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Is Unity Multiplayer Free? Yes, but With Limitations

The short answer is: Unity‘s core multiplayer functionality is free, but has limitations. You get the networking framework, relay server, and basic matchmaking at no cost. However, larger games will need paid plans for features like hosting, voice chat, advanced matchmaking, and customer support.

So in summary:

  • For small games, Unity‘s free offering is enough to build multiplayer functionality.

  • For large scale games, significant additional costs apply for robust infrastructure and operations.

Let‘s dive deeper into what‘s included for free, where the limits are, and how to scale up multiplayer games responsibly.

How Multiplayer Works in Unity

Before looking at plans and pricing, it helps to understand how Unity‘s networking works under the hood.

Unity provides a few components for creating connected gameplay:

  • Networking framework – Handles player hosting, connecting clients, syncing game state between players, and networking features like lag compensation. Can use Unity‘s built-in networking or 3rd party packages.

  • Relay server – Helps with NAT punch-through for peer-to-peer connections between players. Useful when players are behind routers and firewalls.

  • Transports – The network protocols that actually send data between devices. Unity supports UDP, TCP, and other custom transports.

  • Matchmaking – Organizing players into game sessions based on factors like skill level, latency, game mode preferences, and more.

Developers use these components to build features like lobbies, joined gameplay, authoritative hosts, lag compensation, replication of game objects, and voice or text chat.

Unity handles all the complex networking code so developers can focus on the gameplay and experience.

The Generous Free Tier

Unity offers the core networking framework and features for free. This enables testing and launching small-scale multiplayer games without upfront costs.

Here are the highlights of what‘s included for free:

  • Networking framework – Full access to create networked gameplay.
  • Relay support – Access to relay server for NAT punch-through for up to 50 concurrent users.
  • Basic matchmaking – Simple custom matchmaking based on your game‘s needs.
  • Transports – Use Unity‘s built-in transport layer.
  • Analytics – Limited analytics to monitor performance and usage.
  • Hosting – You provide your own game server hosting solution.

This is a very capable offering that lets developers build real-time multiplayer games and launch them commercially. The free tier has been used to create popular indie multiplayer hits like Among Us.

For many solo developers and small teams, Unity‘s free multiplayer support is an amazing deal.

Where the Free Tier Falls Short

However, there are limits to be aware of with the free offering:

  • 50 concurrent user limit – The free relay server is limited to 50 concurrent users. After that, you pay per excess user.

  • No matchmaking system – You only get basic matchmaking capabilities. Advanced systems cost extra.

  • No dedicated servers – You must set up and manage your own game servers. Unity does not provide hosting.

  • No voice chat – Voice chat requires purchasing the Vivox add-on.

  • Minimal analytics – Limited performance monitoring and analytics capabilities.

  • No technical support – No access to Unity‘s technical support team on the free tier.

So while very capable for testing and small launches, the free offering has hard limits on scale, features, and production-readiness. Let‘s look at what it takes to grow beyond those limits.

Growing Beyond the Free Tier

Once you‘ve tested your game concept and are ready to handle more players, larger games will need to scale up with paid plans.

Unity offers paid solutions suitable for multiplayer games of any size:

Pro$40/monthExpanded analytics, bigger relay support, matchmaking, dedicated technical support
EnterpriseCustom pricingFor largest games. Custom solutions, managed hosting, unlimited CCU, your own engineer.
Add-onsVariesVivox (voice chat), Game Server Hosting, TrueMatch matchmaking

In addition to plans, you pay for:

  • Overage costs – Once you surpass 50CCU on relay server, overages are $0.49/GB of excess bandwidth usage.
  • Hosting – You pay 3rd party providers for dedicated game servers. This alone can cost $50-$100+/month per server instance.
  • Operations – Your own IT staff needed to deploy updates, monitor servers, handle issues 24/7.
  • Customer support – Support team to help players with issues.

So while the core networking SDK remains free, scaling up an online game comes with significant operational expenses like servers, bandwidth, ops, and support.

Let‘s look at some real world examples of how multiplayer games of different sizes might use Unity‘s pricing model.

Indie Game Example

For a small indie game with <100 concurrent players, the free tier may be enough to launch and operate successfully long-term.

An indie team can leverage the free networking SDK, relay server, matchmaking, and analytics without paying Unity anything upfront.

They provide their own modest servers, likely on a cloud host like AWS or Google Cloud. These can run ~$50-$100/month to host a 1000 player game using Unity‘s relay server.

With 50CCU free on relay server, they wouldn‘t expect to exceed that and incur overages. If the game miraculously took off in popularity, overages would start applying at $0.49/GB – affordable to cover if revenue allowed.

For this scale, a solo developer or very small team could potentially manage operations. Though even a few staff for server management and customer service could run $2k+/month.

