onto very different platforms. That just sounds to me like an impossible dream. How close are you guys? TOM HIGGINS: Well, first off, I think I can agree that "author-once, deploy anywhere," it's a very idealistic dream. But as long as we're going to have a target to shoot for, we want to aim for the sky. We want to achieve the impossible if we can. Now how close are we today? I think we're quite close, but the realities of these different platforms, has some barriers in front of us. For example, your artwork and your models, when you think about the mobile device, you're talking about a very different scale of performance and capability compared to a desktop or compared to, let's say, a console as you start to consider things like Xbox and what not. So there's definitely still some work to be done, but we are extremely far along, in terms of letting you 2
  3. 3. write that core part of your project one time, and then you tweak the details, whether it's the inputs: Wiimote and Nunchuck, Touch, accelerometer, keyboard and mouse, or the art and asset side of things. But, with Unity today, your core game logic can be written once and moved anywhere. So we've got some work to do, but we definitely are very empowering today, and that's definitely resonating with a lot of our users already. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Can you give us a sense of your client base? I guess both numbers overall and then maybe any high-profile examples you'd like to highlight. TOM HIGGINS: Sure. The numbers that we can share have been extremely exciting lately, and most of that is, in fact, in the wake of having made Unity that base license for free. And just to give you a sense of the kind of growth we're getting. Last October, we would have cited a number in the eight to nine thousand registered users range. Whereas, today the number we cite is on the order of a hundred and ten thousand. So that's over a hundred thousand users that have joined the fold in the last six months, which is incredibly exciting for us. Now, of those new users, there needs to be the question asked of how many are actively using Unity to develop content today. And there's probably some number that downloaded Unity and tried it once or twice, and maybe they dabble with little projects. But the number of active professional developers is going to be some other small slice of that. But a small slice of a hundred thousand means we've more than likely doubled the content-developing user base, which is incredible. Now among those--you ask about high-profile clients, we've got some folks like Electronic Arts. We've got the likes of Disney who's released titles in the past. We've got LEGO, who just came onboard with us, signing a three-year deal to do a number of new high-profile projects for their site, using Unity. And those are the nice ones from a marketing perspective so they make great bullet points that everybody knows. But I think the real bonus of Unity is that it lets people on the smaller end of the scale achieve the big dream. And the likes of Mika Mobile who created Zombieville USA for the iPhone last year, which was a total runaway hit, and the initial version of that was made by one guy in about four to five weeks of development time. So to me, those are the real rock stars of our community because they show that Unity really does empower everybody from the small end up to the big end. So yeah, we've got those big guys onboard now, and more seem to be coming, but, to me, the real dream and excitement comes on the smaller end when we can see individuals live out that dream. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: You referred to the democratization of game development, and along those lines we have a question from Stephan Mrigesh, seconded by Cooper Macbeth, "Do you have a payment plan option for small at-home businesses? Is your price set, or do you have a sliding scale?" Obviously you mentioned a free product, but this would be for the additional licensing. TOM HIGGINS: Yeah. For our paid licenses, we don't have any kind of payment plans or any kind of structured payment along the way. And this is the main reason why we decided to make the base license free and open for commercial development. A lot of competitors put out a free license, and it's often referred to as some kind of a learning edition, and you can't export from it or things like that. We prefer to put it out there and let you commercially develop with it so that you can use that to make your first web game, to raise the $400 to buy that first iPhone add-on, and then to use that to follow our upgrade path and use that essentially as a structured payment option. But, as it is now, we don't have that. That presents a little more work and operational difficulties than we've wanted to cope with for now. Who knows what the future will bring. We have tossed around a number of ideas, but, as of today, that's not available, but we feel that you can use that base license or base license with Unity iPhone. And then we provide a seamless and painless upgrade process that you can just add on these new bits or upgrade and just plug in a new serial number and keep working and use that as your bridge on up to the higher licenses. 3
