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GDC Spotlight Interviews: Unity Technologies, Imagination Technologies, and npnf

| February 2015

In This Issue:

  • Unity Technologies - David Helgason, executive VP, Unity Technologies, talks about why he turned over his CEO post to former EA CEO John Riccitiello, what new directions that will mean for Unity, and why devs will want to visit the Unity booth at GDC SF 2015.
  • Imagination Technologies - Bryce Johnstone, senior manager, 3rd party alliances at Imagination Technologies, discusses optimizing games for mobile, and why devs will want to consider applying for any of the more than 120 job openings in locations as diverse as San Francisco, Sweden, and India.
  • npnf - Chris Y.J. Lee, CPO of npnf, chats about the high barrier of entry for Western developers in Korea, how devs can give their titles the right exposure in Asia, and why GDC SF 2015 is so important to his company's marketing efforts.

Unity Technologies


David Helgason
David Helgason

David Helgason, executive VP, Unity Technologies, talks about why he turned over his CEO post to former EA CEO John Riccitiello, what new directions that will mean for Unity, and why devs will want to visit the Unity booth at GDC SF 2015.

Q: David, Unity recently took the gaming world by surprise by announcing that EA's former CEO, John Riccitiello, would be replacing you as Unity's CEO and that you would remain in the company as executive VP. What was the thought process behind that shift and give us some insight into what new directions that will mean for Unity.

David Helgason: Unity was founded on a simple idea -- to democratize game development. As Unity grew over the years, we were always challenged to create the best possible technology, to make it support all the platforms that matter to developers (and that's a lot), and to make it all really easy to use. This is a really hard project and we have worked on it for many, many years.

In early 2014, Unity moved into a new phase where we decided that just providing the engine was falling short of our mission -- to be really successful, game developers need software tools to be able to connect their games with audiences and to optimize how their games engage with their audience once they've been released. To do that, we knew we'd have to think big and be creative. We grew the team a lot during that year, and have recently launched services like Unity Ads and Everyplay and have several more in beta testing like Cloud Build. The goal is ultimately to help developers of all sizes succeed with tools that help navigate through the entire process of building and operating awesome games. And we're really far along that path.

With that in mind, it was time to bring someone in with a lot of experience running larger operations -- and John Riccitiello is that guy. He believes in our mission, is very passionate both about the industry and Unity's mission, and is helping to guide Unity where it needs to go.

Q: You've just released version 4.6 of the Unity engine which introduces a brand new user interface system and also the beta of Unity 5 is available for preorder. Tell me a little bit about what the two versions have to offer and whether developers should go for Unity 4.6 or wait for Unity 5?

Helgason: Anyone buying Unity 5 now gets both access to Unity 4.6 as well as the pre-release version of Unity 5.0, so most people don't really have to worry about which they use.

Unity 4.6 was mainly about our new UI toolset and we're extremely proud of what we've done with it. It really has to be experienced, as it's a really fresh take on building UIs.

Unity 5, on the other hand, is truly a new beginning. We've gone deep and wide with Unity, rewritten and streamlined performance critical systems, and added incredible features on top.

Physically based shading and global illumination are probably two of things that end users of games will see most readily, but things like the 64-bit editor, new audio tools, WebGL deployment option, introduction of IL2CPP, physics updates, incremental asset bundles, and a load of other additions will be a big help to developers.

Thousands of projects are already being worked on with Unity 4.6, and many are fine as they are. However, with all the new power in Unity 5, we see tons of developers upgrading their projects.

Unity 5.0 is the first release to ship with our automated Script and Assembly Update capability (besides largely being backwards-compatible, we're very careful about that), so with little or no work, developers can upgrade existing projects to make immediate use of the new features and performance improvements.

Q: Unity is sponsoring one of the Developer Days at GDC 2015. What will be some of the highlights that should attract a crowd?

Helgason: We'll be going into a lot of detail about how to get the most out of Unity 5's new features to create awesome games. We'll also be diving into how to take advantage of services like Cloud Build to increase production efficiency, Analytics and Everyplay to connect with and understand audiences, and Ads to help generate revenue or find new players.

Q: As usual, you'll have a booth at GDC 2015. Why should devs want to visit? What will be some of the takeaways?

Helgason: GDC is a great chance for us to meet developers new to Unity or looking to learn more about our tools and services as well as to reconnect with many of our old-time users and discuss their needs and thoughts about what we can do to help them be even more successful. So we designed our GDC booth with that in mind. We'll have plenty of stations up to demonstrate all of the great new features in Unity and some coming down the line. We bring a lot of the development team to the show to make sure visitors to the booth have someone knowledgeable to talk to.

