[To read Develop's collection of Unity Focus articles, go here]
When Unity opened an office in Japan this September, it marked a significant move on one of the global games industry’s most entrenched markets.
But an official presence in Japan is just one part of Unity’s on-going move to spread its message of democratising game development throughout Asia.
In July Unity established a Korean base, and between January and August 2011 the company saw 258 per cent growth of its business in Asia compared to the entirety of 2010.
With establishing a Unity China office a distinct possibility, and growth showing no sign of stopping, it appears that the game engine is set for great things in the industrious Asian market. But what has assured the technology’s popularity in the continent?
A SENSE OF SCALE
“It’s tough to generalise Asia because every region there is different,” offers John Goodale, Unity’s general manager for Asia.
“We consider Japan, China and Korea separately. We consider Taiwan separately, as we do with South East Asia, and then India separately from that.
"But across those regions what we consider made us successful is what has made us successful worldwide, and that’s scalability.”
From a technological perspective, and from a business model viewpoint, Unity is certainly suited to the studios large and small that have proliferated so furiously in Asia over the past decade. But scalability is not the only reason teams in the region have warmed to the company’s tech.
“In Asia one of the things that Unity has been able to do successfully, and given me the freedom to manage, is look region by region and country by country within Asia at the trends,” comments Goodale.
“We’ve become very good at identifying them, and then very specifically marketing and selling to those trends.
“What’s accelerating our growth in China is the flight from PC client-based MMOs to browser games. There’s this massive movement there in that category, so we’ve managed to work specifically to that trend, and that’s driving a lot of growth.
"In China alone, compared to that 258 per cent growth this year, we’ve actually seen 280 per cent growth.”
Part of that expansion comes from Chinese outfit TipCat Interactive, which as part of the move to browser in the country has opted to use Unity for King of Totems, a multiplayer adventure game for web, iOS, and Android.
Meanwhile, in Korea Goodale and his Unity co-workers have noticed a movement from the same PC client-based MMOs to handhelds.
Many of the largest players in Korea – companies like internet giant NHN, which hosts the Hangame network – are moving their gaming focus to mobile, positioning Unity perfectly to offer solutions for those looking to adapt to that change.
“Finally, what’s driving our growth in Japan is different again,” adds Goodale.
“While console is still present there, the popularity of mobile Social Networking Services is a key trend. You look at companies like GREE and DeNA, and they are companies we partner with.
"In February of this year we did an integration with the GREE mobile APIs, and very soon we will ship an integration with DeNA’s APIs.”
In fact, so popular is Unity in Japan, that the company has managed to attract up to 200 developers a fortnight to seminars it hosts with GREE.
This highlights a perhaps surprisingly sizeable indie scene in the country, that Goodale estimates to comprise of over 2,500 members.
PLENTY OF CHARACTER
The Asian market is so important to Unity, that subtle optimisations conceived with the continent in mind have been implemented in some Unity updates.
“I can’t say too much,” admits Goodale, adding: “But suffice to say some of our dot releases have contained elements that we have needed specifically for Asia, including the local IME support.”
Allowing for and extending Unity’s IME, or input method editing, was part of overcoming a significant challenge in capturing the hearts of the Asian development market.
“One of the things we have to deal with in most of Asia, that the rest of the world doesn’t have to deal with too extensively, is the whole concept of an IME that helps deal with the huge numbers of characters some languages need,” explains Goodale.
“Chinese, for example, means dealing with 10,000 characters. That’s been a technical challenge we’ve had, and we’re improving our IME support throughout Asia through customised development.”
Plenty of other localisation is needed too, such as moving to cater for country-specific payment services, but Unity is clearly getting something right.
While there’s nothing planned at this stage, the company is open-minded about establishing an R&D department tailored for the Asian market if needed, and has seen development hotspots appear in the most unexpected of places.
Laos in Vietnam, for example, has provided a spike in interest in Unity, while the engine has proven popular with the Philippine development community for its uses in the educational sphere.