The world of gaming engines is more democratized than ever before.
•Updated: May 5, 2022
•Published: Jan 10, 2022
Thanks to their low barrier to entry, Unreal Engine and Unity are now two of the most popular choices beloved by indie studios and AAA game developers alike. The low-to-no pricing structure of these game engines managed to revolutionize the industry in a matter of years, convincing large publishers to abandon their old engines and game devs to feature the software at the top of their resumes.
While both platforms continue to climb in market share, a few critical differences go beyond cost. Whether you're a beginner faced with making this crucial decision or are reevaluating your current solution – we’ll cover the unique graphical capabilities, coding, ease of use, target audiences, compatible platforms, and pricing of both solutions to help you choose the best gaming engine.
Comparing Unreal Engine & Unity
In the past, many would agree that Unity was geared towards coders while Unreal was better suited for game artists. Unreal Engine's documentation wasn’t nearly as robust as Unity’s, which allowed developers to bypass digging into the engine’s source code by simply referencing the resource docs to start coding. However, Unreal’s default graphical rendering setting was superior to Unity’s, which required tweaking the default settings to achieve the desired look that came standard in Unreal. Also, Unreal’s visual scripting component (Blueprint) enabled artists to design complete game logic without prior coding experience.
Today, both engines consistently improve upon all platform flaws to stay competitive. Unity introduced a high-definition rendering pipeline (HDRP) to combat the lackluster default rendering settings. Unreal filled the content gaps within its scripting documentation, and Unity integrated a visual scripting tool similar to Unreal Engine's Blueprint.
Unreal’s advanced graphical features like volumetric fog and post processing enable users to create professional-grade visuals in record time. From complex particle simulation systems to advanced dynamic lighting, Unreal can support your vision for your game regardless of visual style or dimension.
With this being said, you can still design a visually stunning game with Unity – you’ll just need a little more time and effort to do so. Unity also supports features like volumetric fog in its HDRP template. However, this feature is not out-of-the-box in its Universal Rendering Pipeline and Legacy Rendering Pipeline templates. Unity is aware of the discrepancy between its graphical capabilities and Unreal’s and plans to make significant improvements to its features in the coming iteration.
At its inception, Unreal was graphically superior to Unity. High-budget production companies prefer to place their bets on more mature and proven technologies over indie engines, like Unity was at the time, so Unreal earned a reputation as a tool for game artists. Today, the two engines are fairly equal in their graphic capabilities, requiring developers to look beyond this one facet and evaluate them on a holistic level.
The right programming language is essential for building a highly secure and scalable game that does not require extensive code. Unreal uses C++ for coding, whereas Unity uses C#, which yields faster compile times and faster iteration. Be sure to factor in your personal programming language preferences along with your skillset when selecting a gaming engine.
Unique to Unreal, Blueprint is a complete gameplay scripting system based on the concept of using a node-based interface to create gameplay elements from within Unreal Editor. Blueprint is highly flexible and powerful as it provides designers with the full range of concepts and tools typically only available to programmers – a perfect solution for gaming artists who love the graphical capabilities of Unreal but have limited coding experience.
To remain competitive with Unreal, Unity has integrated Bolt, an out-of-the-box tool similar to Blueprint. However, Bolt is not nearly as powerful as Blueprint. With Blueprint, developers can script the entire logic of a game. Developers will experience certain limitations using Bolt and will be unable to create a more complex game with this tool alone.
Unreal features Blueprint, which can enable novice programmers to build games. Unity features a similar tool called Bolt, which is also beginner-friendly but comes with some development limitations.
Ease of Use
Unity is widely known for its user-friendly interface – perfect for new developers. Unreal Engine has taken note of their competitor’s top-notch UX and responded by making improvements to their latest update. However, Unreal is still considered to be more complex than Unity.
As you can see below, both interfaces are quite similar, featuring toolbars and settings within resizable and movable windows. However, Unreal’s user interface is quite bloated with features, resulting in longer load times than Unity. Assets take an exceedingly long time to import and save, and even simple tasks require extra steps within Unreal.
