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Unity dropping major updates in favour of date-based model

Version 5.6 marks the end for engine's current cycle with Unity 2017 beginning in April, next year's roadmap detailed

Unity is transforming the way it updates its widely-used game engine, moving away from the major update model it has used thus far in favour of a yearly system that will presumably offer more incremental evolution.

In a blog post detailing the features of Unity 5.6, the tools and services firm said this would be the last release in the Unity 5 cycle before a new version numbering system is introduced next year. The firm will now refer to its flagship product as Unity 2017, with updates labelled 2017.x.

This is significant in that it reinforces CTO Joachim Ante's revelation earlier this year that there would never be a Unity 6, suggesting fewer major overhauls than the company has offered in the past. Previously, Unity would revamp its engine every two or three years, most recently with the launch of Unity 5 in 2015.

VP of engineering Brett Bibby writes: "With Unity 2017, we will continue shipping new versions regularly, to ensure a steady stream of new tech and improvements. We think a date-based version numbering system better reflects this approach to ship and iterate faster."

The first version of Unity 2017 is scheduled to go into beta in April, with the company promising more details at next year's GDC in San Francisco. Plans for 2017 already on the firm's public roadmap include support for new platforms such as Nintendo Switch, a storytelling tools for artists called Timeline and further optimisations to the core engine.

Meanwhile, Unity 5.6 is now in beta with a full release planned for March - presumably launching at GDC. The update will add new features to the Editor, such as a video player and progressive lightmapper, as well as support for Google Daydream, Facebook Gameroom and advanced graphics API Vulkan.

Unity has had a slightly turbulent year, with mixed reception to its decision to introduce a new subscription model - an odd choice in the face of major competitors Unreal and CryEngine being made available under free and pay-what-you-want models respectively. The firm modified its new three-tier system back in June in response to various complaints.

Subscribers to the engine will receive Unity 2017 as soon as it's available. Users sticking to 5.x products will receive special offers on upgrading to subscription, while those who have subscribed for two years will be given the option to cancel but still own their current version of Unity.

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James Batchelor

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James Batchelor has been a journalist in the games industry since 2006, joining GamesIndustry in 2016, and also runs Non-Violent Game of the Day (@NVGOTD). He does play violent games, but always on Story/Easy mode.

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