A Look at Unity’s 3D Gaming Development World with CEO David Helgason

After growing its registered user base by 50 percent to 750,000 developers over the past six months, San Francisco’s Unity Technologies looks poised to become the leading way that mobile developers incorporate 3D art and animation in their games.

We caught up with the company’s chief executive David Helgason to learn a little bit more about where this Sequoia Capital-backed company is heading.

While Unity has long catered to web and console developers, it’s making in-roads on Android and iOS. While Unity Pro costs $1,500 for tools that enhance light mapping and provide audio filters, developing for Android or iOS requires add-ons priced at $400 each for the standard versions and $1,500 each for the enhanced Pro versions.

The Android add-on produces a binary installer for that platform while the iOS add-on creates code that is compiled using Apple’s Xcode. It is possible, with careful planning and design, to build a single installer for multiple form factors within a platform. An example of this is an app that runs on both the iPhone and iPad. Approximately 45,000 licenses have been sold so far.

While Unity tools are probably best known for development of popular iPhone games like Shadowgun and Battleheart, it’s been used by automobile manufacturers to build vehicle configurations in car showrooms as well as educational apps like Virtual History Roma for the iPad. Helgason said the company has scored partnerships with companies like set-top box company Roku, Nokia, RIM and Sony Ericsson.

Helgason says Unity has wide appeal because it’s easily approachable by hobbyists without any development background. That’s in line with the company’s broader mission, which is to democratize game development. At the same time, Helgason says Unity’s power, flexibility and workflow make it a useful tool for professional developers too. There are teams of about 200 people that use the software. He added that the average number of Unity work sessions per month is between 12 and 14.

The company has also opened up a few other revenue streams beyond its licensing business in the last few years. The Unity Asset Store lets developers sell content to each other like tree models and explosion scripts. Some developers have made as much as $10,000 to $20,000 in a single month in sales from the store, he said.

Helgason said the company is exploring Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 8 platform and its Metro user interface for tablets and the desktop, even though the company has gone on record in the past saying it will not support Microsoft Windows Phone as a target platform.

Unity has about 150 people, with 30 people in the California office. Helgason said that except for the early years up until the mid-2000s when Unity was a game development company, it has been profitable. Unity has gone through two rounds of funding with $2.5 million initially from Sequoia Capital and then $12 million more from WestSummit Capital in China and iGlobe Partners in Singapore.  Helgason said that these funds were raised as a buffer and haven’t been spent yet.