Can Unity make metaverse glue to connect millions of games and billions of people?


Unity might be better positioned than any other company to usher in a Ready Player One-style Oasis … AKA the metaverse.

71% of the top thousand mobile games are made with the technology. Half of all PC and console games are also made with Unity. Unity is inherently open, running on over 20 different platforms. And a huge chunk of the world is already there: no fewer than 2.5 billion people are playing games built with Unity.

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So I’m wondering … Unity has the planets, the rooms, the solar systems … when is it going to build the galaxy, the corridors, the connections?

In this episode of TechFirst with John Koetsier, I chat with Julie Shumaker, who leads growth at Unity.

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The podcast version: Unity & the metaverse


Transcript: could Unity be the glue between millions of games to build the metaverse?

(This transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity.)

John Koetsier: Generally, when we think of the metaverse, we think of one of three things … we think of an emerging digital world that’s ambiently available everywhere. Perhaps we think of sort of Ready Player One, the Oasis kind of an interconnected universe of digital experiences. Or basically, maybe, we might even think of just the internet at varying degrees of immersion.

We see different models out there in the world.

Fortnite creater Epic Games seems firmly on the Ready Player One side, and Epic wants to ensure that the multiverse is universally connected, accessible to everyone, as opposed to something maybe Apple might create or Facebook might design in Horizons.

But Unity might be better positioned than any other company to usher in the Oasis … 71% of the top thousand mobile games are made with the technology; half of all mobile PC and console games are also made with Unity; and it’s inherently open, running on over 20 different platforms. The world’s already there, two and a half billion people are playing games, they’re living experiences in Unity, so I’m wondering … it has the planets, Unity has the rooms, it’s got the solar systems … when is it going to build the galaxy, the corridors, the connections?

To dive in, I’m with Julie Shumaker who leads growth at Unity. Welcome, Julie!

Julie Shumaker is Senior Vice President of Revenue, Create at Unity Technologies

Julie Shumaker: Thank you so much, John. Good to be here.

John Koetsier: Hey, great to be chatting with you again. Love your brick wall, and for everybody watching, that’s a real brick wall, you could bash your head against it. It is not an applique, [laughing] she’s not in some artisanally crafted studio. It’s really a basement, with bricks, in San Francisco.

Julie, let’s start here: what is the metaverse to you?

Julie Shumaker: Well, I think that I’m going to orient towards your kind of final possibility, and that is that it’s the next internet.

And, you know, we feel strongly that real-time 3D meets the internet is the metaverse.

And so a little kind of … you and I go way back in the internet so I can speak, I mean you remember when we didn’t even have enough pixels to get a nice line of text. And today, of course, the internet is a largely video experience. And so, we simply believe that that next internet 3.0 from text to video to real-time 3D is in essence what the metaverse will, we will all be experiencing.

And I might just build on the fact that … unlike 1999, when we hoped there would be video … we’re already there. Right? I mean, the compute power in billions of pockets is capable of experiencing real-time 3D. The creators with tools like Unity have ease of use, ability to create their content experiences in real-time 3D. And we have readiness of the play— of the humans in the world.

And maybe it’s the Ready Player One or inspiration that we’ve gotten from Fortnite, but the readiness of a world in which we have our second generation of digital natives — my daughter’s 12 — off to the races in this world, I think it’s not going to be one of those things where we keep talking about it for two decades and maybe it shows up.

I actually believe we’re close. 

John Koetsier: You brought me back there when you started talking to sitting at a computer … it’s gotta be a couple decades ago or maybe even more — I don’t even want to think that far back — and I’m waiting for a picture to come in and it’s drawing line … by line [laughing] … by line.

Julie Shumaker: Right?

John Koetsier: Yes. That was the reality, kids. We had it tough and we walked uphill to school both ways.

How should we envision a future digital reality? Are we in this full time? Do we dip our toes into it? What does it feel like to you when you envision it? 

Julie Shumaker: I think the envision is a perfect triangulation of how you launched our session, which is what does a controlled ecosystem look like and how do we dismantle that, right? How do — one, let’s all put ourselves first, sample size of one.

Do we really want an omnipotent CEO or superpower like building and running the metaverse? Or do we believe that it is an unlimited access to doors that we choose to enter?

And I think that’s really key to your question of what should we envision? Like, let’s be selfish. Let’s just be humans. What do we envision and how are we going to make sure?

