Unity’s Socio-historical Context and Political Economy

  • Benjamin Nicoll
  • Brendan Keogh


This chapter argues that Unity’s ‘conditions of existence’ are predicated on a long history of developer- and player-oriented videogame-making tools, practices, and communities, and that the engine’s business model is consonant with a broader ‘platformization of cultural production’ in today’s media industries. It describes the emergence of proprietary game engines in the early 1990s in terms of a broader shift from programmer-centric development to content-centric development. It argues that Unity builds on long-standing agitations for ‘democratized’ tools in videogame development, such as those associated with modding scenes and indie development. It then discusses Unity’s platform-based business model, touching on the engine’s licensing structure; its revenue model; its asset store; and its attempt to establish spaces of ‘affective intermediation’ in videogame culture.


Videogame history History of game engines Unity game engine Videogame development Asset store Platformization of cultural production 


  1. Anthropy, Anna. 2012. Rise of the Videogame Zinesters: How Freaks, Normals, Amateurs, Artists, Dreamers, Dropouts, Queers, Housewives, and People Like You Are Taking Back an Art Form. New York: Seven Stories Press.Google Scholar
  2. Banks, John. 2013. Co-Creating Videogames. New York: Bloomsbury.Google Scholar
  3. Barton, Matt, and Bill Loguidice. 2009. “The History of the Pinball Construction Set: Launching Millions of Creative Possibilities.” Gamasutra, February 6.
  4. Bogost, Ian. 2006. Unit Operations: An Approach to Videogame Criticism. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  5. Castillo, Michelle. 2019. “Unity Technologies Targeting 2020 IPO: Sources.” Cheddar, February 11.
  6. Darchen, Sébastien. 2015. “‘Clusters’ or ‘Communities’? Analysing the Spatial Agglomeration of Video Game Companies in Australia.” Urban Geography 23 (2): 202–222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Dyer-Witheford, Nick, and Greig de Peuter. 2009. Games of Empire: Global Capitalism and Video Games. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  8. Freedman, Eric. 2018. “Engineering Queerness in the Game Development Pipeline.” Game Studies 18 (3).
  9. Gazzard, Alison. 2014. “The Intertextual Arcade: Tracing Histories of Arcade Clones in 1980s Britain.” Reconstruction 14 (1).
  10. Gillespie, Tarleton. 2017. “The Platform Metaphor, Revisited.” Culture Digitally, August 24.
  11. Gitelman, Lisa. 2006. Always Already New: Media, History, and the Data of Culture. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  12. Guevara-Villalobos, Orlando. 2011. “Cultures of Independent Game Production: Examining the Relationship Between Community and Labour.” In Proceedings of DiGRA 2011 Conference: Think Design Play, 118.Google Scholar
  13. Haas, John. 2014. “A History of the Unity Game Engine.” Interactive Qualifying Project. Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
  14. Helgason, David. 2014. “Leading Unity into the Future.” Unity Blog, October 22.
  15. Jenkins, Henry. 2006. Convergence Culture: When Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Jørgensen, Kristine. 2017. “Newcomers in a Global Industry: Challenges of a Norwegian Game Company.” Games and Culture (OnlineFirst). Scholar
  17. Keogh, Brendan. 2019. “From Aggressively Formalised to Intensely In/Formalised: Accounting for a Wider Range of Videogame Development Practices.” Creative Industries Journal 12 (1): 14–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kerr, Aphra. 2017. Global Games: Production, Circulation and Policy in the Networked Era. New York: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kirkpatrick, Graeme. 2013. Computer Games and the Social Imaginary. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  20. Kirkpatrick, Graeme. 2015. The Formation of Gaming Culture: UK Gaming Magazines, 1981–1995. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lanier, Liz. 2019. “Former Unity Exec Files Lawsuit Alleging CEO Sexually Harassed Her, Others.” Variety, June 8.
  22. Lipkin, Nadav. 2013. “Examining Indie’s Independence: The Meaning of ‘Indie’ Games, the Politics of Production, and Mainstream Cooptation.” Loading 7 (11): 8–24.Google Scholar
