Author once, deploy anywhere?

January 22, 2010 in Technology

A long held dream in the development world has been the idea of “author once, deploy anywhere”. To explain what is meant by that is simple, it’s the notion of being able to author your content one time, then through the simple click of a button deploy your content on any platform you like, whether that’s on the desktop, the web, gaming consoles or mobile devices. Nobody is quite there yet and there is more work to be done, but with that in mind Unity Technologies is making tremendous progress in making this dream a reality, and Unity is already used by thousands to distribute content across a variety of platforms. While the benefits of this author once deploy anywhere notion might seem clear at first blush, there are a few points worth discussing in particular, so let’s look at those in a bit more detail.

Take Advantage of Diverse Opportunities
First and foremost, the ability to have flexible publishing options allows developers to take full advantage of the opportunities that are available. What I mean by “opportunities” is that the number of viable publishing channels is on the rise, not only can developers host their own web content but they can leverage existing game portal websites, social media sites like Facebook, MySpace and many others, and of course they can look towards the booming mobile gaming market as well. The ability to easily target any or all of those channels gives developers an advantage and will allow them to make the most of each channel’s strengths in order to drive success of their titles and increase their revenue across the board.

Reach Your Users Everywhere
Following along with the above is the fact that the gaming market is shifting quite a bit, and it’s doing so in a way that makes it even more important to have games available to users through as many different channels as possible. The days of users playing games on dedicated platforms like gaming consoles or strictly desktop based aren’t gone, but there is an increasing focus and interest in games that offer portability and many points of access. At our Unite 2009 developer conference, Richard Hilleman from Electronic Arts helped drive the point home that as game developers you’re looking at having to fight for small slices of people’s time on the go more than ever, so offering them easy access to content is paramount. What that means is that your games shouldn’t be web-based or mobile-based, they should be available in as many ways as possible so users can dip in and dip out and enjoy your games wherever and whenever they like. Having easy publishing access to multiple platforms will allow you to meet the changing needs of game players and keep you ahead of the competition.

Just imagine having someone play your game online at work, then again on their smart phone on the train ride home and then yet again on their desktop later that night. Through it all you’re offering a single combined experience through multiple points of entry, letting your users access it when and where they want!

Use a Stable and Consistent Platform
The third important item of note is that it’s key to not only find a tool that allows you to reach a variety of platforms, but to find one that lets you do so efficiently and effectively, while still being able to deliver premiere content that game players will be attracted to. This is where Unity shines above all others, it provides developers with a solid technology base that allows for rapid development on top of providing fantastic performance and high-quality results. The lesson here is that you, the developer, can leverage your design and development expertise to the fullest extent as we will focus on the engine while you focus on your games!

Examples
Of course all of this might seem like a dose of marketing hot air without some specific examples, so allow me to point to a few Unity-authored games that are already spanning multiple platforms to help prove the point.

Downhill Bowling
Downhill Bowling is a game from the folks at Game Resort and it’s a title that’s available online as well as on the iPhone and iPod touch via the App Store. The game’s initial launch was done on the web via both addictinggames.com and shockwave.com, but when we released our iPhone support in the fall of 2008 it didn’t take long for the game to make it’s way on to the AppStore.

 

Max & the Magic Marker
This game is a bit different in that it doesn’t explicitly target two platforms for commercial distribution, rather it uses one, WiiWare,for commercial distribution and another, the web, for pre-release and preview plays. The game was created by Press Play and will release as a WiiWare title in Europe today (Friday, January 22, 2009) and in other markets soon. But at the same time there is a web playable demo available on the game’s destination site.

 

Tumbledrop
The third example I’d like to cite is Tumbledrop, a great little game produced by a single developer that was at first part of the Unity
Awards 2008
as a web game, then rebranded for Cartoon Network for posting on line and now most recently it’s come out on the iPhone.

 

In all three of the examples above the authoring effort was largely done once and then the Unity engine’s portability was used to easily reach out to secondary platforms. Of course it wasn’t truly an “author once” experience as each of the platforms does need some special handling, notably in terms of input types (keyboard/mouse, multi-touch/accelerometer, WiiMote/Nunchuck) and tweaking of artwork, but the core game logic in each case was able to be reused with relative ease.

In Summary…
Of course there are other examples out there that could have been cited, it’s just that the three above are particularly noteworthy and so I mentioned them here. So it’s not just hype, Unity truly does allow you to quickly, easily and effectively reach out and target multiple platforms thus ensuring a greater chance of success regardless of the type of content you make. Of course our job as a tool vendor is never truly done and so we’ll keep working our way forward until we can in fact offer a 100% “author once, deploy anywhere” experience. The only question is whether you’ll be along for the ride or not, and I of course think you should do yourself a favor and get on board now!

