Unreal vs. Unity for VR Game Development: Which is Better?
With a market value of $4.6 billion in 2022, it’s no secret that the virtual reality industry has exploded in recent years. More people than ever before now have access to VR headsets. The hardware and software that powers them produces increasingly immersive experiences.
Modern game engines and development suites, like Unreal and Unity, are well suited for VR programming. So Unity vs. Unreal: Which is Best for VR Development?
How is VR game development different?
The different hardware and software features on the platforms have always challenged video game developers. Code/assets that work on one platform or device may not work on others. This forces you to rigorously test your games and implement fixes for any bugs that appear. Fortunately, engines like Unreal and Unity simplify the process, with tricks to make the code work on all platforms.
Virtual reality adds an extra layer of complexity to video game development, with virtual reality headsets available in a range of different form factors. Image resolution, processing power, and control methods all play a part in how VR games work. It is therefore crucial for you to choose the right engine for your projects.
- Image resolution: VR headsets often feature dual screens at HD and Ultra-HD resolutions. Synchronizing images on each screen and rendering them correctly requires complex code.
- Processing power: Some VR hardware uses classic PC components, but some use smartphones or built-in computers to run games. The engine you choose can dictate the types of devices your game will reach.
- Control methods: You can play VR games with controllers, keyboards, and mice, but many games rely on more modern tools like motion control.
Introducing the VR Development Engine: Unreal vs. Unity
You need to understand what Unreal and Unity offer before you can decide which engine to use for VR development. Each has general-purpose features to support a range of programs, as well as VR-specific features.
Introducing the Unreal Engine
Unreal Engine debuted in 1998 with the release of the hit first-person shooter Unreal. Epic Games, the folks behind Fortnite, developed the Unreal software. Unreal Engine is responsible for around 23% of notable games on the Steam PC platform. But what does this engine offer?
- Compatible Platforms: Windows PC, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Google Stadia, macOS, iOS, Android, ARKit, ARCore, OpenXR, SteamVR, Oculus, Linux and SteamDeck.
- Supported programming languages: C++ and Blueprint Visual Scripting.
- Editing software: Unreal Editor/UDK (Unreal Development Kit).
First released in 2005, Unity is younger than Unreal, but it still has many of the same benefits. This engine is responsible for around 11% of notable games on Steam, making it a juggernaut in its own right.
- Compatible Platforms: Windows PC, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Google Stadia, macOS, iOS, Android, ARKit, ARCore, Oculus, Microsoft HoloLens, Windows Mixed Reality, Playstation VR , and WebGL.
- Supported programming languages: C#, Unity Visual Scripting and external DLLs.
- Editing software: Unity Editor.
What makes Unity good for VR development?
Unity offers a wide range of development features, many of which target VR programming. The examples below will give you a good idea of what Unity can do when you choose to use it for VR development.
Unity has a huge community of amateur and professional developers. Its detailed documentation is easy to understand. This makes it much more accessible than other game development engines, giving you the ability to learn as you build your games.
Wide platform coverage
You can create games for PC, game consoles, mobile devices, and a wide variety of dedicated VR hardware with Unity. The Unity XR (Extended Reality) SDK includes plugins for popular tools like ARCore XR, Oculus XR, and Windows XR. This lets you publish games that will work with out-of-the-box VR headsets.
The Unity High Definition Rendering Pipeline (HDRP) aims to give you the tools to create stunning graphics without sacrificing performance. This makes it possible to use Unity to develop VR games for mobile devices that are just as immersive as their PC and console counterparts.
Extra tool boxes
One of the main advantages of an engine like Unity is the pre-written code that comes with it. Unity offers an XR interaction toolkit that should save you time and resources when making games for VR, AR, and other types of mixed reality.
Mobile development tools
Unity is one of the most popular mobile game development tools on the market. As smartphones become more powerful, VR games become easier to run, and Unity lets you take full advantage of them.
What makes Unreal Engine good for VR development?
Unreal Engine is one of the most popular game development tools in the world, but how good is it for virtual reality? Here are some of Unreal’s most important VR development features so you can decide for yourself.
Full XR support
Extended Reality is an umbrella term that covers Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and Mixed Reality. You can use Unreal to make games of all these different types, with a huge range of XR platforms available with the engine.
Wide platform coverage
Like Unity, Unreal supports PC, consoles, mobile devices, and more. This makes it a great choice if you’re looking to build games across multiple platforms. You have to keep in mind that Unreal doesn’t have the mobile development pedigree that comes with Unity, but you can still use it for games on smaller devices.
High fidelity graphics have always been one of Unreal’s biggest selling points. While it might be harder to optimize than engines like Unity, you can get some truly stunning results in Unreal if you have a powerful enough machine. It’s perfect for immersive experiences and VR gaming.
This benefit is somewhat subjective, but many VR developers appreciate the native C++ coding that comes with Unreal. Languages like this can give you more power over the software you’re building compared to those like C#, although that’s not always an advantage.
Unity vs. Unreal Engine: Which is Best for VR Development?
So which of these engines is best for VR game development? There’s no simple answer, with Unity and Unreal offering their own unique features and benefits that are perfect for VR development.
Unity is easier to use, more extensively documented, and has better mobile compatibility than Unreal Engine. Many developers also claim that Unity is easier to optimize, delivering better frame rates with less processing power. This makes Unity ideal for beginners or those who want to create games exclusively for less powerful devices, like smartphones or all-in-one headsets like the Oculus Quest.
In contrast, Unreal Engine is perfect for experienced developers looking to create VR games using the latest graphics technologies. This engine has great support for a variety of VR, AR, and MR platforms/tools, which is great news if you want to bring new features to your games in the future.
Build your own VR game
Virtual reality is more popular than ever, making it a tempting option for many game developers. You’ll need to spend some time getting familiar with VR programming and development before embarking on a project like this. Choosing an engine to use is only the first step. Then it’s time to come up with a winning VR game idea to start with.