If you‘re brand new to creating video games, the idea of downloading a "game engine" like Unity can be pretty intimidating. I‘ve been there! When I first started out as an aspiring indie dev, just figuring out the different licensing options made my head spin.
But here‘s the good news: Unity offers a completely free Personal edition so you can start building games at no cost. Then down the road, you can always upgrade to unlock more powerful professional tools.
In this epic 2300+ word guide, I‘ll demystify everything you need to know as a beginner about downloading Unity and making the most of the free trial period. Stick with me, and you‘ll have all the insider knowledge of a grizzled Unity veteran! Let‘s do this.
Welcome to Unity: What Exactly is a Game Engine?
First, what even is a "game engine"? Think of it like a special software framework for building video games.
The engine handles all the heavy lifting of rendering graphics, detecting collisions, receiving inputs, managing game logic, and making sounds. This leaves developers like you and me to focus on the creative parts like gameplay, story, and user experience.
Engines like Unity and Unreal have democratized game creation. Just decades ago, studios had to build their own engine from scratch for each new title – now indie devs have professional tools for free!
Some stats to showcase Unity‘s popularity:
- Used by 45% of all mobile game developers
- Powers 50% of all mobile games
- 2019 saw 36 billion downloads of Unity games!
Originally released in 2005, Unity continues to be the engine of choice for 2D, 3D, VR and AR game creation. And with C# coding, it‘s relatively easy for beginners to learn compared to engines like Unreal.
But all this power comes with a range of pricing tiers and licensing options. Let‘s break it down…
Cutting to the Chase: How Long Does Unity‘s Free Trial Last?
I‘m sure you just want the quick answer upfront, so here it is:
Unity‘s Personal edition is completely free with no time limit.
You can download Unity right now and use it perpetually to create and publish games with no royalty fees.
There ARE some revenue restrictions we‘ll cover shortly, but Personal lets you fully explore Unity game development with no financial commitment. And that‘s an amazing deal.
Now, Unity does offer a 30-day free trial of its paid "Pro" tools. But the core Unity engine itself is free forever, which gives newbies an awesome risk-free way to start learning game dev.
Let‘s look at what exactly you get with Unity Personal…
Unity Personal – Flexible Free License for Indie Devs
Unity Personal is the 100% free license targeted at students, hobbyists and indie studios getting started.
With Personal, you can:
- Download the full-featured Unity editor
- Access documentation/tutorials and the asset store
- Use C# or visual scripting to make games
- Publish to 25+ platforms including mobile, PC/Mac, WebGL
- Integrate ads and in-app purchases for monetization
- Make up to $100k in gross annual revenue per title
Some limitations compared to paid tiers:
- Can‘t directly access source code
- No cloud build services
- Limited to $100k revenue
- Mandatory Unity splash screen
As you can see, Unity Personal still gives newbies an incredible amount of professional-grade game dev capability for zero upfront cost.
You can prototype game mechanics, learn to code C# scripts, animate characters, craft game logic, and publish finished products on mobile, console, and web platforms. All without paying a dime.
For many solo devs and tiny studios, Unity Personal may honestly be ALL you ever need to ship great games. It did for me during my first couple years of learning the ropes.
But once you‘re ready to level up and remove restrictions, Unity Pro offers advanced tools for professionals. Which brings us to…
Test Driving Pro: Making the Most of a 30-Day Free Trial
Once you‘ve gotten familiar with Unity Personal and want to upgrade, you can give the Pro suite a risk-free try with a 30-day trial.
Here‘s an overview of what‘s included during your trial:
- Cloud Build – Automated builds to multiple platforms
- Team License Management – Track seats and permissions
- Unity Teams – Advanced project collaboration tools
- Unity Multiplayer – Networking and matchmaking
- PiXYZ Plugin – Import CAD data
- SpeedTree Plugin – Animate trees/plants
- Priority Support – Live help from Unity reps
- Plus all Personal edition capabilities!
When your 30-day trial ends, Pro will automatically renew to a paid 12-month subscription based on your billing plan.
So be sure to cancel at least 48 hours before the deadline if you don‘t plan to continue paying! You can cancel painlessly from your Unity Account.
But ideally during those 30 days, you‘ll get to thoroughly evaluate the Pro toolset and decide if it‘s worth it for you.
