Unity 3D and Unreal Engine are probably the most widely used game Engines in existence. Together, they have been used by teams large and small to create all types of games across all platforms. They have also found wide usage in non-gaming scenarios like Architectural Visualisation and 3D Simulation. The objective here is to compare the two and not to choose a winner. We hope that this will help give you a better insight and aid you in your selection.
Up until the last generation, Unreal Engine was primarily used to build a lot of high budget AAA games on the major consoles and desktop. Unity, on the other hand has found studios building games targeted towards mobile, browser and other portable platforms. In terms of graphical ability, Unreal has always been one of the top engines in the world. While this is still largely true, the latest iterations of both engines aim to change that and each has tried to incorporate features that lets the developer target almost all platforms and make all kinds of games and simulations.
The editors in both Engine are quite feature packed and allow rapid design and development of game and graphic elements. Both feature powerful scene editors, project asset navigator, customisable layout and quick testing and deployment mechanism. They also feature a workflow for developing 2D games. The Unity Editor has always been quite intuitive and it has seen further refinement over the years. Compared to the previous version, the new Unreal Editor is much easier to use and can give the Unity Editor a run for its money. However, the Unreal Editor also has higher system requirements than Unity. Both Engines have some really great documentation and tutorial videos to help users get started.
Marketplace and Plugins
The Unity Marketplace has online for some years now and has some really amazing plugins tailor made for every aspect of game development. It ranges from graphics assets to script libraries and UI components. The Unreal Marketplace is barely a month old and it already has quite a few impressive items. It is too early to say if it will be as extensive as the Unity Marketplace.
For many studios, this is one of the biggest considerations to make when it comes to choosing the technology that they want to use. Both Unity and Unreal have very different pricing models that give the user plenty of choices to select from.
If you are not looking to spend any money, then Unity has a free version of its Engine which can be used to build and publish commercial games and other applications on major desktop and mobile platforms. The free version is almost fully-featured and only lacks a few advanced features. Games published with this also have a default Unity splash screen which cannot be removed. Companies with a turnover in excess of US $100,000 have to use the Pro versions.
The paid version of Unity complicates things slightly as they have separate packages for targeting different platforms. Unity Pro has advanced Rendering, Video and Audio features including a darker skin for the Editor. The main Unity Pro version costs $1,500 and allows publishing on desktop platforms and Windows Phone out of the box. To publish Unity pro projects on iOS or Android, users have to purchase two separate add-ons which cost the same as the main Pro version.
Unity also comes with a monthly subscription model where Unity Pro and the iOS and Android plugins each cost $75 per month. Unity asks developers to get in touch with them for any of the following usage scenarios.
- Developing Gambling Content.
- Educational, serious games, such as simulation, visualization and training.
- PS4, PS3, PS Vita, PS Mobile, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and WiiU deployment.
- Embedding, cloud distribution or to access Unity source code
See here for more details on Unity pricing.
Unlike Unity, Unreal Engine 4 does not have any free version and its licensing model is totally subscription based. Anyone who wants to have access to the Engine and all its features, including source code will have to pay $19 per month. The fact that Epic are giving full source code access at this price is quite amazing. Console developers will still have to get in touch with Epic to have access to source code due to contractual obligations with Microsoft and Sony. If the developer than uses the engine to ship a commercial game, then Unreal requires the developer to give them 5% of gross revenue after the first $3,000 per game per calendar quarter. No royalties are due for people who are doing things like Visualisations and showcases. It is also free for Educational usage.
The subscription is not time-bound and the user can cancel it anytime and still carry on using the installed Engine for as long as they want to. If they want any new updates, then they would have to renew their subscription. It is entirely possible to take a month’s subscription, get the updates and cancel it again. For indie developers and smaller teams, this is quite a useful thing.
See here for Unreal Engine FAQ, including pricing.
All this means that the developer will have to factor in things like target platform(s), number of developers, development cycle, projected game sales, etc. when making the decision. Both models have their pros and cons and the choice entirely depends on the scenario that fits the developer best.
Both engines require the developer to get in touch with them for publishing on consoles.
The real winner here is the end-user as both engines are fantastic and have plenty of bells and whistles to make the development process more streamlined to let the developers do what they do best – create amazing games.