Is game journalism responsible for the shunning of Unity engine?


#1

I was pretty surprised when there was a pushback of the Unity hate on twitter when I woke up and apparently game journalism is the primary cause because there’s that one guy who decided not to buy the game because it’s Unity.

(there’s a thread in the link)

Then there’s Mark Brown pushing back with “Some games you would have missed if ‘you don’t play games in Unity’” and then…shunning other game engines.

I’m left wondering, is that really because of game journalism ? From what I see with my narrow viewpoint, it’s more of a case of pedantry by gamers, and especially by the PCMR community when it comes to indie games. I can think of very few cases where game journalism really beat Unity down.

It’s also an issue of image, considering a paid version of Unity allows you to hide the logo completely from your game and a free version does not. You see more and more developers not owning the fact that it’s running in this engine, while leaving games that might not be as optimized to own it by force.

There is indeed Digital Foundry theorizing that performance drops in some games might come from the engine itself, especially in the console space and games like Yooka-Laylee and Firewatch, big games in the indie space, did suffer from performance issues but where is the truth indeed ? Everything should be thrown at the feet of the developers, or has Unity some blame to share ?

What’s your opinion on this ? Is anyone really responsible ?


#2

I think it the nature of Unity from it easy to use to the wide spread it is that negativity get out more. Jim sterling admit he has put a bad light on the engine when reviewing the bad steam games. Still I don’t think it hitting that hard as games with Unity are still selling.


#3

So one thing I just can’t get behind is how quickly and gleefully professional devs (Gama survey says: capable of getting median salary of $90k, likely to be highly educated; even if indie then probably with a skill set that allows high paid work more than the typical person buying games) go to dunk on people who buy games. It’s the consumers who ultimately pay for everything. I saw someone in that thread dunking on conflating engines with renderers but…

Also, if we want better education about our tools and methods - that’s on us. We need to get out there and educate people. But also, any person who 10-20 years ago was poking at mods is today downloading Unity, CryEngine, Unreal, GameMaker, Twine, etc and finding out for themselves exactly what a game engine is. There are lots of highly educated non-pros out there, almost every single person who is a few years out from joining the industry is there in the trenches, learning core skills.

On a different angle of this entire conversation, must read Mattie Brice thread.


#4

No.

Like seriously no.

The Unity hate is a thing that has bubbled up from comment threads and subreddits and YouTube, on the rare occasions it is mentioned in game journalism it is a reflection of that, not a root cause. There’s entire communities out there dedicated to dumping on cheap shovelware games on Steam and screaming about how this means the End of Times for PC gaming and Valve Must Do Something. Much like the 60 fps obsession, it’s a part of a general ‘games as tech’ elitism that is barely present in game journalism but very popular in exactly the kinds of people who hate game journalism. The notion that game journalists have any control or sway over these people is, quite frankly, quaint. These are the sorts of people who send us death threats for giving Gone Home 9/10.

Hell half the devs I’ve seen RT this take have complained before about coder elitists bashing anyone who uses GameMaker or Unity in their own, development orientated, communities.


#5

I don’t think that was shunning other game engines, it was demonstrating that just like some Unity games have technical and performance issues, so do games in other engines that don’t get dunked on as much as Unity.

I don’t know where this originated but I feel like it’s more about barrier-to-entry, assumptions, and confirmation bias than about reporting. When someone has issues, especially issues that come up in Unity games (that don’t know how to fix said issues), they’ll look at the engine and say, “Ah yes, Unity, just as I suspected.” When they don’t experience performance issues they probably won’t go out of their way to look up what the engine is and say, “oh, this is Unity running without problems, gosh I was wrong about that engine.” Especially if they start avoiding Unity games before playing them.

And of course Unity is free to download and learn and relatively accessible (I don’t know how it compares to Unreal Engine 4, but I’ve seen it recommended for beginners more often), which results in more first-time devs using Unity and not knowing how, or having resources, to test and fix technical issues. So a lot of buggy games are released in Unity, but that doesn’t mean all games in Unity are buggy.

Also, people will assume anyway even if they don’t know… I remember seeing complaints about Zeboyd Game’s games being low quality because they’re RPGMaker games… even though they weren’t, their earlier games were built in XNA and Cosmic Star Heroine is Unity.


#6

I don’t think it’s up to game journalists, critics or influencers to be 100% accurate if comments that are incorrect (or just blur the line) can be more useful to explaining a concept or informing the reader. Comments like “this game is plagued by Unity engine jank” or “frequent texture issues indicative of Unreal Engine games arise” may be clunky and annoying for devs, but it gets a point across to players efficiently.

