Game Engine Wars: Unity vs Unreal Engine

5 min read

Ready Players. One Two Three! We begin with the epic battle between the two most prominent game engines out there: Unity vs Unreal Engine. Unreal Engine has been surviving for the past 20 years, the legacy engine while Unity, relatively new, (although it’s almost 12 years) is nevertheless an equal champion. We will be evaluating these engines across 6 major factors. Without further ado, let the games begin.

Unity vs Unreal Engine Performance

Performance is a salient factor when it comes to evaluating a game engine’s performance.

The Unreal Engine uses C++. C++ is a lower level programming language that provides developers with more control over memory management. On top of this, Unreal Engine gives developers full access to the C++ source code allowing editing and upgrading anything in the system. Unity, on the other hand, uses C#, where the memory management is out of a developer’s control. No control over memory signifies that the garbage collector can trigger at random time and ruin performance.

Unreal offers an impressive range of visual effects and graphical features. More importantly, they require no external plugins (unlike Unity) to create powerful FX, terrain, cinematics, gameplay logic, animation graphs, etc.

However, UE4 seems to perform various basic actions considerably slower. Actions such as starting the engine, opening the editor, opening a project, saving projects, etc take a lot of time hampering the development process. Here’s where Unity takes the edge. It is also the go-to game engine when it comes to creating mobile games.

Considering the above factors we can say, in terms of sheer performance, Unreal 4 takes the lead over Unity. But Unity may be making up for this shortfall by being more in sync with the times i.e., great for creating mobile games, impressive plugins for AR etc. Also read about Unity 2D and 3D game kits to simplify game development for beginners.

Learning curve and Ease of development

Unity provides an exhaustive list of resources to learn from. These documentations are packed with complete descriptions complemented with a number of examples as well as video and text tutorials and live training sessions. Along with the official Unity resources, there are also high-quality third-party tutorials available. The Unreal Engine offers developers a free development license and source code but for 5% royalty.

The Unreal Engine 4 has Blueprint visual scripting. These tools are designed for non-programmers and designers to create games without writing a single line of code. They feature a better-at-glance game logic creation process, where flowcharts with connections between them are used for representing the program flow. These flowcharts make games a lot faster to prototype and execute. Unity offers an Asset store for developers to help them with all aspects of design. It features a mix of animation and rigging tools, GUI generators and motion capture software. It also has powerful asset management and attributes inspection.

Unity is generally seen as the more intuitive and easier to grasp game engine. Unreal Engine features a simplistic UI that doesn’t take long to get up and running. With this, we can say, that both Unity and Unreal are at par in terms of ease of use.

Unity vs Unreal Engine Graphics

When it comes to graphics, Unreal Engine 4 is a giant. It includes capabilities to create high-quality 2D and 3D games with state-of-the-art techniques such as particle simulations systems, deferred shading, lit translucency, post-processing features and advanced dynamic lighting. Unity is also not far behind with features such as static batching, physically-based shading, shuriken particle system, low-level rendering access etc. 

Although Unreal engine comes out to be the clear winner, if you don’t need to create next-gen level graphics then having something like Unreal Engine 4 may not be required, and hence Unity wins.

Platform Support/compatibility

Unity is a clear winner when it comes to the number of platforms supported. Here’s a list of platforms offered by both Unity and Unreal.

PlatformUnrealUnity
iOSAvailableAvailable
AndroidAvailableAvailable
VRAvailableAvailable (also HoloLens)
LinuxAvailableAvailable
Windows PCAvailableAvailable
Mac OS XAvailableAvailable
SteamOSAvailableAvailable
HTML5AvailableNot Available
Xbox OneAvailableAvailable (also Xbox 360)
PS4AvailableAvailable
Windows Phone 8Not AvailableAvailable
TizenNot AvailableAvailable
Android TV and Samsung Smart TVNot AvailableAvailable
Web PlayerNot AvailableAvailable
WebGLNot AvailableAvailable
PlayStation VitaNot AvailableAvailable

Community Support

Community support is an essential criterion for evaluating a tool’s performance, especially true for free tools. Both Unity and Unreal have large and active communities. Forums and other community sources have friendly members that are quick to respond and help out. Having said that, a larger community of game developers contribute to Unity’s asset store. This saves significant time and effort, as developers can pick out special effects, sprites, animations, etc directly from the store rather than developing them from scratch. Correspondingly, more developers share tutorials and offer tech support on Unity.

Unity vs Unreal Engine Pricing

Unity offers a completely free version ready for download. This is a great option if you are new to game development.  The Unity Pro version, which offers additional tools and capabilities (such as the Unity profiler) comes at $1,500 as a one-time charge, or $75/month. Unreal Engine 4, on the other hand, is completely free. There are no Pro or Free versions. However, Unreal Engine 4 has a royalty fee of 5% on resulting revenue if it exceeds $3000 per quarter. Unreal Engine 4 is also completely free for colleges and universities, although the 5% royalty is still attached.

Both game engines are extremely affordable, Unity gives you access to the free version, which is still a powerful engine. Unreal Engine 4 is of course completely free.

The verdict

The above analysis favors Unreal as the preferred gaming engine. In reality, though, it all boils down to the game developer. Choosing the right engine really depends on the type of game you want to create, your audience, and your expertise level (such as your choice of programming language). Both these engines are evolving and changing at a rapid pace and it is for the developer to decide where they want to head.

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Sugandha Lahoti
Content Marketing Editor at Packt Hub. I blog about new and upcoming tech trends. In my free time, you can find me humming songs and hunting for new novels to read.

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