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Unity: "Drop the word virtual, it's going to be another reality"

Unity CMO Clive Downie chats with us about his company's role in the VR/AR revolution and charting a course together with devs

Unity has already shown its commitment to virtual reality with the equivalent of a proposal and a diamond ring. Not only did it host the Vision Summit in Los Angeles - attracting Valve, Oculus, Sony and a heap of developers - it recently announced an editor in VR for its Unity development tool. Just as VR will change what the term "game" means in the future, it's also going to change what developers need from companies like Unity.

"Are we going to have to be mindful of adjacent creative groups outside of gaming? Yes, but I think over the last ten years we've evolved anyway from a tool that was for one thing (it was for Mac development) to a tool which is for development on 24 platforms and some of those platforms just happen to now have many, many non-game uses in terms of VR and AR," says Clive Downie, CMO of Unity, as we chat at the Vision Summit.

"We've been on that journey already; we're well equipped for being more than just the game engine, and actually we are the creative engine, and we see it as our responsibility to enable creativity in whatever form that may take. It just so happens to take gaming form more often than not and that's great because we love games, we're all gamers, we've come from games, but I think we're doing a good job of being mindful of what creativity means in other areas and what people are going to need. You see that in some of the work that we announced yesterday, the in-VR editor, that's a VR editor, that's not a game editor. It's transcending just one specific category."

"We see it as our responsibility to enable creativity in whatever form that may take"

So how are developers reacting to this new medium? A glance at the packed talks at Vision Summit and the developers dragging people aside for corridor meetings certainly suggests an appetite for VR, but Unity is well placed to know if that excitement is being borne out in real creation.

"We've got five and half million developers globally, and so we're seeing an adoption of VR and AR at a slow rate from our existing developer base because they're doing things already. As you know, games take a while so you're not going to pivot directly, right? You're going to attend conferences like this, you're going to listen to see what Unity is doing, you're going to talk to the Unity developer community and you're going to say 'OK, should my next game be that?' So we're going to see logical progression of people moving to AR and VR.

"Of the new customers coming to Unity a lot of them are coming with VR and AR. We're seeing that borne out in our Unity conferences."

Downie talks about their being a lot of "noise" in the virtual reality space. He explains why Unity decided to hold the Vision Summit, and why it feels a responsibility to its developers to cut through that noise and offer real guidance to its users.

"People are looking for a direction; what's going to happen? What should I be focusing on? Please give me some answers. And I think we stand with developers, it's what we do, as one of the things that we think about every single day. Making things is hard and we like to help the people who make things. So we felt it was kind of incumbent on us to bring the right people together to have the conversation and share their thoughts and perspectives so we can start to all chart a course together. And ultimately [we want to] make the creatives have a better time of it, which in turn is going to benefit the consumers."

"Drop the word virtual, it's going to be another reality"

So from his vantage point at Unity towers what does Downie see as the future for VR and AR? We can all expect the first wave of games to be experimental, but they'll also be baby steps as developers learn the language of immersion. What can we expect in the next three to five years?

"Think about what you might want to participate in with VR and AR and then 5X that. That's the whole point, it's everything," says Downie.

"Drop the word virtual, it's going to be another reality so you're going to be able to participate in all manner of creative, social, exploratory, adventure, competitive things that we don't even have any comprehension of right now. I'm excited for the time when I can put on my device, scan my social feed and actually go into a scene which one of my friends is sharing with me in terms of where they've been in the world."

GamesIndustry.biz attended Vision Summit as a guest. Our travel and accommodation costs have been covered by the show organiser.

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Rachel Weber

Senior Editor

Rachel Weber has been with GamesIndustry since 2011 and specialises in news-writing and investigative journalism. She has more than five years of consumer experience, having previously worked for Future Publishing in the UK.