Our booth is also a great place to come and get inspired by those who are actively using Unity to create some amazing games. Unity can be used to create all manner of genres in a massive range of art styles across more platforms than any other engine, and the games pavilion is a great way to see all of that in action.

Finally, Unity is more than an engine, so we'll also be able to chat about how we can help developers find success and connect with audiences using services like Everyplay, Unity Ads, and Unity Analytics.

Imagination Technologies

Bryce Johnstone
Bryce Johnstone

Bryce Johnstone, senior manager, 3rd party alliances at Imagination Technologies, discusses optimizing games for mobile, and why devs will want to consider applying for any of the more than 120 job openings in locations as diverse as San Francisco, Sweden, and India.

Q: Bryce, I'm told that at your GDC 2015 booth #1142 -- you're anxious to talk to hardware developers with multimedia requirements or developers working on titles for PowerVR-enabled mobile and embedded platforms. I know one of the subjects you plan to discuss is optimizing games for mobile. In a nutshell, what will you be telling devs who show up?

Bryce Johnstone: In terms of optimization, we are here to talk about our PowerVR Tools, utilities, and SDK, which is a free download from our various Web sites around the world. PowerVR has a long history of being a leader in mobile and embedded graphics so we will be able to show the power of the tools, such as PVRTune which pings the hardware registers of the actual device to give an incredibly detailed view of what the code is actually doing allowing the developer to rapidly get to the code that might be CPU, GPU, or Memory bandwidth-limited. The full suite of tools enables developers to get to the nub of performance issues and resolution in as short a space as possible.

Q: You'll be sponsoring one of the Developer Days at GDC 2015. What are a few of the things visitors expect to see, hear, and experience if they attend?

Johnstone: This will be our third Developer Day at GDC. This time the focus is on more technical details about the PowerVR architecture, giving more insight into what can be done with it using some of the in-house demos as the vehicle for education and highlighting some of the suggested techniques to optimize for PowerVR. We will also be using demo examples that our internal teams have put together to illustrate good (and bad) techniques to use with the PowerVR architecture.

We will also be talking about ray-tracing technology and how much of a paradigm shift that will be for both engine and game developers. Ray tracing is the next logical point for mobile graphics to get to as it incorporates tech used in movies and TV. We are very excited about the possibilities of hybrid rendering engines and fully ray-traced solutions in the coming years.

There will also be presentations by some of our leading third parties to give their experiences of working with PowerVR graphics architecture and what results they achieved by using the full feature set and performance.

We will also have our annual panel where we will be collecting some of the great and good from Games World and will be subjecting them this year to the question from Console to Mobile. This is normally quite a lively debate between industry veterans so it is always an enjoyable experience. Developers can take the opportunity to pick the brains of this august group. Previous panelists have included the likes of Julien Merceron (then of Square Enix) and Aras Pankevicius of Unity.

Q: I was floored by how many job openings you list on your Web site  I count almost 120 in locations as diverse as San Francisco and Santa Clara to Sweden, India, Korea, and the UK. What's behind all the growth and why should developers be interested in pursuing your company?

Johnstone: The growth is based on the requirements. We have a scalable architecture that spans from wearables all the way up to desktop levels of graphic (Teraflop range). There needs to be a tuned core for each key point in the roadmap. We are also addressing a larger range of market segments. Traditionally, we were focused on mobile but now we encompass anything from wearables, tablets, phones, set top boxes, IOT devices, automotive, health, and energy, to name but a few. As a company to work for, we do have some of the best companies in the world that we work with to deliver a range of iconic products. We are at the bleeding edge of mobile and embedded graphics and are pushing the bounds of GPU compute on devices to enhance OEM differentiation. We are a global company with key locations in the UK, Sweden, Poland, Australia, New Zealand, the Bay Area, India, China, Korea, and Japan.

We have grown rapidly in the last 10 years from 300 back then to nearly 1,700 people worldwide. We are always looking for talent who is looking to work in a challenging environment at the leading edge of technology.

Q: You've been a big supporter of GDC for the last couple of years. Why is the conference such an important part of your marketing strategy?

Johnstone: Simply, it talks to our DNA as a company that started out building graphics cards and technology embedded in devices such as the Sega Dreamcast in our Videologic days. The great thing about GDC is that we are a known entity and we can get right down and focus on what is important for developers with any preamble as to what we are.

