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Can you charge for a game you made with the free version of Unity? Yes. YES! Making money off games is always hard, of course. But with Unity, you can get your independent project started without breaking the bank. Here’s a story of a couple who used Unity to make a mobile game to the tightest of deadlines. They’re not millionaires, but they made something of their own and earned enough to keep creating.

Both worked in the British game industry when they met. Leanne Bayley was a producer in a studio in Plymouth and Alex Trowers designed games in Brighton. In 2013, she left her job to move in with him. Soon afterwards, Leanne got pregnant and couldn’t find another job. He taught her the basics of Unity, and they started developing a game idea. Then he got fired from his job.

“Instead of doing the sensible thing and getting another job, we went indie. We believed in our game! It was really fun. Plus, there weren’t that many jobs around at that time of year. How hard can it be to finish the game before the baby arrives?” Leanne remembers.

If you’ve ever worked on a software development project, you know that the timeframe you originally estimated for delivering the complete product is often way shorter than the actual length of the project, because unforeseen issues cause delays.

But babies don’t wait. A deadline you cannot move forced the dynamic duo into making design decisions early, keeping their project concise and leaving “nice to have” features out. It didn’t hurt that Leanne has been a project manager before and Alex has been a designer since “back in the days when you had to do a little bit of everything yourself, including sound.” At one of his old jobs, he used Unity to turn himself into a one man prototyping team.

“I’m not a very good coder, it all just used to be a black box to me. But Glyph Quest is an old school sprite-based 2D game. All the fancy Unity Pro optimization features weren’t necessary. And well, I don’t know how to use them anyway,” he says.

Unity Editor Map Screen_edit

Their advice for teams making their first project is clear: “Ambition is your enemy! You might want to make a massive multiplayer thing, but it’s better to start with something small.”

With Leanne drawing sprites and Alex working in the Unity Editor, things were progressing at a steady pace. A week before the baby was due, in January 2014, the game was ready to be submitted to the App Store. After some initial hiccups, it got approved and went out to the world.

Glyph Quest got featured in the British App Store and named Game of the Week by Touch Arcade. About 200,000 people have downloaded it so far. “We’re really proud of our community. It’s not really big, but very loud and positive. After the initial push, it got a bit harder to discover the game, but those who do, love it!”

The game monetizes like good old shareware: you get some levels for free and then you can buy the rest of the game. A full 10% of users did so, which is amazingly high for a mobile game nowadays. This was definitely a good start for the team and allowed them the financial independence to continue their work. But it was still a rather limited budget for producing the sequel they had planned.

Working on the game while having the newest family member around is tough. “Sometimes, you just look at how cute she is and then you wonder where the whole day went,” says Alex. Working on Super Glyph Quest meant crunching hard on the little amount of sleep that new parents can get. “She’s our biggest distraction and biggest motivation at the same time. We have to aim to be financially sustainable.”

Untitled

The game ended up releasing at the end of October, when many publishers plan big updates and new releases before Halloween. It’s also straight up premium and unfortunately hasn’t done so well as the original. It has way more content, building on the original’s match three to cast spells gameplay with a great story and some pretty interesting strategic elements. But that hasn’t been enough to attract players willing to pay up front.

“In the Unity Brighton community, nobody’s really complaining about how hard it is to make games. We just always talk about issues with publishers and how hard it is to monetize games,” says Alex.

We hope that Unity’s new focus on services will help teams like this one with the business part of game development. In the meantime, they’re working on updates, new projects, localization and other adventures. And they don’t plan on buying Unity licenses any time soon.

“We’re big fans of Unity, this whole endeavour wouldn’t be possible without it. It’s awesome that it’s free, since we don’t have any spare money in our monthly budget. Nappies are really expensive! Plus, we just never needed Unity Pro features.”

Anyone can publish a game with the free version of Unity, our only restriction is that you need to buy Unity Pro after you’ve reached $100,000 in revenue.

Super Glyph Quest is out on the App Store. It’s seriously a good game, ideal for killing time during the holidays. So go buy it.

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  1. First of all, congratulations to both of you, on the game and the beautiful baby girl! Your talk about the story behind Glyph Quest was very inspirational. My husband and I are attempting something very similar. I am expecting our first child (also a baby girl) within the next couple of weeks. My husband has been teaching me how to use Blender and Unity to help him create games for a while now. We started our own company called Cerulean Cat Studio LLC in July of last year, and have been working hard to release a free to play game, among other things, before the baby comes. We are hoping the game will generate some extra income for us through ad revenue.

