When we talk about games we occasionally tend to talk about the graphics, the audio, gameplay, but we rarely think about what’s behind all of that: the engine. We hear about Frostbite, EA’s proprietary engine that’s been largely advertised and is responsible for most of their projects, Unreal, behind a lot of some of the biggest AAA releases, and the CryEngine, known for being the driving force behind Crysis.
But last week, a controversy surrounding Unity brought to the discussion the image of these engines. A consumer on steam claimed that he wouldn’t buy a game specifically because it was built using Unity. And many wondered why would anybody give up playing a title simply because of the engine used. The answer is brand awareness.
Every decision a company makes, from the color of the product, specs, sounds it does, to the strategy used to advertise it, all of that aims at brand awareness. That basically consists of the image that a company or a product has on the market. The sound the Xbox does when it boots wasn’t chosen by accident, after all, they use at E3, in trailers, all to create a connection with consumers, an identity, a sound that becomes synonymous with the brand, that it doesn’t matter where you are, you recognize it.
Apple is a master at that, from the aspect of the stores, with a clean look mainly composed of glass and a minimalistic approach to its layout, to the box, that according to Steve Jobs should be an experience when opened. The design of their products, focusing on round shapes, the OS that has a friendlier user experience, the integration of the systems, to create the idea of an ecosystem that works perfectly in conjunction. All of that to change or create the perception of the consumer.
And when it comes to brand awareness, Unity has a very negative reputation. In part because of poor decisions from management, but mainly because of the games that use the engine. The simplest of the most famous, Unity has made their name as the easiest to use, allowing a user without much game development experience to create a game with less technical hurdles than Unreal and CryEngine.
However, an irresponsible use of assets by developers and an association with low-quality early access games have tarnished the image of not only the engine, as well as the company.
The abusive use of assets from their store has also been responsible for their image problem, with many cases in which we can see the same models and problems in various different games that use Unity.
Developers have used them indiscriminately, with a lot of them using the free license, that requires users to attach their logo to the game, so whenever you start a horrible, poorly designed game and you see their main source of recognition in the splash screen, you relate it to a bad experience.
Many of these titles proliferated through Steam Early Access, and even though we can find many using CryEngine and Unreal, Unity has been the most linked to them.
Another factor is that whereas the other engines appear to be used mainly on AAA games, we rarely see that happening with Unity. The most high-profile project using it is Hearthstone, that is not the kind of game that feels like AAA. Just look at some famous games powered by these engines.
From what we’ve seen, this situation apparently won’t change that quickly, as the company doesn’t appear to be all that bothered about it. And that could quickly result in a bad ending for them, particularly after the backlash it has suffered recently.
If they are responsible, working on a rebranding focused on attaching their product with quality games, looking to sway the notion gamers have of them, everything can change quickly. If no action is taken, they can either accept that they will never be among the best engines or even worse, become another company that died due to irresponsible management, that didn’t take the market’s viewpoint seriously.