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Games Focus: How your feedback drives product development

October 26, 2022 in Technology | 15 min. read
Games Focus blog 06, hero image
Games Focus blog 06, hero image

This is the sixth installation of our Games Focus series, which highlights key product development initiatives for 2023 and beyond. In this blog, we cover how our engineers prioritize and integrate your feedback into product development.

My name is Andrew, and I get to lead product management for our Editor/engine teams. I’ve spent most of my career building tools and technologies that help game developers build their next project, big or small. What I love about my job is closing that loop between the feedback we hear and what we ultimately build for you.

At Unity, we always strive to build tech that helps you create the best games possible. Whether that’s by creating new features, improving performance or productivity, or finding product fixes, your feedback is critical in directing the work of our engineers, product managers, designers, and QA staff. 

Read on to learn more about how we approach this.

Where does your feedback go?

The Render Pipeline Converter tool is just one example of a feature that was developed mainly due to user feedback. The tool converts assets made for a Built-in Render Pipeline project to assets compatible with the Universal Render Pipeline (URP). This image is of a scene in which the materials appear in magenta because their Built-in Render Pipeline-based shaders must be converted for use in URP.
The Render Pipeline Converter tool is just one example of a feature that was developed mainly due to user feedback. The tool converts assets made for a Built-in Render Pipeline project to assets compatible with the Universal Render Pipeline (URP). This image is of a scene in which the materials appear in magenta because their Built-in Render Pipeline-based shaders must be converted for use in URP.

User feedback is critical to helping us make the right decisions about our products. We want to share what we do with your feedback, and hopefully encourage you to keep sharing your needs, insights, and experience.

Our goal in capturing and managing feedback is simple. Your insights help us to deliver more value back to you, so we can prioritize and invest our time on the improvements that are most important to you and have the greatest impact.

In the last 12 months, we’ve received almost 9,000 community comments and insights in response to our roadmap entries. Of the many inquiries we get, not all require bug report creation. Many overlap and can be aggregated into a single report.

We use this aggregated feedback to prioritize our work. Each team takes the feedback and inquiries related to their product area and decides which should be implemented, and in what order, by running it through several rounds of questioning. Some key questions include:

  • How many users will the feature or improvement reach?
  • What will its impact be on users?
  • How confident are we that we understand the outcome?
  • What do we do when we have to begin sequencing work on different parts of the engine?
  • What other changes should we anticipate when the new feature is expected to ship?

What’s ready for you today: How feedback directly impacts product development

Each of the year’s Tech Stream releases are rolled into the following year’s LTS release. Your feedback on Tech Stream features helps us focus our efforts and mature features to be production ready in LTS.
Each of the year’s Tech Stream releases are rolled into the following year’s LTS release. Your feedback on Tech Stream features helps us focus our efforts and mature features to be production ready in LTS.

Feedback in Unity releases

For the most recent Tech Stream release, Unity 2022.1, we’ve already highlighted several statistics that aggregate the majority of the input we received from you. The improvements made based on this input will become part of 2022 LTS, available in spring of 2023.

Each annual LTS release is designed to offer the most stable, dependable, and supported version of Unity. It’s supported with biweekly fixes for two years, and it doesn’t introduce feature or API changes – so you can lock in production with confidence. However, that means it takes up to two years for feedback to be implemented as product improvements and new features in an LTS release.

Since the release of Unity 2021 LTS, we have released 12 updates, all of which are available on the what’s new page with detailed release notes.

I chose some specific examples of new features and improvements that were developed based on customer requests and feedback. Some of these are highlighted in the Unity 2022.1 Tech Stream release blog post.

From your feedback: Material Variants

One of the most highly requested feature cards from our rendering and visual effects roadmap was Material Variants.

Material Variants offer an integrated and powerful workflow to reduce iteration and authoring mistakes when reusing materials in teams where artists manage large amounts of assets.

