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United We Stand

Unity's Nicholas Francis explains why the middleware platform is just so popular for iPhone developers

When we first crossed the path of Unity late last year, it was in a demonstration of its power by then-Atari president Phil Harrison on the eve of his keynote at the Unity conference.

A lot has changed since then, not the least of which has been another year of 200 per cent growth for the middleware company - here founder Nicholas Francis explains the journey of the past 12 months, and why the platform is just so popular for iPhone developers.

GamesIndustry.biz We first reported on Unity at your event last year in Denmark, at which Phil Harrison delivered a keynote speech. More recently you've released your middleware for the iPhone platform, and you seem to be doing pretty well?
Nicholas Francis

Over the past few months things have been really good for us - I think we probably had about 17 or 18 people back then, while we're 44 people today, just from growth and sales.

The iPhone thing took off amazingly, we hadn't really expected that - I think the development costs were recouped in 36 hours, and in the first four days we made more than what we made in 2005... okay, we didn't make a lot in 2005, but still. And in the first month we made more than we did in 2006.

By now it's about 80 per cent of our revenues or so, so it's just been completely amazing. We recently announced that it's the most-used iPhone middleware - although because people don't have to let us know when they release a game, we don't actually know how many it is...

But by the thread on our own forums alone, where people have posted their releases, we counted 258 titles - but probably a lot more, but we can confirm 258 - which is really great.

I think the iPhone has been a huge success, and we've put more development resources there just to keep up with the new Apple models - but that's quite easy, as Unity's been used in the past to target both low- and high-end PCs, so now it can be used to target the lower- and higher-spec iPhones, it's the same sort of underlying mechanic, and thankfully it all works.

GamesIndustry.biz Why do you think it's been so successful? Is it cost, accessibility, range of functions?
Nicholas Francis

I think it's several things. One thing is that the iPhone just has so much traction, there are a lot of developers flocking to it. I play more games on my iPhone than on any of my consoles, because I have time on the bus to do it. And I spend more money on iPhone games than for consoles, because that's what I'm actually playing... they might only be two dollars a pop, but boy, do I have a lot of them.

The other thing, and this is also why I think it's been so good for us, is that what Apple has done is kind of provide a business-model-in-a-box, and if you're a small developer you really want to focus on making the game. If you tried to come up with a business model you'd most likely get it wrong, but the iPhone just has one model, and I think that's really good for small developers.

There are about seven websites you have to get your game on, and there's your marketing. It gels well with Unity, which is also very transparent and affordable. It's a perfect match - so the iPhone has been a great success (and I can't claim any credit for that), but it just measures really well with what we're doing.

GamesIndustry.biz You've also opened an office in San Francisco as well now - what are the specific reasons for that? Do you have a lot of developers in that area?
Nicholas Francis

Well, we firstly had one guy in San Francisco, who joined us a couple of years ago, and we slowly expanded that team. In the end, working on sofas was getting too silly, so we got a proper office.

There's so much web business going on in the Valley, so we're actually moving our business headquarters to San Francisco. Our CEO has moved over there, and our publicity, marketing and web development will all be based there.

We'll keep all the development in Europe, though, because we want everybody on that side in the same time zone - we have the Copenhagen office and two offices in Lithuania, when we hired most of the Lithuanian demo scene... And then we're building up in the Greater London area as well.

On a management level it's perfectly okay that you've got this nine hour time difference, because we can do our phone calls in our evening, but when you have developers who are working together it's easier for them to be in the same time zone.

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