Here are my tips as a Unity expert for maximizing your free trial:
Take Training Courses
Unity offers awesome online courses on focused topics like shaders, 2D animation, lighting, etc. Try some self-paced units included with Pro to expand your skills.
Test Multiplayer Tools
Set up a simple multiplayer arena with Unity‘s Netcode back-end. Invite friends to stress test the experience.
Enable Cloud Build
Link your GitHub repo and set up an automated Cloud Build pipeline. Test builds for iOS and Android.
Integrate Real-Time Chat
Add Vivox voice chat to a prototype. Have teammates test the audio quality and latency.
Evaluate Product Visualization
Import a sample CAD model. Use Unity Reflect to view engineering data in AR/VR.
Shadow a Live Training
Listen in as a Pro mentor teaches live. Ask them questions via chat to pick their brain.
Compare Build Sizes
Build the same project using Personal vs Pro. Inspect the relative file sizes side-by-side.
Request Support Tickets
Open tickets asking questions only a Unity rep could fully answer. See how quickly they respond.
Like I said, cast a wide net in the 30 days to get your money‘s worth! Think of the trial like a Unity buffet – have a taste of everything.
Unity Pro vs Personal – Key Differences for Indie Devs
If you‘re on the fence between Personal and Pro, here are some of the core capability differences relevant to indie studios:
|Feature||Unity Personal||Unity Pro|
|Price||Free||$185/month or $2,040/year|
|Visual Scripting||Limited nodes||Full access|
|Source Code||No||Limited parts only|
|Priority Support||Forums only||24/7 live support|
Some key takeaways:
- Pro removes all revenue restrictions so you can make millions!
- Unlocks more advanced visual scripting options
- Cloud Build accelerates testing on multiple platforms
- Direct access to Unity support reps for help
For larger studios and projects, Pro may be a no-brainer for the support and revenue upside alone. But Personal goes surprisingly far for solo devs and tiny teams on a budget.
Ultimately Unity gives developers options to fit all needs and levels.
Comparing Pricing: Monthly vs Yearly Subscription Cost
If you do decide to upgrade to Unity Pro, you‘ll have a choice between monthly and annual payment options:
- Monthly – $185/month per seat
- Annual – $2,040/year per seat (8% discount vs monthly)
The monthly plan offers more flexibility if you‘re not sure of ongoing need. But the prepaid annual rate is a smart money saver for established studios who know they‘ll need Pro long-term.
For context, here‘s how Unity Pro pricing compares to competitors:
|Engine||Indie Plan||Pro Plan|
As you can see, Unity is very competitive – especially considering its free Personal edition. Even at the Pro level, Unity comes in lower than engines like Unreal and CryEngine.
So if you‘re on the fence between options, price may sway you towards Unity. But it ultimately comes down to the engine‘s strengths aligning with your project‘s technical needs.
Following the Money: How Does Unity Make Billions?
With both free and paid licensing, how does Unity Technologies make over $1 billion annually? Simple – by diversifying beyond just engine subscriptions.
Here are Unity‘s primary revenue streams:
- Licenses – Direct sales of Personal/Plus/Pro licenses
- Asset Store – 30-50% commission on 3rd party asset sales
- Operate Solutions – Cloud services like Multiplay and Vivox
- Strategic Deals – Custom partnerships with hardware/platform companies
By monetizing operations, assets, and strategic deals in addition to engine sales, Unity has built a nicely diversified business. This provides capital to sustain core engine development and offer flexible pricing for developers.
It‘s a win-win – game creators get affordable tools, while Unity enjoys growing profitability. In fact, Unity‘s IPO in 2020 valued the company at over $18 billion!
But even with all its success, Unity continues investing heavily in new features for creators. Let‘s look at what the future holds…
The Road Ahead: Unity‘s Vision for the Next Generation
Under new CEO John Riccitiello, Unity has big plans for where the engine goes next.
Some key initiatives per Unity‘s 2021 Vision report:
- Improving core engine capabilities like graphics
- Expanding into emerging segments like film VFX
- Building out cloud-based creator tools and services
- Investing in machine learning to automate game production
- Launching a virtual 3D world platform called Unity Metacast
Riccitiello also stated that rather than building its own metaverse, Unity aims to provide the "picks and shovels" to fuel others‘ virtual worlds.