  4. 4. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: To what extent do you have Unity users sharing code or objects or modules on a website? Is that something you actively support? Are they doing that on their own? TOM HIGGINS: Well, yes and yes is the nice part about it. I want to say first and foremost I cannot speak highly enough of the community surrounding Unity. It's a very active group of people, a very supportive group. And the central hub for it tends to be the Unity community forums that we host, as well as a great IRC channel that goes on. And, in both of those areas, you're going to find people at the ready to answer questions that share code, that share hardcore sales information about their iPhone games so that all of them can kind of grow together and support each other. So it goes on because we have that forum area, but it also goes on just because people are out there in a very kind of self-supporting collaborative way. I cite those two as the main hubs. Keep in mind there's also a unified community Wiki, where people are posting their own tutorials and code bits. There are third-party forum sites showing up. It's an extremely supportive community that, even without our encouragement, I think would be doing this on its own. And then you add our encouragement in, and it just makes it all the stronger. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I see Keystone Bouchard, who actually made the assets we're sitting in, in our Metanomics studio right now, is saying, "I wish there were more prefab assets available--user interface, avatars, etcetera--if not from Unity Tech, but from the community. It's very difficult to have to build literally everything from scratch." Are you seeing the art assets as well? Because it sounded like you mentioned a lot of code, but not much about the actual 3D modeling. TOM HIGGINS: I would say that for now it probably has skewed more towards the coding side, and I will definitely recognize the fact that we could do better in providing a common ground for people to share. For now we do have our forums, and there's a collaboration section, and that gets a little bit jumbled at times because it's where folks post when they have a job or a contract available. It's where folks can post and essentially say, "We'll code for art," or people will model for code. And it does get a bit confusing at times. While I can't divulge the full details, I can say that this is squarely on our radar, not only in terms of providing some kind of a common area for folks to sell or exchange products and services, but for ourselves to create some more assets and have those ready out of the box for you. So it's just that we haven't had the bandwidth as a company to focus on those things so much as the core technology. But we had a lot of growth in our company last year, and a distinct advantage of all those extra bodies is that we can do a lot more. And our plans for this year and beyond include this as an item to get a lot of attention. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Let me just encourage our listeners to keep those questions and comments coming. This is the great advantage of having a show like this in a Virtual World, so please do type into Chat and we'll get Tom to reply. I'd like to follow up on something else that you mentioned, Tom, which is, you've referred a couple times to non-game applications. What do you mean? TOM HIGGINS: Well, for Unity's history so far, we've done a lot of marketing and focused our efforts around being a game-development tool. And primarily that's been in the "games for entertainment" space. That's worked extremely well for us, and it's allowed us to kind of go after that segment vigorously. But the reality is, the features that we offer and the performance and capability that we offer have use well beyond simply the "games for entertainment" space. And we want to start focusing on that a bit more, not only because it'll help us grow the business, but also because there's a distinct advantage to be offered when folks are considering things like adver-gaming, where these are branded game experiences or branded like a car-driving game on to medical visualization, data visualization, architecture walkthroughs, training in simulation, things of that nature, where--as large as the game industry is and it's quite big; we're rivaling the movie industry now. 4
  5. 5. When you look at something like training in simulation worldwide, it is ten to a hundred times larger than the games industry. So we want to bring those industries to the Unity market and will allow our developers notify them, educate them to think about those and look for work because it's a great opportunity for them to find jobs and create some cool content. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I see Reapazor seems to be very familiar with your Unity products and refers to Serious Games. So that's the direction you see, at least a direction you see Unity going. TOM HIGGINS: Correct. And he is, in fact, a Unity user. I talk about people that are out in the forums and our IRC channel, and he's exactly one of those people that's out there answering questions and helping others every day. So we are definitely already well acquainted. And, yeah, of course, Serious Games is something where people do this kind of training in simulation-based games or things like that, so that's definitely part of that "It's not just for games anymore" activity that we're going after. So there's a lot of opportunity and potential out there, and we're just going to do some reaching out to those folks so that, when a medical-visualization company comes to our website, they're not put off by, "Oh, this is just a game technology." We want to give them a landing page that shows them exactly what we mean because, when they see the types of medical visualizations you could do with our product, we think that could be a very compelling sell feature for them. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: We've had a few questions come in, and a couple are very nuts and bolts. Here's one. Dahlia Trimble asks whether there will be discounts for 3.0 for those of us who just bought Unity Pro within the last couple of weeks. TOM HIGGINS: Everything in our store right now is already discounted somewhere from 20 to 35 percent, depending upon the license that you purchase. We've had a lot of folks express concern over the fact that they just purchased, and here we are with 3.0 right away. Part of what I want to make sure that people understand is that we are pre-announcing Unity 3.0 months and months in advance. A lot of folks out there in the development industry want companies to be more open and transparent about their development efforts, and that's exactly what we're doing now is, instead of waiting until May or June to announce that Unity 3.0 is right around the corner, we took GDC as a launching point to say, "Hey, in four, five, six months, we're going to be putting this product out," and allowing people to pre-purchase well in advance. So everything already is discounted, and you're going to get discounts on top of our already discounted upgrade pricing. An upgrade of major versions is half the cost of a full license, and then, on top of that, we discounted that upgrade pricing by another 33 percent. So we're trying to do that now already and then layer that with pre-release build access and the like. We're doing that today, and we feel it's a pretty compelling offer. But anyone that feels like they're already paying too much and they maybe just made a purchase, too, recently, you can always contact our sales team, and we're willing to look at anyone's individual case and make sure that you're feeling taken care of and treated fairly. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: One of the wonderful things about active chat during Metanomics is, I see Keystone Bouchard had a question and got an answer from Lemondrop Serendipity, a lovely name, who apparently works at Unity support. So I'll move on to another question. Hopefully this means something to you; it doesn't actually mean anything to me, I'm not that much of a programmer. But toBe Destiny is asking about the use of BIM, Building Information Models, in Unity. TOM HIGGINS: Sure. At a base line, Unity supports FBX, OBJ, 3DS because these are kind of common industry formats amongst mostly the games industry. And part of this reach-out to, let's say, architecture and visualization is going to be defined: What are the formats that are important to those audiences? What are the common formats that are used across kind of CAD computer-aided drafting tools and things of that nature? So you can't use something custom like BIM models. I say custom because, to us as a game engine until now, that appears custom. But you can certainly find converters that would bring that over to an FBX format and then allow you to bring that into Unity straight away. So there are paths to do it, but we need to, again, reach out to those developers and find out what are the important tools, and, if 5
  6. 6. format conversion is one of them, then that's one of the things that we'd like to get noted and see about putting it on our roadmap to work on later. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Let's see now, we had another question. I'm forgetting who asked this. Oh, here it is. Cooper Macbeth actually points out that the iPhone is not the only phone in the world, although sometimes it seems that way. So can you talk a little bit about your plans for non-iPhone support? I think you mentioned Droid, right? TOM HIGGINS: Yeah. At the beginning of last week, on Monday we put out a pretty exciting press release that had two components to it. One component was talking about new platforms, and the other component was discussing Unity 3.0. And, in the new platforms bit, we actually did announce that we are committed to and working on support for Android. We definitely recognize that the iPhone is not the only smart phone, not the only mobile platform of interest, and so Android is the next on our to-do list. But, if you look in general outside of the "i" products--iPhone and iPod Touch, and we can talk about the iPad, next we have Android--take any other mobile platform you can think of, and we've got quite a number of dev kits and contacts at various companies. We're looking at everything with interest, and it's just a matter of time before we start rolling out support for additional platforms because that fits in with our "author-once, deploy anywhere" dream. We want people to go where there's an available marketplace. And so, on the mobile side, we're still very early in that Android being next, and we'll see what comes after that. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I have a more general question about what the growth of mobile devices means for gaming, more generally. And I have to say I guess I'm sort of old school in the sense that the games that I'm used to are playing Doom 3 on my console, whether it's an Xbox or PlayStation, sort of the big immersive experiences or playing Oblivion on a console or a computer. My wife actually loves the old thief, Fan Missions. So I'm wondering where you see gaming on these mobile devices going. Do you see these big platforms becoming far less popular, or are people going to try to recreate them on small screens? TOM HIGGINS: Well, I don't think either of those is quite true. I'll start with myself. Look, I'm still very much a console gamer. I'm happy to go out and go spend money on a console game and go home and play it for 40, 50, 60 hours, whatever kind of game play is involved. And, five, ten years ago, that was the dominant part of the games industry. That isn't going away at all. That's still there. It's just the growth in the games industry we really have seen has been on this casual side, and