I see this often in the science communication sector (which I follow, and I’m a Physics student where I’ve talked to my professors on it). Often scientists can get overly annoyed because documentaries or outreach misuse scientific language giving students misconceptions on words. However, often the content, the core ideas, are correct and the audience understands them. Just like how documentaries aren’t meant to turn the audience into scientists, game journalists aren’t aiming to turn their audience into game developers. Both are using commonly understood terms (for their audience) to explain a point and move on.


#7

I honestly don’t feel that this problem is down to game journalists, although there may be an extent to which some are propagating the idea. I would probably agree with @Wordmercenary in that this is a sentiment I see coming from YouTube, comment threads, and subreddits much more frequently, and game journalists sometimes reflect those sentiments.

Speaking in a personal capacity, I honestly feel that game consumers just do not understand how games are made. That’s fine (I’m not claiming to be an exception to that!), but when people who have no idea get the sense that they do understand game development, you run into problems. Manifestations of these problems include “oh, this engine is bad” (which is what we’re talking about) and “this specific person in this company is to blame for this feature we don’t like”, both of which are, flatly, probably wrong.

Could game journalists do a better job of accurately conveying how games are made and move away from reductive shorthand? Sure, but there’s online communities which will still propagate these half-baked ideas and keep these ideas festering.


#8

I see this all from the players and some YouTubers who single out games made badly in Unity, but even then, those YouTubers seem to be focusing more on the “badly” part and not the “in Unity” part.

I don’t see it from a lot of journalists. They seem to only mention the engine when the game looks particularly nice, or express some surprise when hearing a very unique-looking game is made in a common engine they know.

I already did my required tweet thread as a member of the game industry, but I think the issue is, as it almost always is in these situations, players who are not properly informed or who believe they are properly informed and want to flaunt their knowledge. I feel bad for a gamer who steers clear of games because they are made in a certain engine–all engines can make all kinds of games and what I’ve gathered is that the engine is more a determinant of the process making the game than the end quality.


#9

Bold, underline, write it on a sticky note on your monitor, this is the root of so many (most?) issues people have with game development. Anything from bashing on engines, not believing how much things cost, simple solutions to complex problems (why didn’t they just…), it always comes back to people thinking they know how things work but then not believing devs when they’re corrected.

One of the most striking examples I can remember was an article about a game’s servers being overwhelmed at launch. The author explained why this always happens (huge initial demand, not worth buying more servers since traffic levels off in less than a week) the comments still had a bunch of people calling the devs lazy and cheap. Even when they were told that the solution would be prohibitively expensive for a temporary problem that would fix itself the reaction was, “Oh, so you’re saying they could fix it but don’t want to spend the money. They’re so greedy.” People already thought they knew answer so they just ignored the reality when it was explained to them.


#10

Really random, but why do you put a space before question marks? Just curious!


#11

I hesitate to get behind “we just need to teach people about how games are made better” as a solution. It gives an enormous benefit of the doubt to the people who lurk in youtube comments and steam forums and quite frankly I’m not convinced it is worth it. We keep telling ourselves if we only explained things better they’d be less angry, but if 2014 taught us anything it is that there are some people who do not want to learn, they want to be told their opinions are correct and lash out at a scapegoat.

Sorry if that’s a very pessimistic take. I don’t think such people are a minority (remember, only a tiny percentage of people who read something leave a comment) but many a developer or journalist has tried to reason with these people and come up empty. I think it’s more important to talk about how we protect ourselves from them than how we change their minds. I really don’t give a damn if some fool thinks Unity is bad, so long as he’s prevented from harassing developers over it.


#12

To me it seems the solution to these issues is not to teach people how tech works it’s to teach them how empathy works.


#13

I think it’s just a numbers thing. Unity is the lowest common denominator in game development, which isn’t a dig, it’s just the engine that is available to everyone, which means everyone who has never made a game before is probably going to make a Unity game.
In terms of good vs bad games, which is already a fuzzy metric, Unity probably does have the worst average, not through any fault of it’s own but because Joe Nobody making his first game on Steam probably isn’t licensing the Unreal Engine, it’s a much less friendly proposition.
It reminds me of Flash before it. it’s not a perfect analogy because Flash was never really designed to be a game engine, but there were plenty of fantastic flash games, but the term became an epithet because there was also a tsunami of horrible Flash games. that’s the downside to being an accessible engine.


#14

Tbh the only real complaint that I can remember is Unity using C# which isn’t the best for high performance needs. Otherwise I can only comment that I have seen this more in the community side than the press side.


#15

I kind of agree; insightful articles are written all the time and it doesn’t seem to help at all. It’s easier to assume the most flagrant, clear-cut thing is true and spread it everywhere than to actually learn. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen journalists ask “Devs: what’s the thing you wish players knew about game development” on Twitter.

