I have twenty-two years in game development across Unreal, Unity, and multiple proprietary engines.
Unity initially broke new ground in being easily portable to all platforms, with a single code-base, previously never having been done. Write once, and it generally compiles compatible code across all platforms…hence the name “Unity”.
Over time, it became the most fully featured commercially available game engine which could be used for free, or at a low cost for independent developers. At the time, Unreal was charging $500K+ for a game license, and cheaper options were tough to utilize.
They doubled down on running easily and quickly on mobile devises with the launch of the iPhone, becoming the de-facto engine for mobile game development for iOS, and later Android. This market segment grew to account for the majority of players and game industry revenue.
They then opened up a third-party marketplace, allowing developers and asset creators to upload and sell IP on the third-market. This marketplace quickly grew to the fastest way for developers to “drag and drop” components into their prototype. Along with using widely used C# or commonly used Java-based programming languages, engineers from non-gaming backgrounds could utilize their existing skillset to get up and running quickly.
All the above led to Unity being the de-facto engine in educational courses on game development. Now the formally educated pipeline of game development students almost exclusively learn Unity.
In short, Unity prioritized developers first by:
- Low skillset barrier
- Low cost barrier
- Highly portable across platforms
- Vibrant third-party components to build faster
- Quick adoption for mobile support
- Friendly with educational institutions
These are all the reasons it’s now being widely adopted in non-gaming mediums.
However, I wouldn’t sleep on Unreal. It’s graphical power, content creation tools, particularly for animation and cinema makes it a better choice for folks like ILM. Unity’s leadership also don’t seem particularly interested in non-revenue generating activities, and we are starting to see developer block back and resentment against CEO John Riccitiello. TBD if they can hold their current lead in non-gaming.