  2. Thank you so much for posting this blog! This was a question I’ve been asking myself for a very long time, and now that it’s answered, I feel free to publish any games I make for a fee without having to worry about any royalties.

  3. this game is very interesting and awesome, i love this game a lot.

  4. Its really nice to read some indie story which worked out (kinda). But I have to say I wonder how this is ended up so good. Im working as an indie dev…. and have a time limit to make myself (and my family) living out of it or I have to search a job again. I spent about 1 and half year creating 2 separate project. I did all the job, coding, drawing, idea etc… except audio. Im just bad in that, so I had to use some assets. My games are maybe not the best in class or has the greatest idea for game play, but they are good made, unique games not copies of some existing ones, and even got some spotlight on BlackBerry front. Yet I almost make no money on iOS or Android. To be honest no idea why exactly....

    So reading this story makes me happy and sad the same time. Im really happy for the couple and for the baby, and wish nothing but the best and success for them, yet Im sad not be able to figure out how to make a living out of beiing an indie developer. Using Unity Free was a great help to start up my project(s) and bring my ideas to life. Of course I would be happy to buy Unity Pro and create better games with Unity Pro features, but cant spare that money.

    Nice story,and congratulation.

    1. We wonder that too. In the first place, we got very lucky with the first one – largely down to Apple’s feature which only came about because we completely botched the launch and had to get in touch with them to get that fixed. For more info on that debacle, check out the blog http://alextrowers.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/failure-to-launch.html

      With Super Glyph Quest, it was an order of magnitude harder. Willow was so much easier to deal with whilst she was still inside Leanne’s belly. Out in the wild meant that she dramatically reduced our capacity to get anything done. Everything happened so much slower and we were considerably more tired. It’s a wonder we got anything done, TBH.

      Again, I’d like to re-iterate two things – firstly, we do not recommend this approach. It’s bloody hard. Secondly, despite everyone liking the game (for which we’re very grateful), we haven’t made nearly enough money for this to be a viable enterprise. Unless either the planned January update or the new game we’ve got lined up goes gangbusters, that’s it for us.

  5. Thanks to this article we’ve seen a bit of a jump in downloads for both titles. Still not enough to enable us to go pro or pay rent yet, but baby steps and all that.

    Unfortunately, if you’re trying Glyph Quest on iOS 8, it’s unlikely that the Mage License will work… until the update gets through submission, which might be around Christmas. Until then, you’ll just have to be patient or fork out for Super Glyph Quest which is premium and a much better game anyway.

  6. Random Employee: “Boss.. hundrets of people complaining that Unity Free sucks and Pro is too expensive compared to latest Unreal stuff”

    Boss: “Find some random dude who made a couple of dollar with Unity Free and write some useless blog post. Oh, and as a plus, find one with a gooey backstory. Like babies or pregnant women.”

    Employee: “Done.”

    1. This a great story and it is sad that you are putting down Unity with your sarcasm.

    2. @imi, If You can’t make Your game successful with Unity Free – that doesn’t mean that Pro will make it for You. I remember in time of modding people were happy if developer of their favourite game released some SDK, and people were making mods. One of success stories was about Counter-Strike…

      P.S.: This blog isn’t useless. This is inspiration for developers, and for marketing purposes of Unity Technologies. By the way, I can’t wait to learn what features will come with Unity 5 Indie/Free! …

    3. Troll, you’re wasting your life. Go back to the Unreal forums and gush over the Unreal engine. Just so you know, I’m not putting it down by any means, I think it’s a great engine, but that doesn’t mean you can put down Unity, which has had some great games made with it. (Abe’s Odyssey: New n’ Tasty in particular stands out.)

