Robert Johns | 15 Jan, 2024
Fact checked by Jim Markus

Unity vs Unreal: Which Game Engine Should You Choose?

In this article, I’m going to explore the hot debate of Unity vs Unreal Engine in 2024.

If you’re new to game development, you might be thinking to yourself, what do you mean by Unity vs Unreal Engine? And why does it matter?  

No problem, let’s start with the TL-DR on game engines!

In a nutshell, they’re software development environments with pre-built gaming components that you and I can use to build video games.

Great, but why the debate over Unity vs Unreal Engine? Well, while they both offer physics engines, 2D and 3D rendering, AI, and more, there are some major differences.

So whether you’re an experienced pro who’s trying to navigate the minefield of Unity vs Unreal Engine, or a newbie that’s weighing up where to get started, this article is for you!

Let’s get started!

Is Unreal Better Than Unity?

Ah, the age-old battle between Unreal and Unity! It's like choosing between chocolate and vanilla — it really depends on your flavor of game development.

To my mind, Unreal Engine is like the high-end sports car of the gaming world with its stunning graphics and Hollywood-level rendering engine. 

Put it this way: if your game's all about eye candy and jaw-dropping visuals, Unreal might be your best choice.

On the other hand, I like to think of Unity as the friendly neighborhood café where everyone knows your name. 

With its user-friendly interface and versatility, Unity is undoubtedly Mr. Reliable. This makes it great for an indie game or a quick prototype.

But still, is Unreal better than Unity?

Well, think of Unreal as the superhero blockbuster, complete with explosions and epic battles, while Unity is the indie film that relies on a unique storyline and charming characters.

Yes, yes, but which one's better? 

Well, it's like asking if pizza is better than tacos. They're both awesome, just in different ways!

Ultimately, it depends on your project, your team, and your personal style.

One thing we have to mention is the latest news that Unity will be spicing things up by introducing a controversial new fee system.

From January 1 next year, developers will be hit with charges as high as $0.20 per download once their game makes more than $200,000 and exceeds 200,000 installs.

Let’s see how this unfolds, as there have been comments from Unity developers that this new fee structure is a bit like an unexpected "back-end tax."

That said, let's take a much deeper dive into these two game engines to help you choose the best for your project.

Unity vs. Unreal: Head-to-Head Comparison

Let's kick things off with a nice head-to-head!

Whether you're new to game development or looking for quick answers, I've put this table together to give you the skinny on both options before we dive deeper.

  Unreal Engine Unity

Engine Type

Cross-platform

Cross-platform

Developed by

Epic Games

Unity Technologies

Programming Languages

C++ for development

C# for development

Usage

Develop games for PC, mobiles, consoles, and more

Develop games for PC, mobiles, consoles, and more

Features

A robust multiplayer framework, VFX, and particle simulation

2D improvements, animation, creating snapshots

Source Code

Open-source

Not open-source.

Pricing

Free with royalty system for revenue

Basic version is free (royalty system arrives in Jan 2024)

Learning Curve

Difficult to learn

Easy to learn with an intuitive interface

Graphics

Photorealistic graphics used in AAA games

Good overall graphics, but less refined than Unreal

What is Unity?

Unity is a cross-platform game engine developed by Unity Technologies and released at Apple’s 2005 World Developer Conference (WDC).

Unity provides support for over 25 gaming platforms, including PCs (Windows, macOS, Linux), consoles (Xbox, PlayStation, etc.), mobile devices, and several virtual reality (VR) platforms like PlayStation VR and Oculus Rift, to name a few.

When it comes to actual coding, Unity relies on one of the best languages for game development in the form of C#.

Many users have adopted the Unity game engine as it allows them to create and experience 2D, 3D, and VR games. It has also been adopted by a variety of industries outside of gaming, including film animation and visual effects, automotive, architecture, engineering, and construction.

If you're brand new to coding and Unity, the good news is that there are lots of great Unity courses and tutorials you can take to upskill in no time at all.

Something that will be changing with Unity in January 2024 is the introduction of a new fee system.

The TL-DR here is that Unity developers will be hit with a 20c charge per download once their game makes more than $200,000 and exceeds 200,000 installs.

The History of Unity So Far

  • 2005: Unity launched for Mac OS X
  • 2007: Unity 2.0 launched with 50 new features
  • 2008: Unity added support for iPhone after Apple launched the App Store
  • 2010: Unity 3.0 launched with expanded graphics tools and Android support
  • 2012: Unity 4.0 launched & Unity named top mobile game engine by Game Developer magazine
  • 2013: Facebook adds SDK integration for Unity games
  • 2015: Unity 5.0 launched with increased platform support, improved HD graphics, lighting, and audio, and VR support
  • 2017: Unity 5.6 (Unity 2017) launched with real-time graphics rendering and integration with 3D design tools 
  • 2017: Unity 2017.2 released with added cinema and video tools 
  • 2018: Unity 2018 launched as first engine with integrated Machine Learning (ML) tools, alongside scriptable render pipeline 
  • 2019: Data oriented tech stack (DOTS) released to improve processing
  • 2020: Introduced Mixed and Augmented Reality Studio (MARS)
  • 2021: Unity 2021 launched with enhanced multiplayer libraries and HD rendering