And then, I think the second part of that, when you have the, I think, honor to work at a company like Unity, then you have to translate it to what’s our responsibility … and to ensure that vision of the metaverse is what happens. And when we characterize that in the virtual walls of Unity now that we’re not in the office, it’s a responsibility to the content creator at the foundation. And the old kind of TV world of ‘content is king’ isn’t so binary in like the television network model, it’s much more like content everywhere.

And we already see this, right?

We see social creators as the key. TikTok and Snap are helping this wave. Well, let’s unleash them and let’s allow ourselves to access what we want, when we want … open those metaverse doors.

I think the second part of the kind of responsibility to that, to what we envision is narrowing that gap. And maybe you asked that perfect question, which is narrowing the gap from the consumer to the creator … through the scaffolding or the tools’ ease of use.

And so, that’s the part that’s probably got most of us intrigued. Because if, in fact, people try to create a controlled metaverse, which is not what we want to envision, then that may be a door. And so then you have to go to the scaffolding that takes you from one of the doors, maybe a controlled ecosystem to many doors, which is I think the vision that we’re all aspiring for. So, that’s the infrastructure play kind of, you’ve well-characterized our operate solutions at Unity as kind of the scaffolding of the video game ecosystem.

And so how do we apply that into the metaverse, I think, is just one titch away from where we are now. 

John Koetsier: That is really interesting because what you’re basically saying is that you’re taking Unity on a path from being a tool that game makers use, that developers use … and you’re talking about making it a tool that almost anybody can use.

If we look at creators, creators are 5 to 10% of people, right? Hardcore developers, what are they, 0.5% or something like that? You’re almost saying, hey, let’s take a Roblox approach using the Unity frameworks to the metaverse.

Am I hearing it right? 

Julie Shumaker: I think you’re hearing it right within the context of even the announcement of my role change, where it’s a shift from video game as the … let’s just face it, the ground zero for how to build real-time 3D, nonlinear, limitless experiences.

I mean, we’re all going to learn for decades, if not a century, from the video game industry on what is the metaverse. And I’m really proud to have been a part of it and where it’s going to take us. With that next wave, and in my role, which is revenue for the creation platform, the thing that I’m most ex— or very excited about, not most excited ’cause I love the video game business, is in the core.

Where I see the next wave is sitting with an engineering firm, an architecture firm who’s talking about how their city is a digital twin of the real city. How they’re building is going to be real-time 3D, they’re going to help the customer experience it as they’re designing the building. We’re going to understand impacts of weather, and human traffic, and vehicles moving around. That is all real-time information about a convergence of an analog and a digital world. That is in essence the digital twin of where we are, and I think that’s our flip into the metaverse for practical use cases outside of games. 

John Koetsier: Let’s go there, because we’ve seen an acceleration due to COVID. You’re in your basement against a brick wall. I’m in my home office. The directionality of our culture to increasingly live, work, and play in digital is pretty clear. How do you see that continuing? 

Julie Shumaker: Well, wow, we’re going to look back obviously, horrible sadness for this period and a lot of the stress on the global economy, loss of life, on and on … we’re also going to look back and see we accelerated the transition to live, work, play digitally by a thousand percent because of the pandemic.

And so, when the pandemic happened and we all went into our homes, the video game sector was, it was a scary moment, because you’re talking about massive machines, huge projects, collaborative hundred-person studios … how do you do that from a laptop in your house? And so the tools to — one is distributed desktop. I mean, Unity launched a partnership and acquired a company called Parsec and now people on a lightweight device can be working on these meaty projects across the globe. These types of things have accelerated, you know, you use, what are we on… 

John Koetsier: Streamyard.

Julie Shumaker: Apologies, Streamyard. And, you know, Streamyard and Zoom, and all of the tools are just making this faster and faster. So, yes. What was your order? Live, work, play?

John Koetsier: Yes.

Julie Shumaker: Live, work, play. We’re living digitally. We’ve now become working digitally. And frankly play, as you know, because you helped cover the COVID impact on play … I mean, play was the social tissue of not being able to be in the same room.

