Unity Technologies has demonstrated its planned Flash export technology for the first time at the Unite 11 conference in San Francisco.
The game tools company used its annual conference to court Flash developers, introducing Unity3D's features to a packed room of attendees and detailing the Flash support it revealed in February this year following the release of Molehill.
When launched, the new feature will allow developers to create a Flash build of their games from the same source code used for other platforms, making it particularly viable for creating Flash demos of, or upselling customers to, titles launching on other formats, as well as expanding the potential market reach of developers who would otherwise have had to rely on the Unity Web Player plug-in's significantly smaller userbase.
During the presentation, engineer Lucas Meijer demonstrated a Flash version of Angry Bots – Unity's open source shooter created to help developers learn how to use Unity – claiming that the export had been completed with zero coding changes. It looked identical to the Unity Web Player version. While the initial launch won't allow users direct access to the Actionscript – the native language used by Flash developers – generated by Unity3D's automated export, support will be added at a later date.
"Unity wants to help the developer get anywhere they need to be: you can develop for iOS with Unity, and if you want to publish for PlayStation 3 you can do that too. And Flash, we think, is going to be a very nice way to get a very broad audience for your game," senior developer and "Flash guy" Ralph Hauwert tells us during an interview after the demonstration. "Personally, with my Flash background, I see a lot of potential in bringing these tools to the Flash community, because both [Flash and Unity] communities have a lot in common with each other."
Which raises the question of whether there is space in the market for both Flash Player and Unity Web Player, even taking in to consideration the increased performance Unity's player currently offers. Might the introduction of Flash export eventually lead to the demise of Unity Web Player?
"In the beginning the Unity Player will have better performance, and some features that Flash doesn't have, but we hope that they will catch up with us – we're not happy that that feature gap exists, we're sad that it exists. We need successful platforms to publish on to exist," Meijer – who candidly admitted during his presentation that "publishers hate" Unity Web Player's relatively small userbase – explains when we suggest that Flash Player offers most of what web developers need even in its current state. "I think you put it really well by saying 'most of what you need' – Unity Web Player might deliver more, but if Flash can give you most of what you need, then you probably care more about Flash's reach."
"But the difference between the Web Player and Flash Player is, of course, that Unity can implement a feature and have it in the Web Player [straight away]," adds Hauwert. "Whereas with Flash Player, we'd have to look at Adobe, put on sweet doggy eyes and ask them to please do it.
"That being said, when there is a sufficient reach of the Flash Player… I don't know, we'll have to see what the future brings."
"As with all our platforms, it's our customers that decide," says Meijer. "If three years from now, we find that all of our customers are targeting Flash, and none of them are choosing the Unity Web Player, well then if it's less interesting for our customers, it's less interesting for us."
Flash export marks a siginificant milestone for the company and will no doubt accelerate Unity3D's growing adoption among developers further. While no details on pricing or a release date are yet forthcoming, what's key here is its potential appeal to larger studios – the option to create upselling or demo web builds from the same source code – and publishers who may otherwise have turned down a project due to the Unity Web Player's smaller penetration. By targeting the format traditionally synonymous with gaming's most simple products, Unity has ironically bolstered its position as a tool of choice for premium development projects.