Unity takes a significantly more streamlined approach to its interface design, making it quicker and more responsive than Unreal. Both engines require at least Windows 7 to operate. Though the final product of your game can look more professional and detailed when using Unreal rather than Unity, it takes more effort and is typically not suitable for beginners.
As mentioned above, Unity has always taken a thorough approach to documentation that makes it easier for developers to navigate the platform. Unity also boasts a Reddit following nearly double the size of Unreal’s, resulting in a bigger knowledge base and more conversations for developers to join if they run into any roadblocks during their project.
Unity is the more popular choice among the indie development community due to its wealth of supporting resources, tutorials, and online community.
Unity’s exceptional UX primes it to be a favorite amongst the indie developer community, while Unreal is commonly thought of as the engine of choice for AAA studios. However, Unreal has begun to encroach upon Unity’s longstanding territory. This is due to its shift in pricing as well as the rise of its asset Marketplace indie studios can use for prototyping and combine with additional plug-ins, like in-game chat SDKs.
The Unreal Marketplace contains over $17,000,000 worth of content from Paragon, Epic Games' high-end action MOBA, that all Unreal Engine users can access for free. The assets include over 39 AAA characters and over 1,500 environment components from Paragon. It also features the entire Quixel Megascans library of more than 10,000 high-quality, production-ready assets free for all users with Unreal Engine.
Unreal has maintained its hold on the AAA community while expanding into the small publisher space. This is because it is a much more scalable engine than Unity. AAA games’ massive worlds and other hallmark characteristics are nearly impossible for Unity to support at scale.
Unity has traditionally been the choice of indie developers, but Unreal’s Marketplace has gained the favor of that community while maintaining support for AAA studios by offering AAA quality assets to all users for free.
The greater access to compatible platforms you have, the greater your game’s customer base will be. Let’s see which engines offer the best in terms of platform coverage:
|Universal Windows Platform||Yes||No|
|Extended Reality (XR) Platforms||Unity||Unreal|
|Windows Mixed Reality||Yes||No|
|Magic Leap (Lumin)||Yes||Yes|
|Xbox Series X||Yes||Yes|
While it is essential to consider the factors above when choosing a game engine, there is another critical factor to consider: price. If you’re an aspiring game developer making your first game, you probably don’t want to spend a lot of money on an engine.
Unreal is completely free. However, after your game makes its first $1,000,000 of gross revenue, Unreal is entitled to collect a 5% royalty fee. This includes any money collected from in-app purchases, in-game ads, and the commercial price of the game itself. Before deciding to go with Unreal, ask yourself how and if you plan on making money off of your game? This will help determine which engine’s pricing model works best for your title.
Unity also offers a completely free version if your game has driven less than $100,000 of revenue or received less than that in funding over one year. This can be a great option if you are a new game developer who isn’t interested in generating significant revenue from your title. One downside of Unity’s free plan is that your game will bear the engine’s watermark, which takes up valuable real estate your branding could otherwise fill and gives the game a less professional feel. If removing the branded splash screen is important to you, Unity has three upgraded plans to choose from (Plus, Pro, and Enterprise) starting at $40+ per month. While you don’t have to pay any royalties to Unity, you will have to pay publication feeds on each mobile platform you use.
Unreal is free to use but has a royalty fee attached. Unity has a free version of its product that includes many of its Pro plan features, but you’ll pay for it with a branded splash screen that makes your game feel unprofessional.
Unreal vs. Unity for Beginners: Which Engine is Right for You?
But, which is right for your game?
If you’re a beginner looking to publish your first title, Unity’s user-friendliness and royalty-free pricing structure is an attractive option. However, if you’re looking to feature superior graphics within your game and have access to a wide knowledge base, Unreal is a better fit.
But, the most effective way to test out a solution is to try it for yourself! Since both platforms offer a free version, you can download them both and put them to the test.
Go Beyond the Game – Build a Community
After you’ve decided which game engine is best for your needs, consider leveraging a gaming chat API to support in-game chat messaging. This will create a social community within your game that’ll earn the loyalty of existing players and attract new ones, too. Stream currently offers a Unity chat plugin and Unreal SDK.
Click here to activate a free Chat trial to explore Stream’s gaming SDK for 30 days.