And so, again, if we talk about live, work, play — and I’m gonna land on the play — what I think we may as a world assign your kid or your friend if you’re not into playing games, play a multiplayer game. This is the closest thing you’re going to get to whatever this digital future is, and I think we were talking, you know, that the living room has become the game room and that next phase where that metaverse is your live, work and your play, I think is super exciting. We just launched this week Unity Gaming Services, which is a seamless way to — within several clicks — be up and running with a multiplayer game, and fastest way to do cross-platform, multiplay games.

That sounds a lot like the metaverse. 

John Koetsier:  Let’s go there then. There are probably hundreds of thousands of experiences and games that are created with Unity. When do you see Unity offering some technology that lets somebody put a door or a portal in their game, or access everything from some central hall. I mean, we tend to think in visual metaphors…

Julie Shumaker: Right, right, right.

John Koetsier: …and we’re probably complete idiots when we think about these things, ’cause we have no clue what will actually work or what won’t work. We try and recreate the physical and the digital. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But when are we going to connect all those experiences and do you see Unity playing a role in that?

Julie Shumaker: I think we are committed to playing a support role, again, to all creators and, let’s face it, to assure democratization of content access. I mean, that’s just, that’s our number one role. The second role, and I’m gonna allow this to sound like a cop- out, is that we already are. Okay? So, build once, deploy to 20 plus platforms … that’s Unity. If you think about a platform is a door. 

So, Unity Gaming Services, build once and with a click you’ve got multi, PC, PlayStation, X-Box, mobile, all converging into one multiplayer experience. So if we, I like how you’re orienting, we think in visuals. So instead of thinking of yourself in Fortnite, think of yourself in a concert. So, when are we going to, we think we are. We think we are. And so the door is a platform. The door is a TikTok, 3D real-time experience, whatever that next future.

So yes, we absolutely will be ready. We believe the scaffolding is in place to be ready and we’re just thrilled to see, and of course I’m naming competitors. I mean, if you think about competition of time, TikTok doesn’t build on Unity. And yet they’re a really important visual reference for what will happen when that’s real-time 3D and it’s the analog and the virtual meeting in one experience. 

John Koetsier: There’s a hunger — and you said ‘sample size of one,’ maybe it’s just me — there’s a hunger for a future in which I enter a Fortnite-style world or whatever the case might be, and I’ve got my 15 minutes to my three hours of gaming, maybe with friends, maybe solo … and boom, I’m still in some digital space, but then I go to a work meeting or I go to some other place or something like that.

And we have that kind of continuity of experience versus I shut this app down, or I shut that device down, and I turn … and now I’m working … and now I’m playing. But sort of a unity — okay, wow, I just did that — a unity of experience between the live and the work and the play. Do you see that coming? 

Julie Shumaker: So, John, the question of when will we see Unity help the continuity — is that fair to say the word continuity — of experience, so that I’m not opening another browser tab in the metaverse. In essence, I have continuity of experience without being in one controlled ecosystem. And so, to answer that, I would start from kind of what are we doing?

I’m in San Francisco … gold rush, analogy around that, we’re not gold miners at Unity … we’re in the picks and axe business. And so what does that mean? That means that we’re going to hand the tools for the consumer to have that elegant experience, so they can chunk off a piece of gold here and do it here without moving rooms, without — and I do believe that that is our obligation and where we’re heading.

John Koetsier: Excellent. Let’s finish here then … who should own this future experience and how should it be monetized? 

Julie Shumaker: Well, you know, that’s my favorite word: monetization. Okay, if it was 1995 and we were only talking about video games and you were talking to me about — let’s call it ’98, you know, PlayStation and what’s going to happen — we would never have envisioned subscription-based content. We wouldn’t have envisioned digital downloads and in-app purchase. We wouldn’t have envisioned massive revenues coming from advertising. So…

John Koetsier: Cloud gaming [laughter].

Julie Shumaker: I will start from the standpoint of … I think the metaverse is the analog real world.

And I think the monetization is limitless, and that our, again, our obligation is to power the creators to create and help them make money out of the gate. I think, generally, existing models port. And I think what you’re going to see is existing game industry models be the first line of port. 

John Koetsier: Excellent, as long as there’s no loyalty centers [laughter]. That’s a Ready Player One reference, if you haven’t watched the movie and if you didn’t catch that. I just want to make sure everybody watching catches that. Julie, as always, it’s a real pleasure to chat with you. Thank you so much for taking this time. 

Julie Shumaker: Terrific. Thank you, John.


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