that's the rise of the web game and now increasingly the rise of the mobile game. So I don't think those are going away, the kind of high-level console or dedicated desktop games. What we are going to see on the mobile space is the presence of casual games, and then, more importantly, games that span across all the platforms. We actually had a couple of guys from Electronic Arts, Richard Hilleman and John Sousa, present in our keynote at Unite; that's our yearly developer conference. And even they talked about this. and what Electronic Arts is seeing is that it's about trying to capture a user when they have that slice of time to play your game, and that might be, on the train on their mobile phone. That might be when they're at the office, with a half an hour before a meeting, in their browser. And that might also be when they're at home for two or three hours with their computer or console. And it's about how do you capture them in all those different places. And that's where I think a tool like Unity is especially well-placed, in that you can create a single game, but offer multiple inputs and multiple experiences to that same game. So you wouldn't be recreating that entire desktop experience on the iPhone or on Android, you'd be creating a unique iPhone or Android experience for that game that maybe is avatar customization. Maybe it is inventory management. Maybe it's some small slice of game play. But the idea being that you allow people to enjoy your content and enjoy your game whenever and wherever. And I think, as mobile platforms get more powerful, those experiences can be more and more compelling. So I think it's a bit of all of that across the board. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I see Valiant Westland is chiming in with, "The next generation of games will be played on a mobile device that's acting as a client to a cloud-based MMO game engine." 6
  7. 7. TOM HIGGINS: I don't know that that's "the" future, but that is definitely part of it for sure. The game space is changing so rapidly right now because these mobile devices have gotten exponentially more powerful. The rise of cloud computing, the nature of games being more and more multiplayer, here in Second Life being a clear example of that. The days of the single-person experience being the dominant way you play games, those are over, and folks want to be in an environment whether it's here directly interacting with others or games on social media websites, like Facebook, where they want to share stats and information, to being on a mobile device where you want to interact and share information all in one, those are a focal point of the future of games, I think. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And let's talk about the iPad. You're in kind of an interesting position because you're probably seeing further into the future of the iPad than most people. What do you see? TOM HIGGINS: Well, further into the future of the iPad than most people, I think our crystal ball is in the shop, getting some work done right now. Like a lot of people, we have our own questions about where the iPad is going in particular. We have our visions. I think it's a unique new device that is going to change the way people look at computing and power and portability. So I think it's going to do some neat and exciting things, whether you're talking medical applications where you've got a nice tablet touch, visually rich interface, and games that use multi-touch in a way that your fingers don't cloud so much of the screen real estate. I think that's been one of the downsides to the iPhone and iPod Touch is that, even if I just put two thumbs on the screen, that's actually a significant percentage of the screen area, and I don't have giant, ogre thumbs; they're actually very petite and nice, but you lose too much real estate on that. And now, with this larger screen, it's going to be exciting to see what people do and the game-play mechanics that people are going to come up with, now that your fingers aren't such a large percentage of that real estate. So definitely exciting thing that we're all eagerly awaiting next month in the launch of the device, and we've got our engineers working hard to deliver support for our developers on the iPad, as close to day zero as possible. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Can you talk a little bit about who you see as your competitors? TOM HIGGINS: Well, there's a lot of folks that we see as our competitors. We can start in our close neighborhood, if you will, and, for that, one of the ones we've been looking at the longest has, of course, been Torque. They really compete with us when we're talking about desktop games, as well as iPhone and web-based games. On the iPhone, I think we're pretty well ahead of them in terms of offering a far more compelling package. And, on the web, while they do offer a plug-in, you're still building from source code. And you can trust me that pushing a plug-in and convincing people to install it is a difficult task. And so I don't think they're really in a position to compete with us large-scale on the web. The next company I think that we look at a lot, in terms of competition, is ShiVa. And it's funny, because just two nights ago I was actually presenting at the Silicon Valley iPhone Developers Group, and it was a game engine shootout, where there was myself and the CTO from Stonetrip; they make ShiVa. And it was a side-by-side comparison of the two engines. I do think we offer a more compelling package, albeit at a higher price than what they're charging now, but they are an up-and-coming company that is very hungry, and they are where we were two years ago. So they're definitely someone to keep an eye on, and we need to make sure that we stay at least a few steps ahead, and I think we're there today. Then, as we look forward, we obviously want to continue eating into the Flash market on the web, specifically as it relates to games as they are now and then on up to the top tier engines on the console. They're a bit further out on our roadmap plans, but anything that allows you to make games, we look at as a potential competitor. But those that I just mentioned, really, Torque, ShiVa and Flash are the three products that we look at most for how can we keep the market share away from them. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I see that Rupert Glenwalker is the second person in the last ten minutes or so to raise the issue of Unity and Second Life. I'm wondering: Is Second Life on your radar screen? Do you see any possibilities there that you could be of value to Second Life users or vice versa? 7
  8. 8. TOM HIGGINS: Obviously Second Life is a huge user base, has been around for quite a while, and so, clearly, it's of keen interest for us as a technology company. Any time you're making a 3D run time, you have to look at the technologies that are already out there. Now I didn't mention Second Life as a competitor because it's a very different experience that's being offered here and a very different kind of user attraction that brings folks to Unity versus Second Life. Certainly, there's a lot of discussion in our office and a lot of interest from us as a technology provider, but there's nothing kind of officially that we put out there as a strategy for how do we want to cope with, work with or get involved in Second Life. But there are some behind-the-scenes conversations as we reach out to anyone, whether it's Linden Lab, whether it's NVIDIA, whether it's Sony and their game studios or their hardware production, if there's anybody out there that's in an interesting related technology, you can bet on the fact that we've put some feelers out to establish relationships just to get the conversations going across the board because there's a lot of potential for our technology, and we want to see where it fits best. So nothing specific to commit to, other than a keen interest from a lot of folks in our office, and Lemondrop is out there answering questions in the chat. She's a long-time Second Life user, and, being she works in our office, she keeps us apprised of any interesting developments and details. So that's where it's at, at a keen interest phase, but we're still working on what kind of business strategy we might develop around it. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. One thing that I wondered about, of course, one of my primary uses of Second Life is as a venue for virtual conferencing. Just to clarify, I assume that just about any of the platforms you're talking about would actually support multiplayer gaming with Unity. Is that right? TOM HIGGINS: That's correct. And we want to encourage that. Again, the age of single player being the dominant experience is gone, and multiplayer can involve real-time interactions. It can involve turn-based interactions, or it can be simply looked at as sharing of status and information so that you're constantly measuring yourself against friends, which is more of the old-school leaderboard style. And all of those, across the board, we want to have supported. They currently are supported on all of our platforms, the only exception as of today being the Wii console, and we're working on that with Nintendo, to see what we can offer in those regards. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Let's see. Just sorting through these questions here. You gave me a quote you said that the founders of Unity use, "We want to create the media we consumed when we were kids." TOM HIGGINS: Yes. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: But what implications does that observation have? TOM HIGGINS: Well, that quote came from Nicholas Francis, who's one of our founders, and he's our chief creative officer. That comes from him personally because, prior to starting this company, he was trying to kick off a career as an independent filmmaker. Luckily for all of us, that filmmaking career didn't work out, and he started this company, but that was born of the idea that, as kids, I remember vividly seeing movies like ET and Star Wars, and making films always seemed out of reach. It required expensive cameras and equipment that the average person didn't have access to. And then as I moved into my teen years, well, the age of the handheld video camera came into full bloom, where someone at home could go get a computer and a video camera and, for quite a bit less money, begin making films, whether it was just something that we'd now see up on YouTube or posted like that. And so, as kids, we saw this media, films, and now, as teens and young adults, we could make it. Today kids have grown up on the web and computer experience, the 3D game or 3D environment experience. Now as they are teens or young adults, they want to make that media that they saw when they were young. And part of our mission of bringing game-development tools to everyone is, we want to empower that dream. So we've got users, one who's out here in Sacramento, California, who's just 16 or 8