  23. Lowood, Henry. 2016a. “War Engines: Wargames as Systems from the Tabletop to the Computer.” In Zones of Control: Perspectives on Wargaming, edited by Pat Harrigan and Matthew Kirschenbaum, 83–106. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  24. Lowood Henry. 2016b. “Game Engine.” In Debugging Game History: A Critical Lexicon, edited by Henry Lowood and Raiford Guins, 203–210. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  25. Montfort, Nick, and Bogost, Ian. 2009. Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System. Cambridge: MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Ng, Benjamin Wai-ming. 2009. Consuming and Localizing Japanese Combat Games in Hong Kong. In Gaming Cultures and Place in Asia-Pacific, edited by Larissa Hjorth and Dean Chan, 83–101. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  27. Nicoll, Benjamin. 2019. Minor Platforms in Videogame History. Amsterdam, the Netherlands: Amsterdam University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Nieborg, David B., and Shenja van der Graaf. 2008. “The Mod Industries? The Industrial Logic of Non-market Game Production.” European Journal of Cultural Studies 11 (2): 177–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Nieborg, David B., and Thomas Poell. 2018. “The Platformization of Cultural Production: Theorizing the Contingent Cultural Commodity.” New Media & Society 20 (11): 4275–4292.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Nooney, Laine. 2013. “A Pedestal, a Table, a Love-Letter: Archaeologies of Gender in Videogame History.” Game Studies 13 (2): n.p.
  31. O’Donnell, Casey. 2014. Developer’s Dilemma. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  32. Parikka, Jussi. 2012. What Is Media Archaeology? Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  33. Parker, Felan, and Jennifer Jenson. 2017. “Canadian Games Between the Global and the Local.” Canadian Journal of Communication 42: 867–891.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Sack, Warren. 2019. The Software Arts. Cambridge: MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Sotamaa, Olli. 2010. “Play, Create, Share? Console Gaming, Player Production, and Agency.” Fibreculture Journal 16.
  36. Srnicek, Nick. 2016. Platform Capitalism. Malden: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  37. Stuckey, Helen, Melanie Swalwell, Denise de Vries, and Nick Richardson. 2015. “What Retrogamers Can Teach the Museum.” In MWA2015: Museums and the Web in Asia.
  38. Švelch, Jaroslav. 2018. Gaming the Iron Curtain: How Teenagers and Amateurs in Communist Czechoslovakia Claimed the Medium of Computer Games. Cambridge: MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Swalwell, Melanie. 2012. “Questions About the Usefulness of Microcomputers.” Media International Australia 143 (1): 63–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Takahashi, Dean. 2018. “John Riccitiello Q&A: How Unity CEO Views Epic’s Fortnite Success.” Venturebeat, September 15.Google Scholar
  41. Tkacz, Nathaniel. 2014. Wikipedia and the Politics of Openness. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Turkle, Sherry. 2005 [1984]. The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit, 20th Anniversary Edition. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. van der Graaf, Shenja. 2018. ComMODify: User Creativity at the Intersection of Commerce and Community. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Vogel, Michael. 2017. “Japanese Independent Game Development.” MA dissertation, Georgia Institute of Technology.
  45. Whitson, Jennifer R. 2018a. “Voodoo Software and Boundary Objects in Game Development: How Developers Collaborate and Conflict with Game Engines and Art Tools.” New Media & Society 20 (7): 2315–2332.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Whitson, Jennifer R. 2018b. “What Can We Learn From Studio Studies Ethnographies? A ‘Messy’ Account of Game Development, Materiality, Learning, and Expertise.” Games and Culture (OnlineFirst).

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Benjamin Nicoll
    • 1
  • Brendan Keogh
    • 1
  1. 1.Digital Media Research Centre, School of CommunicationQueensland University of TechnologyBrisbaneAustralia

Personalised recommendations