So launching a 1,000 player indie game could feasibly be done on Unity‘s free tier, with around ~$150/month or less in operational expenses for server and staffing.

Of course this depends heavily on game complexity, platforms, and performance requirements. But Unity‘s free offering makes launching multiplayer indies very accessible.

Mainstream Game Example

For a more mainstream multiplayer game with 5,000-20,000 concurrent players, more significant investment is required.

The Pro plan‘s expanded relay support, matchmaking, and analytics become necessary at $40/month per seat. Technical support access is also hugely beneficial.

Multiple dedicated game servers would be required to handle the user load, perhaps 10-20+ running ~$500-$1000/month on a cloud host.

Overage costs on the relay server would also likely come into play as concurrent users exceed 50. At $0.49/GB of excess bandwidth, overages could be substantial for a game‘s traffic.

Operations and support staff for a game of this size might require a small team of 6-10 at $10k+/month. Plus additional customer support and community management personnel.

So at mainstream scale, operational costs grow considerably to provide quality service. The Pro plan‘s expanded capabilities and support help smooth things at modest cost though.

Massive AAA Game Example

For a large AAA multiplayer game with 50,000+ concurrent users, Unity‘s customized Enterprise plan becomes a necessity.

Only the Enterprise plan provides essentially unlimited CCU on relay servers, tailored hosting solutions, and dedicated engineering support.

Operational costs balloon up to require a large ops team for running Professional hosting solutions or your own data centers. Plus expanded support and community teams.

So a massive AAA multiplayer game at this scale generally requires:

  • Enterprise custom plan for high 6 or 7 figure annual cost
  • Dedicated ops team of 25+ people costs millions annually
  • Customer support team of 50+ at multi-million dollar cost
  • High 6 figure hosting costs for pro network infrastructure
  • Potentially 7 figures or more in bandwidth overages

Only the largest studios can shoulder the enormous infrastructure and operating expenses required to deliver a smooth AAA multiplayer experience to millions.

Key Takeaways on Scaling Smartly

A few key lessons on managing costs as your multiplayer game grows:

  • Start small: Prototype and prove your game on free tier first before investing in scale. Build with economies in mind.

  • Monitor closely: Instrument your game to monitor technical performance, player behaviors, and track where bottlenecks emerge.

  • Scale incrementally: Scale up hosting, bandwidth, and ops carefully in measured phases, not all at once. Analyze usage data to make smart provisioning choices.

  • Manage revenue first: Focus early on nailing down your monetization model and economies before committing to large scale. Generate revenue to reinvest wisely.

  • Use cloud intelligently: Leverage cloud hosting flexibility to add/remove resources on demand and optimize spending. Don‘t overprovision.

With smart engineering and data-driven operations, you can scale successful multiplayer games cost efficiently. But it requires diligence, talent, and testing.

Is Unity Right for Your Game?

While Unity provides one of the most affordable and featured multiplayer engines available today, evaluate if it fits your game‘s specific needs.

Pros of Unity for multiplayer:

  • Very low cost to start testing out networked gameplay
  • Capability scales from indie to massive AAA sized games
  • Flexible hosting options: self-managed, cloud, managed hosting, custom enterprise
  • Wide platform support: PC, consoles, mobile, websites
  • Integrated voice chat, matchmaking, analytics
  • Huge community support, documentation, and resources

Potential cons to consider:

  • Can be challenging to learn without networking or Unity experience
  • Must scale up operations capabilities to manage infrastructure for large games
  • Asset Store quality varies; solid networking assets cost extra
  • Limited built-in editor tools tailored for building networked games

For many developers, Unity strikes the right balance of power, affordability, and ease of use. But think carefully if it fits your needs before committing.

No multiplayer solution is one-size-fits-all. But with smart planning, Unity can scale from indie breakout hits to the world‘s most popular online games.

In Summary: Plan For Scale

Let‘s recap the key points:

Is Unity‘s core multiplayer free?

Yes, you get access to the essential networking framework, relay server, matchmaking, and transports at no cost.

Are there limits?

Yes, the free tier has caps on CCU, features, analytics, and lacks technical support.

Does scaling up multiplayer incur costs?

Yes, once you exceed the free tier limits you pay for expanded capabilities and operating expenses like servers and staff.

Can you launch commercially with just the free features?

Yes, many successful indie multiplayer games have launched on just the free networking tools.

Can Unity support AAA-scale multiplayer games?

Yes, through custom Enterprise plans and expanding your ops teams and infrastructure.

So in summary – Unity‘s multiplayer is free in a limited capacity, but launching full-scale professional games requires planning and budgeting for operational growth.

Hopefully this gives you a realistic picture of how Unity can scale up (and down) to meet your multiplayer project needs!



Michael Reddy is a tech enthusiast, entertainment buff, and avid traveler who loves exploring Linux and sharing unique insights with readers.