Unity and Microsoft are partnering to make the Azure cloud service the official partner of "building and operating real-time 3D experiences from the Unity engine."
The pair are also "working together" to make it easier for Unity developers ("game creators," in Unity's words) to publish on Xbox consoles and PC.
What does that practically mean for developers? It means that the Unity Create toolsets (including those from Ziva Dynamics and WETA Digital that the company picked up in the last year) will be accessible via cloud computing. In comments provided to the press, Unity senior vice president Allan Poore stated that this is a step towards "making these world-class tools available to all content creators via the cloud."
The announcement doesn't provide specifics on Microsoft and Unity's efforts to "work together," but it made us think about Unity's Preferred Platform Keys system. In 2021, Unity informed developers that they would need Unity Pro licenses for their studios in order to publish games on consoles.
That requirement was mostly mitigated by the prost of Pro keys being available to smaller developers who wanted to publish on PlayStation or the Nintendo Switch. Both Sony and Nintendo offer developers Preferred Platform Keys. Microsoft currently does not.
We weren't able to confirm if Preferred Platform Keys are part of Unity and Microsoft's new deal, but if the two companies want to streamline the publishing of Unity games on Xbox, that would be one concern to address.
Unity announced its last cloud partnership in 2018 with Google Cloud. That service was set up to provide cloud-based access to backends for multiplayer and online-aware single-player games. Today's announcement seems to solidify that 2022 is becoming the year of expanded cloud computing capabilities for game developers.
Unity can have a little bit of metaverse, as a treat
The comments provided by other Unity and Microsoft execs all offer up just a whiff of metaverse-minded hype. Xbox Corporate vice president of game creator experiences and ecosystem Sarah Bond described this partnership as coming "at the dawn of a global transformation built on the legacy of gaming, powered by the cloud, driven by creators."
The word "creator" appears up and down Unity and Microsoft's document, and as elsewhere, it appears to give that little bit of leeway for Unity and Microsoft's to say their new services aren't just for game developers and designers, but also for creators of user created content that can be monetized in games like Minecraft or on platforms like Roblox.
The idea of Unity's 3D creation tools becoming as quickly and easily usable as photo and video editing software does hold plenty of appeal, and blending the worlds of game player and game creator feels like a win for game developers.