Posted on January 21, 2011 by Doolwind

Is There A Unity Penetration Issue?

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?