  9. 9. 17 years old, and he already has 20-plus games on the App Store. He grew up playing and consuming, if you will, games, and here he is now able to create those before he's even out of high school. So it's that notion that you see all this media, and it's what excites you as a kid, and, when you grow up, you want to be a part of that, and we think that's a nice vision to support. And it's part of what we all have inside of ourselves already. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Boy! I shouldn't have referred to that quote of "media we consumed when we were kids" because apparently a lot of our audience is now having bad flashbacks to either The Brady Bunch or my favorite on this list H.R. Pufnstuf. So any of you who remember H.R. Pufnstuf, I personally apologize. Go ahead. TOM HIGGINS: I was going to say I apologize as well. Sorry. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit about the challenges that you see Unity facing, and, in particular, it seems like from the way you're talking what I see is fairly rapid technological development and rapid growth in your user base. And those can both be big challenges to tech firms. If you could just talk about whether you think those challenges are a concern and how you're dealing with them. TOM HIGGINS: Well, yes, they are challenges. Let me actually start a bit internally as well because our company is growing quite fast. I came onboard three years ago, and there were five of us. Now we are at 60-plus so that we can take on multiple agenda, handle multiple platforms in parallel instead of in series. Starting internally, growth is a challenge because we have a particular vision, and we want to bring people on that feel like they can get behind that vision, that don't look at this as just a job, that are particularly excited to be here. And so far we've done really well with that, and our staff is incredible, but we are going to continue hiring throughout this year, and growing the company while keeping that fun, creative and into-it vibe is one definite challenge that we face kind of when we turn inside and look within our own walls. As we look externally, "author-once, deploy anywhere" is not an easy vision to achieve. As you said in the beginning, we take the pain so you don't have to, and that's a lot of pain to take on as we try and look at machines as far-ranging as a mobile device, like the iPhone, on up to something like a dedicated console. There are a lot of technical challenges in there on top of moving hardware platforms that seem to come out new and more powerful or different every year. So the technology challenge is huge, but we go back to that first part about bringing people onboard that are really passionate and don't just see this as a job, but as something that they really get into. We have the energy and the willingness to go after those hard problems. Then the final one as you mentioned: growth of the community and how difficult is that. It is hard because early on in our community, back two years ago, it was a very small and tight-knit group, and you really felt like you knew everyone in a close and personal way. I love the growth that we've had. I welcome everybody to the Unity community, but, as you do that, the face of the community can shift and change based on all these new users coming onboard. And luckily for us this is where I'll again speak highly of those that are out there. Our community has been very self-moderating, hasn't needed any kind of a heavy hand from us to stay in that same vibe and feeling, it's just happened organically because the people were attracting into the fold their creative people. They have ideas of their own, and they're finding Unity to be the tool that empowers them to do that so that they come onboard and kind of jump in and are at the ready to help others right away. So they're all things that we need to watch, and, on the community side, we've got plans that we want to work on this year and beyond, to keep it strong and to keep it healthy. On the inside, we're taking a very careful approach at our hiring and growth. We don't want to hire just for hiring's sake. We want to make sure that they're the right people for the right job. And, on the technology front, we're out there every day getting those new dev kits, trying those new products, trying out different technologies from other competitors, to make sure that we're keeping ourselves honest and working on the right stuff. So it's a tough job, but we're all happy to be here and putting in those extra hours to make 9
  10. 10. sure we do it all well. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: You're primarily a 3D development tool. Is that right? TOM HIGGINS: Yeah. I mean out of the box, yes. When you go to our website, a lot of the content you see featured tends to be 3D, and that is kind of our main usage point, but 2D content is very much a possibility. I'll go all the way back to where I talked earlier on about Mika Mobile, this one-man shop that made Zombieville USA; that's a 2D game. We have lots of cases of people making 2D content. The workflow that we have in our product isn't quite as optimal for the 2D developer as it is for the 3D developer, but that's feature sets that we're working on going forward because we want to make their lives as smooth and efficient as the 3D developers. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Let's see. Let's talk a little bit about the GDC, the Game Developers Conference that you just came back from. I think we've covered most of the announcements that you guys made in your press releases. If I missed one, please be sure now to let us know. But I'd be interested in just getting an impression of how you think Unity was received and how you see the game-development community overall and its current state. TOM HIGGINS: Sure. Well, let's start with the announcements bit because I know, as dev relations guy and somebody who works with PR and marketing, I would be remiss in my duties to not make those clear. We also did announce, as part of that Unity 3.0 and committing to Android support, we mentioned that, of course, we're doing iPad right away, and the other big new one is PlayStation 3. Last October we announced Xbox support. So Unity is now committed to being on all the major game platforms and then two of the bigger mobile platforms. And then we had some big news in that Bigpoint Studios, based here in San Francisco, is going to be using Unity for a super-cool Battlestar Galactica MMO. We talk about media as kids. Battlestar Galactica was a show that I definitely loved as a kid and am happy to see making a comeback now some 30 years later. But those were the big-ticket news items, and those tie in with the GDC experience because that brought a lot of extra people to our booth, which was larger than we've ever had. We had more staff than we've ever brought out for GDC, and the booth traffic was absolutely insane. The number of people coming by and asking us for demos, asking us about our product in the future, was stunning, how many people were there. And what's nice about this year compared to last year was the quality of interest. Last year it was a lot of people saying, "I've never heard of Unity. What do you do?" This year it's people saying, "All I hear about is Unity, and I want to see a demo." Because now they do know that we're a game-development tool. Moving off the expo floor, I have two presentations myself: one that was about iPhone development, and another that was about games for social media platforms sponsored by MySpace. But what was nice about being in the session environment was the fact that you heard our names in the hallway. You heard our name in presentations and speeches. You saw our logo in more places, and it felt like our presence was so much stronger, not only on the show floor, but off the show floor as well. I found myself being stopped in the hallway about every five minutes just because I was wearing my white shirt with the Unity logo on it. So overall, GDC was a success beyond what we could have expected. We got a lot of new business. We got a lot of new people interested in our product and technology and, of course, spoke to countless existing developers that were onsite and just wanted to come and meet us and show us their cool demos. So a complete and total success in our minds, that we couldn't have asked better. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Great. A couple comments. One from Keystone Bouchard saying a couple things. He didn't hear you talk about in Unity 3.0 that he finds exciting, and I admit I don't know what these are exactly: "Integrated Beast lightmapping, deferred rendering, integrated occlusion culling, etcetera. If even half of it works, it will be pretty impressive." So if you want to respond to any of that? TOM HIGGINS: Sure. I mean I can talk about the new features that we've announced, and, to Keystone out there, let me tell you they are all working, and those are features that we actually were demonstrating 10
  11. 11. on the show floor. They're not done, obviously, otherwise we'd be shipping a whole lot sooner and would have announced a while ago. But Beast lightmapping, in the 3D world this is a technique to bake in all of your lighting effects so that you can have nice rich shadows and the like and do that without the performance hit at runtime, so you do it while you're actually creating content. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Mm-hmm. TOM HIGGINS: And prior to today, that required artist work. You had to external into your Maya 3D Studio MAX, what have you, and do the lightmap work there and then bring that into the editor itself. Whereas, now you can set all that up inside the editor, and this can be a real time-saver. What if the lightmap needs to change? The level designer comes in and says, "No, the light isn't there. We need to move that street lamp to the other side of the street." That required going back to the artists, having them do a bunch of work and then bringing that back into the editor, whereas now, inside the editor you move the light. You hit the button to re-bake your lightmaps, and you just keep right on working. And Beast is an industry leader. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So it's both in development and in real-time experience for the user that makes a big difference. TOM HIGGINS: Exactly. And the technology like Beast, if anyone goes out and prices it, what it would cost for them to license it individually, it's a very high-dollar item so it's extremely expensive. But when we're doing a licensing deal through them, where we can do it in bulk, we get the advantage of being able to just include it in the product right out of the box, and somebody gets that for no extra cost out of their pocket. The other items that Keystone mentioned, differed rendering, this is a technique that allows people to do even richer and more involved scenes. Occlusion culling is a performance enhancer, again, lets you easily add extra detail and content to the scene. We haven't even talked about we're adding integrated debugger. We're doing improvements to our audio engine. The list of new features there on our site is extremely compelling as it is. And then the scary part is that on the bottom is, we say, "and more." Because we've still got a few buns in the over that we're cooking. So there's going to be a few extra items once the final feature set is decided. So it's going to be an incredible release that we put out later this year. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: How about support for media sharing? When you have multiple people in an environment, can you support sharing of media screen-sharing, things like that? TOM HIGGINS: There are some things that you can do, but this gets into a bit of an area where we could stand to do some additional feature work, and we've talked about some. But things like if you wanted to see what my game screen was showing, you could, in a multiplayer experience instead of literally sharing your monitor screen, the game screen could be shared by having a second camera on my side. If I literally wanted to see your desktop, for example, for like an online meeting type application, that's not something we support yet, but there are notions around our office whether it's more on the augmented reality side of things on up to that's more application development. We haven't gotten there yet, but those are directions that we've looked at, just don't have squarely on our radar ready for announcements or commitments just yet. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay, great. I think we're nearly at the top of the hour. Is there anything that we haven't hit on, any points you'd like to make in closing? TOM HIGGINS: No. I think we've really covered the big-ticket items of interest here. We work really, really hard to make Unity a tool that anybody can use, and, again, that comes in terms of the cost and expense, over to the features and ease of use and approachability. And we don't want to make just something that's easy to get into but takes you nowhere. It's easy to get into, and we want it to take you everywhere that you want to go. And those are the big things that I want folks to understand, that we're 11
  12. 12. committed to that. Our free product isn't here today and going to be gone tomorrow. It's something we're committed to in perpetuity. We really like what we do, and we like staying this course. We're here to help you as developers achieve your dreams. That's why we're in the tools business so we're very serious about it and want folks to know that. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Thank you very much for joining us, Tom Higgins, a product evangelist of Unity Technologies. I appreciate your time. TOM HIGGINS: Well, definitely thanks for having me. I'm glad to have been able to come here and chat with folks and share a bit about what we do at Unity Technologies. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Great. Let me just recommend to our viewers, if you didn't get a chance to click on those links and see some of those demos at the Unity website, Jennette, maybe you can pop some of those links in again so people can take a look after the show. Thanks to our guest, Tom Higgins. I'm just going to close with a couple comments of my own. I hadn't actually intended today to do a Connecting The Dots, but I just do want to say something very briefly because I wonder if some of our viewers are thinking, "Why in the world is Rob talking with someone who's building a game-development platform in a show that is usually focused on rather different things?" I guess the point I'd like to make is, first of all, Connecting The Dots between Unity and Second Life because I think we can view both of them as actually companies providing tools for a development community. And, clearly, I think we saw in Tom's comments how much they value their community and how important it is for them to be sensitive to the needs of their community as they upgrade their product and how they need to work with that community and, of course, how dependent the community is on the decisions Unity makes. Some of you make get the sense that I am referring to all of the debate and discussion surrounding Linden Lab's change in the Second Life Viewer, which has certainly been very important to those who are developing within Second Life. And so I just have really a very simple point to make, which is, here's how I think we, as residents of the Second Life development community need to be thinking about this. And what I think we need to do is remember the serenity prayer, "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference." As much input as community developers would like to have into the products that they are working with and depending on, we need to understand our role in this matter, which is not to be telling Linden Lab what to do, but being sure to communicate to Linden Lab what we want, and we need to identify the things that we can change. We actually have a lot of power to respond to changes in the platform we are given. We also need to accept the things that we cannot change. After all, it is Linden Lab's product. So anyway, it's just an observation, and I hope it will give some of you who are struggling with Viewer 2.0, a little bit of serenity. So thank you all. One last point as I look forward to the coming weeks, we've got some interesting shows coming up. There's still a little uncertainty about next week. I can't quite announce it yet, but look on the web to see what we're doing then. We'll be having Tom Hale later on in March. And our hundredth show is April 7 so be sure to tune in for that, which should be very interesting, and maybe we'll do some things a little differently for that episode. A closing word: I'd just like to give a shout out to Bevan Whitfield on her third rez day in Second Life. Many of you know Bevan is a tireless supporter and promoter not just of Metanomics but of many, many other activities that are important to people in Second Life, including the upcoming MetaMeets Conference that is going to be in Dublin. So happy rez day, Bevan. Thanks for all the stuff you've been doing for Metanomics. Everyone should definitely check out what's going on with MetaMeets, and maybe you can see her there in person. Rob Bloomfield signing off for this week's Metanomics. Bye bye. 12
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