For example, Unity recently acquired the team behind SpeedTree, a vegetation modeling software used in blockbusters like Avatar. Deals like this demonstrate Unity‘s focus on empowering creators across industries.
On the gaming front, Unity is doubling down on services like Multiplay for operating online titles across platforms. The engine also now natively supports Google‘s upcoming cloud gaming initiative Stadia.
Pair this with strides in automating game creation through AI, and Unity seems poised to dominate the next generation of interactive entertainment technology.
But of course, competitive engines like Unreal and Godot continue pushing the state of the art as well. Which brings us to…
How Does Unity Stack Up Against Unreal and Others?
While Unity owns the largest game engine market share, competitors like Unreal and Godot offer strong alternatives. How do they compare?
Unity vs Unreal
- Codes in C# (beginner-friendly)
- Excellent 2D support
- Wide multiplatform publishing
- Intuitive interface and workflows
- Codes in C++ (steep learning curve)
- Cutting-edge 3D graphics
- Ideal for PC and console games
- Built-in Blueprints visual scripting
Both engines can produce stunning AAA-quality games in skilled hands. But Unity‘s C# may lower the initial barrier to entry for non-programmers.
Unreal shines when you need raw performance to realize a bleeding-edge graphical vision. Think cinematic real-time experiences on high-end PCs and consoles.
Unity vs Godot
- Massive asset store ecosystem
- Established industry standard
- Scales smoothly to 3D and 2D
- C# is easy to hire for
- Completely free and open source
- Great for 2D games
- Lightweight editor that runs anywhere
- Unique visual scripting language
Godot offers an impressive free alternative built by a nonprofit. And its visual scripting appeals to non-coders.
But Unity‘s superior documentation, asset store support, and ubiquity in the job market give it an edge for commercial studios.
Unity vs Custom Engines
Even against in-house proprietary engines built by veterans, Unity boasts some advantages:
- Proven tools trusted by major studios
- Maintenance handled by Unity team
- Supports quick iteration and prototyping
- Documentation and training resources
- Can be highly optimized for specific game
- Veteran team required to build and maintain
- Major upfront investment of time and money
- Risk of cost overruns or failed projects
Unless you have a veteran staff and years to invest in custom engine development, Unity provides a lower-risk starting point to build polished games.
The trade-off is that studios have less control compared to owning their own tech. But for most, Unity strikes the ideal balance of power and convenience.
Expert Tips to Accelerate Your Learning
Here are some pro tips from my decade of Unity experience for getting up to speed quickly:
Master the fundamentals first
Start by really understanding core concepts like components, physics materials, colliders, prefabs, etc. Everything else builds on this foundation.
Do simple game jam projects
Set a tight deadline like 48 hours and make micro-games. Repeat this over and over to hone your skills.
Learn from open source projects
Study the architecture of OSS Unity games on GitHub. See how others structure complex projects.
Use visual scripting before coding
Visually scripting gameplay logic will help you understand how to later translate it into C# code.
Watch video tutorials
YouTube channels like Brackeys, Blackthornprod and Unity Learn provide excellent free education.
Participate in forums
Ask questions and help others on Reddit r/Unity3D, Unity Answers and Discord chats.
Attend a local meetup
Many cities have Unity user groups and game dev meetups to connect in-person.
Read release notes
Stay up to date on new Unity features and updates to avoid outdated information.
Take paid courses
Level up with advanced courses on Udemy, Pluralsight or Unity‘s learning platform.
See – you don‘t need to figure it all out alone! Between the awesome community and documentation, help is plentiful.
Final Thoughts and Next Steps
Phew, over 2300 words later, you now know everything a grizzled Unity veteran wishes they knew starting out!
- Unity Personal is fully free – download it today to start learning
- Try Unity Pro risk-free with a 30-day trial period
- Upgrade to Pro later for more capabilities as needed
- C# coding and amazing community help newbies get up to speed
- Unity dominates market share but has solid competition too
Armed with all this insider knowledge, your next step is clear:
Download Unity and start prototyping your dream game today.
The Personal edition gives you all the tools needed to learn game development at no cost. Build those skills up with the community‘s help.
Then when you‘re ready to take your projects to the next level, you can seamlessly upgrade to Pro.
I hope this 2300+ word guide gave you confidence to start your Unity and game creation journey. Here‘s wishing you the best of luck! Now get creating.