If you’re a developer that is already using Unity to create content that spans multiple platforms then let me know as I’d love to hear from you. You can do that by adding a comment in response to this post, or by contacting me directly by email (tom@unity3d.com). Otherwise if you’re not already doing that then I encourage you to consider starting to do so as soon as possible.

Comments (15)

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  1. Edith Gershey

    September 28, 2010 at 12:50 pm / 

    Thanks for the Post, thanks for the great Post. I will come back soon _ Great information about ps3 hacking: PS3 Hack

  2. technicat

    January 29, 2010 at 4:35 am / 

    I should mention one more benefit of Unity authoring that perhaps is obvious but not explicitly stated – the reason I was looking for an author-once, publish-everywhere capability in the first place is that as a one-person company spending most of my time on client projects, I only have time to deal with one game engine for my own projects. If Unity wasn’t on the iPhone, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be working on the iPhone at all, not for lack of interest, but lack of time.

  3. technicat

    January 29, 2010 at 4:16 am / 

    I chose Unity largely because of the author-once, publish-everywhere capability for Mac, PC, browsers, and Mac widgets. (The other big reason is that the authoring could be done on a Mac). This made things simple when I negotiated a license to revive the decade-old HyperBowl game and port it to new platforms – I just asked for the rights for all the platforms that Unity supported! Including the iPhone, since that was on the horizon. Now the game is running as a webplayer on a few sites (dimerocker, Wooglie, Gamejolt…), I released one lane as a Mac widget, and I feel it’s been well received on the App Store (I won’t claim that I made much money, but fans of the original game seem happy about it, and a MacLife online article listed it as one of the best apps of 2009, in the same list as Pocket God, so I’ll declare victory). I’m still adding more lanes and deciding whether to pursue desktop PC and Mac versions, but overall I feel vindicated in choosing Unity, given that it wasn’t as well known when I made the decision. I will add, however, that with the iPhone it isn’t quite author-once – it’s more like author one-and-half times. When I release a new version of HyperBowl, I copy the latest Unity Pro version to Unity iPhone and spend about a week hacking away at it…I mean, tailoring it, hopefully remembering all the optimizations I made last time (but occasionally I forget some…I should really blog the process so it’s on record)

  4. n0mad

    January 28, 2010 at 9:24 pm / 

    Hey there ;)
    Funny, I just posted a new thread this week, talking about my impressions on this very precise subject here !
    Here it is : http://forum.unity3d.com/viewtopic.php?t=42312

  5. Ashkan

    January 26, 2010 at 11:22 pm / 

    i did not want to tell unity is not suitable for other industries. i just wanted to point out some problems. yes many engineers in other industries know coding well and even many physicians are better programmers compared to us. the problem that i told can be solved easily by adding some other camera types and the cuscene editor and some other tools. surely there is no perfect product outthere and we should always make our tools better. I love unity and you guys much and didn’t want to be rude or …
    as you know much better than me pointing out problems along with potentials and available features will help all of us to have a better tool in our hand to serve our creativity :) good luck guys

  6. Tom Higgins

    January 25, 2010 at 4:20 am / 

    @Askan: nobody said it’s perfect as is today, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t potential in those other markets. I’ve worked with many of them in the past and I think you underestimate the (a) coding experience among those other markets and (b) the ability to work around the shortcomings in the meantime and (c) our in our interest in finding/meeting the needs of other markets as appropriate.

  7. Ashkan

    January 24, 2010 at 9:54 am / 

    i think there are two general problems available for usage outside gaming industry: 1 unity is a tool for programmers and there are tools to create architectural visualizations without writing a single line of code outthere. they are not as powerful as unity but sometimes they don’t want to spend much money to create their visualizations. 2 unity has many good capabilities for 3D applications like DB connectivity and XML parser and … but still there are features that you need to have like printing capabilities and a better 2D framework. other things like more file format support can help but they will increase web player size and we don’t want it.
    about publishing to multiple platforms: it’s good most of the times. sometimes a game is not suitable for a platform but otherwise why shouldn’t i publish to multiple platforms?

  8. Tom Higgins

    January 23, 2010 at 12:15 am / 

    @Danielle: all gold right there. We can make the tech cross platform capable, then we all have to work on the likes of Microsoft and Nintendo and Sony to allow games to have shared access to progress and data like that. But at least today the power is there for you to use today for that sort of thing on the desktop, web and iPhone, so go for it!