Key Features of Unity

  • Easy-to-understand workflow and architecture for fast game development
  • High-quality game creation via AAA graphics, smooth frame rates, and HD audio
  • Unity Scripting API gives precise control over game features
  • Dedicated tools make it easy to create 2D or 3D games
  • One-click game deployment on all platforms, including PCs, mobiles, or consoles
  • Ready-to-use game assets from the large Unity Asset Store lowers development time
  • Can use in-house packages & assets to extend the Unity engine
  • Range of render pipeline options to optimize game performance
  • Ability to create and destroy custom game objects

Games Made Using Unity

When asking the question, is Unity better than Unreal Engine, it helps to see what aspiring Indie game developers and game studios have produced with the Unity game engine.

And the results are some of the most popular games available:

  • Pokémon Go
  • Call of Duty: Mobile
  • Cuphead
  • Monument Valley
  • Ori and the Blind Forest/Ori and the Will of the Wisps
  • Fall Guys
  • Hollow Knight

Just imagine, those developers will have started with a Unity book or course, and before you know it, a world-famous game emerges!

Unity Game Engine Pros & Cons

Pros

Cons

Free to use

Lower graphic quality than Unreal Engine

C# code is fast for development

Assets in the marketplace are of variable quality

Easy to learn

Less popular with AAA gaming studios

Huge user base

Lacks real-time multiplayer abilities

Extensive 2D game support

Lack of open-source code base

Vast Unity asset store

Complete C# Unity Game Developer 3D

What is Unreal Engine?

The first generation of Unreal Engine was released in 1998 by Tim Seveeny (founder of Epic Games), with its opening showcase being the first-person shooter (FPS) game, Unreal.

Unreal Engine is known for its portability and support for various platforms, including Windows, macOS, and Linux PCs, gaming consoles (PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, etc.), and iOS and Android mobile platforms.

Since its arrival, Unreal Engine has proved to be a strong choice for creating high-definition graphics and next-generation physics effects, resulting in a reputation as the industry standard while nabbing various awards along the way.

With this in mind, it’s no surprise that many aspiring game developers opt for Unreal when choosing a game engine.

The History of Unreal Engine So Far

Unreal Engine First generation

  • 1995: Tim Seveeny began its development
  • 1998: debuted with FPS game, Unreal
  • 1998: Integrated UnrealEd editor, innovative graphics, colors, and textures 
  • 1999: 16 external projects were using the technology

Unreal Engine 2

  • 2002: Launched with enhanced rendering, cinematic editing, and integrated support for 3D libraries. Multiplayer shooter, America’s Army was the first release
  • 2002: Unreal Championship was one of the first games on Xbox Live
  • 2003: Karma Physics Engine for vehicle physics via collisions and rigid body contact used with Unreal Tournament 2003
  • 2004: Unreal Tournament 2004 offered enhanced vehicle physics for large-scale tournaments via Karma Physics Engine

Unreal Engine 3

  • 2006: Released for Windows, PS3, and XBOX 360 with support for high-dynamic range rendering and programmable shader hardware
  • 2006: First games, Gears of War for Xbox 360 and Robobiltz for Windows
  • 2010: Android and iOS support
  • 2011: Added support for Adobe flash player for Wii U development
  • 2013: Collaborated with Mozilla to offer support for web-based games

Unreal Engine 4

  • 2014: launched with BluePrints visual scripting for non-coders, along with enhanced illumination features to replace precomputed lighting effects
  • 2014: Implemented monthly subscription payment model and 5% royalty fee for games built with Unreal Engine
  • 2015: Offered for free with access to future updates, but 5% royalty fee still applied for games that generate sufficient revenues

Unreal Engine 5

  • 2022: Launched with Nanite engine, allowing users to import 3D rendered graphics or photographs to create photogrammetric worlds, Lumen to replace lightmaps with enhanced lighting, and Shadow Map for improved shadows
  • 2022: Optimized for next-generation games consoles, including PlayStation 5 and Xbox series X
  • 2022: 5% royalty fee for game sales unless sold on the Epic Games Store

Key Features of Unreal Engine

  • Blueprint visual scripting system for non-coding game developers
  • Unreal Audio Engine and MetaSounds for rich audio 
  • Support for Augmented Reality (AR), Mixed Reality (MR), and VR
  • Pipeline integration for FBX, USD, and Python scripting
  • World building and landscape editing with the Unreal Editor
  • Character animation including Machine Learning
  • Nanite engine for rendering, lighting, and materials
  • Particle simulations and effects
  • Unreal motion graphics (UMG) UI
  • C++ source code access and API