  7. nice quick read.
    to be honest I’m slightly hesitant to using the free version. as deniz said at the top, it does make you look amateur. but that being said, strapped for cash doesn’t really mean that you should spurge out.

    i am in 2 worlds in releasing my near complete game from the free version, as i am strapped for cash, then if i make money from it, would then buy the pro version of unity as iOS, just so i can then keep doing things and then not have splash screens.
    but also, i don’t want to have a unity splash screen, because it would make myself look poor. if you get me

    its a cross between worlds. though i am happy to read about people doing it without pro versions so that gives me that incentive to do it whilst i can and then purchase the pro version later on

    but i myself would not do free with iaps myself. i will just stick to 69p or £1/£2 all in. personally i am not a fan of iaps and like that people could just buy, but thats just my opinion really

    but good read. well done

    1. In an ideal world, we’d have got the pro version. If we ever get to the point where we’ve got enough money to do so, it’s first on the shopping list – even if the feature we’re most interested in is the splash screen…

      Also, we’re not free with IAPs – we’re free with an IAP (singular) that you purchase once to unlock the rest of the game. Think like the old shareware model. This in and of itself caused all manner of confusion as mobile gamers aren’t used to this type of monetisation.

      1. i agree with the shareware model. so good going, i must of read something wrong.

        aye, in an ideal world we all would have the pro version. but the main thing is that it gets released, which is the key, rather than the pro version.
        I’m on the same boat as i dont really need many of the pro features [plus I’m so poor right now], but one day i know i will dip into using them. also i guess just ‘owning’ an application is good, you know?

        but great going though man. good job

  8. In unity free you can not change splash screen and that cause your application to be seem as amateur app.

      1. Even in Unity Pro Windows builds (at least), “unity” is mentioned in the dll files :(

    1. if your application seems amateur thats the fault of you. Someone wont look at the splash screen and think bad about the game instantly, it will only make a bad game look worse

    2. No, it doesn’t. Not in the least. It makes the producers of the game seem reasonable and level headed. Let us forget about enjoying the Olympics, any school level sporting or other competitions, and so on as they are so amateur.

      A customer ain’t looking to see if your game is impressing other aspiring game programmers and the Unity logo matters not one iota to them. It’s like seeing Big Name Network is sponsor of a popular television show. Don’t forget most customers will only see good games because that’s how they got popular. They will see Unity logo as a badge of quality. Those aspiring game programmers that are dredging through the depths of daily app releases will no doubt have another opinion but I wouldn’t think for a second of discouraging anybody from dreaming of a good life and Unity is simply a harmless hobby of quite a few aspiring dreamers – being as Unity’s & SW is so flexible let’s hope they do more with that opportunity than throw out zombie & war rehashes with increasing gore factors and instead make use of their time with their own original take on their own interests. Mathematically and practically speaking these will mostly be unknown and non-money makers but there will eventually be enough talent and originality for enough amateurs to break the strangle-hold of corporate un-originality. Paying $1500 or $4500 will not make you seem professional or make you professional and it won’t do that for your game either. I played baseball in what would be considered technically a professional league – lol, but you can bet I’m not going around telling people I played baseball professionally.

      That’s what I like about this game – Glyph Quest, but it’s still a fact the average consumer doesn’t know anything about the nuances of the aspiring indie game producers and Unity Free vs Unity Pro vs UE4: they saw an original & interesting looking game and they bought it. Advertising has gotten them sales their game and word of mouth has got them sales. I can’t remember the last time I was told, “Hey there is this game and it’s doesn’t have a Unity Logo Startup Screen. You ought to try it.” How embarrassing would that be to qualify your game, not Unity’s, as being worth trying? It I had 2 quid right now & a bit newer mobile HW I’d buy it.

    3. Watch *any* movie and you will see the equivalent of multiple splash screens – the studio logo, every production house logo, etc. Nobody sees those and says, “Oh, this is an amateur movie.”

      And *nobody* sees a “Made with Unity” splash screen and says , “Oh, amateur game.” It just doesn’t happen, no matter how many think it does. [By “nobody” I mean gamers; the target audience for your game.]

    4. Only a Unity developer would recognize the Unity logo splash, the average user won’t notice a thing and will only play your game if they think it’s good. Buying Unity Pro just to get rid of the splash is a waste of money, buying it for the extra features and the tools like the profiler are what makes it worth the price. As for polishing the look and feel of a game you can achieve a hell of a lot with a few hundred dollars spent in the asset store.

    5. I know I’m a little late to the party but I HAD to reply to this ridiculous notion that having a Unity splash screen somehow is frowned upon by players.

