Is There A Unity Penetration Issue?

January 21, 2011

I hear a lot of game developers refusing to use Unity for web games because of penetration. David Edery made a point of discussing this during his keynote at GCAP last year. Today I’ve decided to formulate my thoughts on why I disagree with this argument and why I think you should be using Unity.

Multi-platform development

If, like us, you’re making games for web and iOS then this is really a no-brainer. The extra development time is not something we can afford when there’s a perfect alternative in Unity. With Flick Buddies, we developed the web and iOS version simultaneously without any extra effort. All our games in the future will see simultaneous releases for both web and iOS which will help drive customers from the free web version up to the paid iOS version.

The main argument against using Unity is that with such a low penetration rate (for arguments sake we’ll go with 1%) users will bounce from your site when they hit the Unity installation page. Taking the statistics (from Unity and others) lets go for the low end and say that 50% of users will bounce when they see the Unity installation page.

Rather than looking at it from percentage of users being lost, let’s look the other way around. If you’re developing an iOS game you can release a web version for relatively little development cost and capture 50% of the potential web market. If you were to instead create a flash version you would have the full development costs of porting the game to get 100% of the market.

Looking at the cost/benefit ratio the Unity version is a much better option. The only time this becomes a negative is if you have a highly successful game, in which case losing 50% of the market will end up costing an order of magnitude more than the development costs of porting to flash. In that case, go for it! There’s nothing stopping you from later creating the game in flash once you know there’s a large enough market for it.  Where the cost of porting the game will easily be made up by the 50% more users you’ll receive.

Another interesting point I’ve heard is that the more popular a game is, the lower the bounce rate.  If you have a highly successful game that people really want to play, the act of installing a plugin will be less of an issue for them. This goes some way to negating the lost sales for a highly successful game.

Web games only

What if you’re making web games only? In this case it’s not quite as clear cut and we have to dig a little further. I’m still inclined to go with Unity for web only games for a number of key reasons:

  1. You can give a richer game experience including 3D. While 3D is coming to Flash soon, it’s at a lot lower level requiring far more development time and cutting out many less experienced developers.
  2. Much richer tools and pipeline. I’ve previously discussed how much I love the Unity editor and asset pipeline. This lets you get your games out faster and cheaper. This saving offsets the 50% bounce rate.
  3. There’s the opportunity to have a unified language running between client and server when using C# within Unity.  This simplifies communication as well as allowing the exact same code to run at both ends if required.

The Minecraft example

I like to use Minecraft as an example of bounce rate when discussing Unity and Flash. Minecraft requires an .exe to be downloaded and run before the game can be played. This is far more intrusive than a browser plugin and yet it’s still had great success. With Unity developers can create something as successful as Minecraft with a lower bounce rate due to installation and have the ability to port to iOS and other platforms easily.

Flash was once like this

I remember when Flash was at a similar position to Unity, albeit with web pages rather than games. Many people said that you shouldn’t make websites with Flash as it required users to download a plugin if they didn’t have it. Not only did Flash reach the penetration rates it desired, times have also changed in Unity’s favour:

  1. Faster downloads mean there’s less of an issue in the download time of the plugin
  2. Seamless installation reduces the bounce rate with unsophisticated users
  3. Larger sites (like Kongregate) are getting behind Unity which makes it more trustworthy in users eyes

What can Unity Technologies do about it?

I saw a similar issue with Silverlight penetration and I find myself again thinking of inventive ways for companies to increase penetration of their plugins. This could be as simple as a referral program, offering 1-10c each time a user installs the Unity plugin on your site. This motivates developers to make awesome free games with a guaranteed return as an alternative to advertising. Unity can then buy installations for as little as $10k per 1 million users.

It’s in Unity Technologies best interest for penetration rates to go up as quickly as possible and I’d like to see a novel approach to achieving this. While the penetration rate will naturally increase over time, it will take quite a while.


What are your thoughts on Unity’s penetration rates? Is the bounce rate just too high for you to switch over?

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  • Matthew Ford

    That’s a compelling argument! Unity++ for me as a result. But O! how I want to forego learning a new platform…

  • arielsan

    First comment, I like Unity and its tools, but when you mention multi platform you have to remember Unity lacks of Linux implementation which Java does, Minecraft is one example of a game working on all PC platforms even inside a browser.

    However of course, Java has no implementation for iOS, so Unity is a better choice than Java in that case, I only wanted to mention something was missing in your arguments and I thought it was important too because you said Flash and Unity as the only options in your post.


  • Doolwind


    It’s actually quite easy and enjoyable to pick up Unity. So much is done for you!

  • Doolwind


    Thanks. That was a fairly large oversight on my behalf. The main reason is that no one I talk to uses Java as an example case against Unity so I didn’t think to mention it.

  • BigDaddio

    I believe a large part of the issue is that devs are a conservative lot. They are afraid of anything that may stand in their way. If you read the iOS dev boards regularly on Unity you will see everyone clinging to pre 3Gs notions of what you can and cannot do with your game. Meanwhile the bigger studios come out with games that cannot be played on anything older than 3Gs and sell millions.

    The type of person that will play a game on the web is used to updating flash, installing silverlight, etc. People will grab the plugin if they see the content as compelling.

  • Arowx

    Hi there just made the move to unity and launched my first unity game Cancer Wars as an online game using ( perviously I have mainly used BlitzMax and Flash as game development languages but I found Unity great once I got my head around the way it works.

    PS Cancer Wars v0.2 (beta) is here if you want to try it

    Requires a plugin ;o)

  • owen

    main barrier i find with unity is the size of the plugin and the need to be an administrator to install plugins. these issues must be resolved.

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  • acron^

    Just a brief counterpoint, Minecraft can be run in the browser and I know a lot of people who use this method instead.

  • Doolwind


    Yes, I wasn’t fully aware of this, thanks for letting us know.

  • marek

    Thanks for the post. I found it while writing Unity games and Facebook, 3d part of Game Development with Unity3d and Facebook.

    You made few important point here and I agree 100% that making decision about buying flash extension shouldn’t be rushed, especially someone is new to game development. Unity is getting more and more popular. I know you mentioned 50% bounce rate but some companies reported that depending on strategy they dont lose more than 5% visitors – which is awesome news. Thanks again!