Games Made Using Unreal Engine

If you’re trying to figure out which is better in the battle of Unreal Engine vs Unity, then maybe it will help you to know that some of the highest quality AAA game studios have used Unreal Engine to produce some of the most well-known games on the market:

  • Fortnite
  • Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
  • Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
  • Tetris Effect
  • Gears 5

Unreal Engine Pros & Cons

Pros

Cons

Free-to-use and open-source

Harder to learn due to C++

Excellent 3D-realistic graphics quality

Lack of 2D abilities vs Unity

Popular with AAA studios

Smaller asset store compared with Unity

Real-time multiplayer capabilities

Smaller user base

Faster rendering than Unity

Difficult to run on older hardware

Similarities Between Unity and Unreal

Despite their rivalry, Unity and Unreal do offer some similar tools and features for game design and development, including:

  • The capability to produce AAA-quality graphics along with bridges for most industry-standard software
  • An extensive toolbox including terrain and material editors, animation, physics simulation, and VR Support, among others

That said, it's fair to say that there are some fairly significant differences too! Let's take a look at these now.

Differences Between Unity and Unreal

Differences Between Unity and Unreal

Some of the main differences you should bear in mind when deciding between Unreal Engine or Unity include:

  1. Source Code: Unreal Engine provides full access to the source code, while Unity offers read-only access
  2. Release Date: Unreal Engine made its debut in 1998, while Unity was announced and released in 2005
  3. Languages: Unreal Engine uses C++ and Unity uses C#, which is often considered faster to learn and more suitable for beginner game development than C++
  4. Community: Both engines have a huge community of active users, but Unity currently makes up nearly 50% of the market share compared to 13% for Unreal
  5. Documentation: Both offer detailed documentation explaining their tools and features
  6. Asset Store: Asset stores allow users to download ‘mods’ like new textures or props for their games. Unreal offers around 16,000 assets, while Unity offers over 65,000 assets
  7. Graphics: Both tools produce excellent graphics, but Unreal Engine is to go-to for the highest quality graphics and environmental details
  8. Rendering: Unreal supports faster rendering than Unity, which can speed up post-processing and game development
  9. Pricing: Unreal Engine is completely free, but a royalty system exists for revenues above a certain threshold. Unity is also free, and they offer a paid version for professional studios (based on the number of licenses), although they will be adding a new royalty system in January 2024.

Wrapping Up - Unreal or Unity?

So there you have it! We’ve taken a deep dive into the hotly contested race of Unity vs Unreal Engine.

As you’ve probably gathered if you’ve made it this far, the answer to the debate of Unity vs Unreal Engine is not straightforward! 

And in my opinion, it is hard to imagine modern game development without both of these incredible game engines. 

And sure, while both have pros and cons, the right choice ultimately depends on your project’s requirements and also your coding language preferences. 

When it comes to summarizing Unity vs Unreal Engine, I think it’s good to remember the following points.

With Unity, you get an engine that’s renowned for its huge user base and excellent support for 2D and 3D gaming. It’s also easier to learn for newer developers thank to C#.

And with Unreal Engine, this is awesome for building large and complex games due to its high-fidelity and photorealistic 3D graphics. 

But, you do need to know or be willing to learn C++, which might put off newer coders. Because of this, Unreal Engine might be better for experienced developers.

Regardless of where you land when assessing Unity vs Unreal Engine, either choice can lead to spectacular results, so have fun, and let us know in the comments below which you prefer.

Want to learn about game design and go beyond the actual coding? Check Out:

Will Wright’s Masterclass Course on Game Design & Game Theory

 

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Unity vs. Unreal: What’s The Better Game Engine In 2024?

This really depends on your project requirements. Unreal is complex, but it can build high-quality environments. Unity is easier and well-suited to smaller-scale games and indie developers.

2. Is Unreal Engine Better Than Unity?

If your game's all about eye candy and jaw-dropping visuals, Unreal might be your best choice, but if you need a user-friendly interface and versatility, Unity is a strong choice for indie games or a quick prototype. Ultimately, it depends on your project, your team, and your personal style.

3. Is Unity or Unreal Engine Better For Beginners?

For beginners, Unity is often considered more beginner-friendly due to its user-friendly interface and extensive learning resources. Equally, C# is generally easier to pick up than C++ if you're starting from scratch. That said, while Unreal Engine has a steeper initial learning curve, the payoff is powerful graphics capabilities.

4. Is Unreal Harder Than Unity?

Unreal Engine is generally perceived to have a steeper learning curve than Unity, given its advanced graphical capabilities and more complex features, making it potentially more challenging for beginners.

 

By Robert Johns

Technical Editor for Hackr.io | 15+ Years in Python, Java, SQL, C++, C#, JavaScript, Ruby, PHP, .NET, MATLAB, HTML & CSS, and more... 10+ Years in Networking, Cloud, APIs, Linux | 5+ Years in Data Science | 2x PhDs in Structural & Blast Engineering

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