      When I have the need to purchase Pro and I’ve generated enough residual income from game development to justify the purchase I for one will be setting up a loading system to include a Unity splash screen in addition to my own simply because I’m proud to use Unity and proud to show off the work I’ve done using this engine.

      If a person believes a splash screen labels your game as amateur – that person is investing too much into things that don’t matter. Make a great game play experience! That’s the key – and market as best you can! That’s another key. A splash screen isn’t going to draw players to your game nor is it going to push players away.

      Don’t drop blame on a game failing or being successful based on a splash screen. That’s just silly.
      And if you are proud of your work and the engine you are using – why wouldn’t you want to tell everybody “Yeah I made that and I made it with the free version of Unity”. or “No I actually have the Pro version of Unity but I wanted to be respectful to the Unity crew by advertising that I use there engine for my games – so I left in the splash screen – because Unity rocks”!

  9. What a brilliant watch, it just goes to show what can be done on a shoestring and deal with all life’s trials and tribulations at the same time.

    There’s alot that can be taken from this, from what you can do for free, the thoughts on monetization and how you manages to fit this around your life (or the other way around)

    I wish you two (and a 1/2) all the best for the future :) congratz.

  10. Well I understand your hesitation to use the word success when 30% goes to the asset stores and 50% of the remainder to various governments so even at a million quid you are quickly down to what I made as a boring systems administrator take home in Switzerland in 5 years.

    With the cost of living in CH and UK is comparably extremely expensive that means rent, food, and money for vacation time in those 5 years wasn’t luxurious for me by any means. A place is only luxurious until you have to pay your own way. If your game grossed a million quid you’d better move to a country like Mexico with the 300 or so K you’d had left if you thought you could retire on that.

    As for your game I like some of the art but I don’t cruise the GooglePlay store so I can’t tell if you stand a chance against all the Edy Vehicle Physics & FPS apps. Despite the insult to Edy & the FPS Assets those are functional and good assets. It depends a good degree on the art used doesn’t it after a popular style of game play is established. That is if you haven’t had your fill of those genres but it’s always possible to modify them. Ultimately it doesn’t matter – the buyers don’t know of either of those assets or Unity unless they have aspirations of publishing games themselves, which most don’t.

    So impressions

    #1. Based on art stills I’d try it (with 2 thumbs up compared to the big corp zombie/war game drivel that continues in the Windows Store & other places)

    #2. The video of the game – based on that I’d not try the game. I think the art is too dense and complex – it’s in need of more space. More space with the same style done in Southpark / Anime Studio style animation sounds good.

    #3 2 quid is a lot for me to play a game 2 or 3 times but I do pay that occasionally. The 2 quid wouldn’t stop me from trying your game. 5 quid wouldn’t either but above 5 quid unless it was exceptionally interesting to me, which it ain’t.

  11. Great success story! I wish the couple the best of luck.
    You should seriously consider Android. I would download (and pay for) this. My nephews would love this game.

    1. “Success” is a strong word. We made 2 games and a baby, which is great, but we need considerably more sales to carry on, otherwise our great indie adventure looks very likely to come crashing to an end.
      Android version is in the works. If all goes to plan, we’ll be releasing in January along with the next content update on iOS.

      1. @Alex Trowers, what’s is Your plan about anti-piracy? As far as I know, even not very popular games are available as APK files all around the internet.

        @Jack, You’ve to read my comment again. I haven’t said anything bad about those assets. I said that many people put only these assets to their empty games.

        1. Piracy isn’t going to put much mark on the success of the game.
          People who pirate wouldn’t have bought the game anyway, if anything you may cause some people who pirated and enjoyed it to support the devs.

          People who pay for mobile games and people who pirate them are separate groups.

        2. In short, we don’t have one. There’s no real way to counter it unless you’re prepared to invest tons of resources in server back-end stuff and that’s something we can’t really go near.

  12. The game is quite good, indeed. The in-game art is just amazing! Also price for game is very low. You know I’ve seen a lots of games on Unity that were published to Google Play. And the most of them are just dummies that use Edy’s Vehicle Package or FPS Kit. You know people put just nothing in the games, except purchased assets.. But these developers proved that You can use Your own code only, art, while being in such crazy conditions – and anyway, publish Your wonderful game and beat Your goal! I bet that employer who fired Alex – is very frustrated right now… This is very good story – it’s not about new features of Unity, it’s about life! Thanks!