The insight into game development is a privilege and I’m all about snatching that away if people get vicious, except in formal insight-dispensing situations like AMAs or retrospectives. Seeing the vitriol put toward the Dream Daddy dev team after that game was delayed by like a few days was the most entitled thing ever. Baby’s first delay reaction. And that team’s production had been super open, done on streams and stuff. They gave so much.

I don’t want to create a rift between devs and players, because their input and contribution as consumers means everything, but as far as the development process, maybe less is actually better for everyone.


#16

There is a sense in which this is not at all wrong though. Devs could decide we’re not going to make a multiplayer game unless we think it will be profitable enough to eat the extra cost of launching with those extra servers, it just means a hell of a lot more projects get scrapped while they’re still on the drawing board. I do think, if all devs decided to do this, eventually the pendulum would swing the other way and you’d see “fans” saying, “you know what? we’re willing to live with some server issues at launch if it means seeing more games.”


#17

Adrian Forest’s original thread of tweets is clearly misguided because, as many people in this thread have said, the attitude of “I won’t play a game made in Unity” is something that exists more commonly in YouTube,Reddit etc. rather than from traditional games journalism, which rarely if ever takes that road.

However, as a journalist (outside of games) I think he brought up a lot of good points that games journalists should strive for when discussing game engines or any kind of work process the public might not understand. While the assumption that games journalists inherently don’t understand game dev is a little troublesome, it would be beneficial to readers/viewers/listeners to have journalists dig into these kinds of topics when talking with devs in order to report in a way that can help bridge the knowledge gap between devs and consumers.

Communicating complex ideas in a way that the public can understand is one of the duties of the press, and it’s important for journalists and creators to work together to inform the masses about the inner workings of the industry.

When I saw the thread this morning it brought the Dunkey v Game Critics discussion back to my head in the sense that one of the most valuable perks of working at a major traditional media outlet is access. This access provides a wonderful opportunity to speak with devs about the process of making a game and the impact an engine has on the final product or, could possibly help Forest’s notion that an engine isn’t as critical to the success of a game as many people believe.

This of course isn’t to say that this kind of work isn’t being done, but I’ve often heard people who are veterans in game journalism still express mysticism about how games work and what goes into making them.

It’s also valid and understandable that devs, who are often subject to crunch and other stressful work conditions, aren’t necessarily willing to give journos a mini crash course in game dev by breaking down their everyday tools and practices.

For example the “great frustum culling war of '17” kind of throws a wrench into this whole situation because it appears in at least some cases, devs have their own misconceptions about what people understand about how games are made and/or can be reluctant to admit things that are mundane to them can be mind blowing to journalists/consumers.

Again, the misconception Forest referred to is largely perpetuated by people not traditionally defined as “journalists” but the idea of pushing against PR speak that possibly overemphasizes certain aspects of game development and seeking more information about the process of game making is something that can be helpful for people who are actually interested and willing to learn about those things rather than making silly arbitrary purchase decisions based on nonsense peddled by people who are speaking with no real knowledge or authority.

Ultimately I think the best lesson that can be taken from this is that there should be more open discussion about these types of things and devs, journalists and consumers alike should be willing to work together to help us all understand the wild world of gaming that we live in.


#18

I think that, broadly speaking, saying all game journalism spoiled the well on “game engines” is a bit extreme

But I do genuinely think that guys like Jim Sterling have unintentionally contributed to a negative stigma of the Unity Engine by shining a spotlight on the worst offenses of Steam Greenlight, the vast majority of which are using Unity. It has lended a sort of ubiquity to the concept of the “cheap unity game” in the same way we have “cheap RPG maker games” and “cheap twine games”


#19

My own problems against Unity is not bourne of journalism and to claim hate of it is really reaching.

Unity like most any engine has its pros and cons. It is well-supported, there’s a lot of active community, there’s great guides to get started-If I pointed to something to get started on for just game making, I would suggest it or GMS 2 to someone who was new. (Or Ren’Py).

But for those who want to make money? I steer them away.

My problem is that you can never own a copy of Unity. I have this problem with other rent-only engines like Construct 3. Once you make over a certain requirement, you then must upgrade to Enterprise, which is not free and is in fact insanely expensive. Go ahead, check it out.

With that? It is better to go for choices like Godot Engine, Defold, stuff like that. Even if it is overpriced, you at least own the program if you pay for the non-free version of GMS/2 or similar.

If I am making something 3D, I would rather use UE4 and if 2D, I own GMS. The modules for them aren’t as many but I also know they stand by the advertised price.

Yes, I am aware UE4 has a subscription fee, too. Of 20 dollars. Not hundreds. And you can still use the engine even if you don’t pay.

I completely understand why the System Shock remake folks switched from Unity to Unreal.


#20

I’m convinced we’ll see a “games journalism killed my dog” story before the year’s out