We use GDC as a fantastic opportunity to get in front of all the key players and to find out what they are looking for in graphics platforms and to inform them of how we intend to intercept their requirements over the coming years. We can get three months of meetings in a few days at the show and get to meet the real movers and shakers from each of the main gaming and engine companies. For us, we get to build the Imagination (PowerVR) brand in both graphics and ray tracing, and let people who otherwise may not know of some of the other key bits of tech that we deliver, including the MIPS CPU family that is now fully supported natively in Android.


Chris Y.J. Lee
Chris Y.J. Lee

Chris Y.J. Lee, CPO of npnf, chats about the high barrier of entry for Western developers in Korea, how devs can give their titles the right exposure in Asia, and why GDC SF 2015 is so important to his company's marketing efforts.

Q: Chris, for developers who aren't familiar with npnf, can you summarize what services you offer?

Chris Y.J. Lee: We focus on three key areas in mobile gaming:

  • Casual core game development. First and foremost, we love building games. This year, our first party studio will release a host of new titles in the "casual core" space.
  • Korea Publishing. We offer a one-stop publishing shop for Western developers looking to expand their market to Korea. Our Seoul office specializes in localization, culturalization, marketing, event management, and player support.
  • Game Development Platform. We've written a set of flexible gaming modules that provide solutions to problems that just about every developer must solve when they build a game. Using our modules will shorten your development cycle immensely.

Q: I've heard that there's a high barrier of entry for Western developers in Korea. What can you do for anyone who wants to get into Asia and needs help getting their titles the right exposure?

Lee: While Korea is one of the fastest-growing mobile gaming markets in the world, a strong publishing partner is an absolute must for any Western developer. Our partnership with SK Planet provides us with unparalleled distribution power. SK Planet's T-Store is the second-largest Android marketplace in Korea with close to half the marketshare. It's a really powerful user acquisition channel for our developers.

Q: You've said that "casual core" games are the new frontier in mobile gaming. What can these games achieve in terms of monetization that simple casual games cannot?

Lee: The success of Disney's Tsum Tsum in the U.S. is a testament to the rise of casual core. While the primary gameplay is casual, there is plenty of complexity in the meta-game with power-ups, gacha collections, and special event-based content. The proper application of these mechanics is an extremely effective engagement and monetization driver. The Candy Crush Saga's of the world will always have a place on the top grossing charts, but many users are now looking for more.

Q: Tell me about some of the strengths of your npnf platform, other than the fact that it's advertised as letting developers build games quickly and efficiently.

Lee: Every game must create a user, which is an object in code that represents the player. If you implement the code yourself, you might start with a blank screen. You could utilize the user object from a BaaS (Backend as a Service) provider as a starting point. These user objects are stored in the Cloud and offer basic facilities for authorization and authentication. Our platform takes the user object a step further -- a super user of sorts -- that offer additional game-specific logic. When you create a user on the npnf platform, every user also gets a player inventory system, virtual currency, and an energy bar.

The main properties of our system are:

-- Configurability. All of the attributes of these systems are set up in our Developer Portal. Support for change is built into our platform by separating configuration from implementation. You can set up your configs at design time, overhaul them during development, and live-tune them after launch -- all with minimal impact. For example, you could set up a currency called Gold in our Developer Portal. Every user created will have a currency attribute called Gold. Later, you might decide to add a currency called Silver. Every user created so far will be retrofitted with this additional currency, and every new user created will have both currencies.

-- Supportability. How do you support your players after your game goes live? If you use our Platform, you also automatically (no extra effort) get an admin portal that lets you manage all your players. For example, if a user e-mails and complains that all of his currency has mysteriously disappeared, you can log into our admin portal, look him up, and credit him with currency.

-- Sources and sinks. As we build our own games, we add new modules that build on this basic foundation. For example, our gacha module lets you configure a system that consumes currency from a user, randomly selects a game object from a predefined pool of game objects, and adds the new object to a player's inventory. We also have a Fusion/Evolution/Crafting module that lets you define recipes, where a recipe defines input requirements and outcomes. For example, a basic recipe might specify that a player must have one Gold coin and a twig to craft a magic wand. In our backend, we validate the input requirements, deduce one Gold coin from the user's currency balance, remove the twig from his inventory, and add the magic wand to his inventory.

We built this system to help our own first-party studio build games faster. It helps us to get more games onto the app stores in a shorter time, and (hopefully) iterate to a successful title more quickly. Now we're releasing it to the game development community, and we think they will find it useful, too.


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