To create games with Unity, you need to install Unity itself. Unfortunately, you must navigate a maze of options before you can even press the download button. These options are pretty much determined by what you need, and more importantly, how much money your company makes.
Unity is not a free engine, nor can you buy it outright. This was not always the case. In the old days, you paid for each version of the software. That changed around the time of Unity 5. Now, if your games make enough money, you need to purchase a subscription. This means that you can always use the latest version of the engine, but eventually – if your games are successful enough – you’ll have to pay for it.
Different Unity versions
There are three different main tiers: Personal, Plus, and Pro. Most folks start with the Personal tier and as your games acquire revenue, you’ll “level up” to the higher tiers.
Update September 2023: Unity announced they are sunsetting the Plus tier in January 2024. This means in 2024, Unity will only support Personal, Pro, and Enterprise.
The Personal Edition is the starter tier. Chances are, you are an indie developer who makes less than 100k per year. If this is you, congratulations! You can use the free version of Unity. This version contains all the core features. Unfortunately, it also contains this:
This splash screen is the hallmark of every terrible asset flip. You can’t change it or turn it off. That’s the price of free.
The Plus Edition is the next tier. To qualify, your company must not make more than 200k per year. This version allows you to turn off the dread splash screen and you also get some basic error reporting. This costs $400 per seat per year.
The Pro Edition is for small game developers and companies that exceed the 200k per year revenue threshold. This gives you Unity as well as a few other services. This tier costs 2k per seat per year.
In an ideal world, you start with the Personal edition to learn the basics. Then you pay for the Plus version and grind out games. Eventually, you earn enough money to pay for the Pro version. That’s the vision at least.
There are a few other tiers such as Student, Enterprise, and one called Unity Industry. These are the tiers that pay for CEO John Riccitiello’s yacht payments. If you make it big enough to use the Enterprise, make sure you don’t forget to tip your local Vegetarian Zombie! ;)
This article series is written using the Cheapie-er, Personal tier.
Creating a Unity account
To get started, head on over to unity.com. It’s time to create your Unity account. Click the profile image in the upper right-hand corner, and then click the Create a Unity ID link.
This page changes a lot so it may look different by the time you are reading this. Once you click that link, you’ll be brought to a registration form.
Once you filled out the registration form and jumped through some “I’m not a robot” hoops, you will have a bonafide Unity account.
At this point, you would think you can install Unity. But no. You cannot. You need to install a program that is used to install Unity. And that program is … Unity Hub
Understanding Unity Hub
If you are new to Unity and development in general, the idea of a dedicated installer seems silly. It’s not. This isn’t a tool used for marketing or upselling new features. It’s actually a way to manage multiple versions of Unity on the same computer.
Unity changes a lot and code that works in one version may not work the same way in a different version. In practice, changing engine versions can be a risky enterprise.
Here’s an example, imagine you created a well-received game using version 2018.2.5. The community has discovered an exploit and has requested a fix. You haven’t touched that project in over five years and lots have changed with Unity since then. Opening the project to the current Unity version is out of the question. Unity will first update the project to the current version, possibly breaking things. The code that worked five years ago will need to be retested and fixed. It could take months to do all of this.
Instead, you go to Unity Hub, download the old engine version, and open your project. This old version doesn’t interfere with any of the current versions installed on your system. You’re able to find the bug, make the change, and release the updated game. All while without interfering with your current game in progress.
It’s pretty awesome!
Installing the Unity Editor
Now, comes the fun part – installing Unity! Typically, you can find a download link on the Unity homepage, but you can skip all that searching and click the following link:
Scroll down the page and you’ll see a bunch of options for downloading Unity Hub for different platforms. This series is written on a macOS so things may look a tad different on Windows (or Linux).
Once you download the file, run the installer. This will walk you through the steps of installing Unity Hub. Once you go through the installation process, launch the program. You can find it listed in your applications under Unity Hub.
When you first launch Unity Hub, you be prompted with a dialog to install a version of the Unity Editor. For this article series, I’m using version 2022.3.5f1. In my dialog window, you’ll also see the words SILICON and LTS.
SILICON means that the selected version of the editor runs on Apple’s M series chips such as the M1 and M2. LTS means long-term support.
This article was written in the summer of 2023. If you are reading this years down the road, you’ll see a different version of the editor. Everything should work in later versions of Unity. Click the blue button to get started.
Exploring Unity Hub
Once you have a version of Unity installed, you can now explore the Unity Hub interface. The first thing you should do is log into your Unity account. This is important if you are using a paid version of Unity. Simply click the profile icon and click the Sign In option.
Once you sign into Unity Hub, you have a few options. The Projects tab lists all your current Unity projects.
Some projects have a yellow exclamation mark next to it. This means the project uses a different Unity version not found on the machine. By clicking the exclamation mark, you will get a dialog window with an option to install the missing version.
The Installs tabs provide a list of all your installed Unity editors.
To install an editor, click the Install Editor button. This shows a list of currently supported editors.
The Archive tab contains all the previous versions of Unity. It leads to a web page of Unity versions that goes all the way back to Unity 5. If you’re new to Unity, you don’t have to worry about it, but a few years from now, don’t be surprised if you find yourself bookmarking this page.
Unity Hub contains two other tabs: Learn and Community. The Learn tab provides an excellent resource for learning Unity. It contains a ton of resources for learning the editor. The Community tab is where you can access the Asset Store, Unity Blog, and other services.
Where to go from here
At this point, you have installed Unity and now have a good idea about Unity Hub. Now, comes the fun part – installing your code editor. For this series, we’re going to be using Visual Studio Community.
In the meantime, explore the Learn tab in Unity Hub and start watching Unity’s excellent courses. You’ll be writing C# code soon enough! Of course, before you can write code, you’ll need to install your code editor. You’ll be doing this in the next article.