  9. Tom Higgins

    January 23, 2010 at 12:13 am / 

    @Lars & _nomatter: I’ve had experience with auto-polygon reduction through Director, there is a modifier to do just that and frankly it offers mixed results at best. The problem with any automatic polygon reducer is that it’s good in general but generally, not that good. :P It’s hard to make such a feature so that it works in all cases as *you* the developer would want. But those are the kinds of tough problems that we need to look at and hopefully resolve. There are others of course, but that’s one clear cut example.

    @_nomatter: Spot on about non-game usage, we’ll be doing a lot more non-game outreach this year and beyond. It’s specifically something that I’m working on today from a community/developer outreach point of view, then later we’ll add some marketing and promotion effort so folks in non-game industries (architecture, visualization, training/simulation, etc.) will be aware of our tool and how it can help them create better, more engaging content.

  10. Danielle Olson

    January 23, 2010 at 12:10 am / 

    I love the idea of platform appropriate deployment of different aspects of the same game world, as in releasing a full-blown game on one of the big consoles, then also having web and mobile mini-games that play a role in the full version. Wouldn’t it be awesome if (for example) you could play the simple blacksmith game in Fable 2 on your iPhone and have it benefit your Xbox save file? And then go on the web and have your own shop that other players could browse and buy from. My buddy and I pondered that when Richard Hilleman was talking about games that follow new-age players everywhere.

    Ideally, I think that’s how multi-platform development can really optimize the strengths of each method of presentation. And if we can do it all in Unity, our ability to make the experience fluid and congruous gets that much easier! Thanks guys :)

  11. _nomatter

    January 22, 2010 at 11:49 pm / 

    Wow, an automatic polygon reductions with manual detail level control will be awesome ! To “keep control”, maybe we can imagine that unity’s scene have different version for each wanted platform. But it’s hard to imagine an interface doing that without rapidly being a mess ! As Tom said : look for new and unique ways to solve those sorts of problems !

    Another thing I think we have to take in consideration is that “author once, deploy everywhere” doesn’t concern only games. I know that Unity is mainly focus on games but there will be more and more interest for a great multi platform 3d engine to be used in other cases. Like architecture, sciences, data visualizations, medicines, artists, etc.

  12. Lars

    January 22, 2010 at 9:43 pm / 

    The author one deploy anywhere philosophy is very good. This was one of the mean reasons I had for choosing unity above the other solutions. What would be nice if each platform as automatically highly optimised for performance.

    For example you make a high poly game with lots of details. Now if you wanted to play this on the iPhone it would be great if Unity did automatic polygon reductions with manual detail level control. specifically optimised for the portable hardware requrements.

  13. Tom Higgins

    January 22, 2010 at 9:43 pm / 

    @Erik: all very valid points, and it’s the platform-specifics that still inhibit the true dream of “author once, deploy anywhere”. But as we move Unity forward we will constantly look for new and unique ways to solve those sorts of problems and close the gap more and more with each release. We admit we’re not there yet, and perhaps it’s an ideal and not really achievable dream, but as always we’d rather aim high with every effort. At least for now folks can use one tool instead of many, and then tweak for specific platforms rather than re-write for each one, that’s a *huge* step forward to say the least. But for those games that can transition well (see the examples I cited) this is an incredibly powerful idea to consider, but as always your mileage may vary! :)

  14. Erik Harg

    January 22, 2010 at 9:32 pm / 

    I love how Unity provides us with author-once, deploy everywhere capabilites. However, for quite a few of our projects, we are already very close to maxing out the hardware for, let’s say, a webplayer version, which means that making it run on an iPhone (or probably a Wii?) is going to be a real pain any way we do it.

    Our only iPhone game to date (iSleigh) is really the exact same as the Unity game we made as our 2008 Christmas card (terravision.no/demo/xmas08). However, we decided to not license Unity iPhone, but rather make a quick, but very small and optimized game/rendering engine for it. This meant we could keep almost all the assets (only making a 2D sprite of a too poly-heavy 3D character), and in our opinion complete the game faster than if we had to tune the Unity game to work on an iPhone as-it-was.

    To but it more bluntly, noone expects a recognized brand of FPS game to play the same on a PS3 and an iPhone.

    I’m not saying that “author-once, publish-everywhere” isn’t possible, or that it is a bad thing, only that if what you’re making is too platform specific, or pushing the limits of a higher-end platform, it’s often not feasible to downgrade it, without having to remake quite a lot of both logic and art. And then, just maybe, it would be better to look for alternative and simpler ways to bring your gameplay to the other platforms? Maybe that will even let you make better games, that utilize the specifics of each platform better?

  15. Mike Derbyshire

    January 22, 2010 at 9:32 pm / 

    Great post, reaching a large and varying audience is the future of gaming.

    (shameless plug) If anyone is interested an author once , deploy anywhere solution for social networks check out http://dimerocker.com/services

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