Now available in both High Definition Render Pipeline (HDRP) and Universal Render Pipeline (URP), Material Variants allow you to create material hierarchies, where children can share common properties with the parent material, and override only the properties that differ. Changes to common and non-overridden properties in the template material will automatically be reflected in the variant material, saving you time and making material changes much easier.

Applying Material Variants
Applying Material Variants

From your feedback: New performance optimization tools

Through the many conversations I’ve had with developers, I know there’s a need for more tools to understand what’s going on “under the hood” of Unity. You want actionable insights that help you raise the performance of your games and deliver a smoother experience for your players across a broad range of platforms and devices.

One popular request has been the need to access low-level performance data for Android games targeting devices with Arm chipsets. To fulfill this, we’ve partnered with Arm to expose metrics that provide insight into what impact your changes produce on the hardware with the System Metrics Mali package.

Physics and UI are two big areas for performance optimization in games. The Physics Debugger is an essential tool for authoring rich and convincing physics because it helps you to understand the inner workings of the physics engine, as well as for making sense of the particular behavior observed in a project. We completely reworked the UI for the Physics Debugger, so it now includes the grouping of properties into tabs with the option to expand them with the newly added properties. Read more about improvements to the Physics Debugger.

The new UI for the Physics Debugger
The new UI for the Physics Debugger

From your feedback: UI Toolkit demo

We also heard that you want more best practices and sample projects to help you onboard efficiently with new features. We just released a new sample project, UI Toolkit sampleDragon Crashers, which demonstrates how you can leverage UI Toolkit for your own applications. This demo involves a full-featured interface over a slice of Dragon Crashers, a mini 2D RPG, using the Unity 2021 LTS UI Toolkit workflow at runtime.

The demo will be featured in a new e-book that will be available later this year. Preregister now to receive a notification once it’s published.

Wireframe view of UI Toolkit demo project, Dragon Crashers
The shop screen from the new UI Toolkit sample – Dragon Crashers demo

Lastly, we wanted to share an example of what direct customer feedback looks like and how it impacts our priorities. Our consulting and engineering support teams, such as Accelerate Solutions Games regularly pass on customer feedback to development teams or provide solutions themselves. These solutions often become widely available to other users.

This was the case in our long-time collaboration with SYBO, the creators of Subway Surfers. When their developers found a recurring rendering issue, they passed their crash logs to Unity. Recognizing an obscure engine bug, Unity quickly developed and distributed a patch.

What’s next: Shaping future development

Your feedback, both aggregated and through in-person interactions with our support engineers, continues to be the catalyst for many features that are in early development. I picked out a few interesting examples.

From your feedback: Surface Shaders for SRP

We heard your need for Scriptable Render Pipeline (SRP)-compatible Surface Shaders, as well as a better way to integrate with Unity’s shader system. We’ve been hard at work to provide a meaningful solution with the experimental Block Shaders workflow.

Block Shaders introduce a streamlined and modular text-based shader authoring workflow. This allows you to override and extend the functionality of existing shaders, without the complexity of modifying the original shader source. This is a similar workflow to the Built-in Render Pipeline Surface Shaders. Block Shaders also aim to help unify shader authoring across the render pipelines.

Learn more about the feature and let us know what you think in our forum thread.

Block Shaders introduce a streamlined and modular text-based shader authoring workflow.

From your feedback: Addressables Build Report

We also closely monitor the support tickets in aggregate. We look at trends and try to find the root cause behind support hot spots.

In conversations with our Accelerate teams, one hot spot has been understanding how Unity packs your content for runtime. To address this (no pun intended), we’re developing a new Addressables Build Report Visualizer tool that will allow users to review content builds and quickly identify key areas of potential optimization.

It will also provide a user-friendly interface and will provide valuable insights for Addressables builds regardless of project type or scale. For example, you’ll be able to see how Addressables Groups correlate with AssetBundles or the dependencies that exist between various AssetBundles.

From your feedback: UnityDataTool

In a similar vein to the Visualizer tool above, the UnityDataTool is a set of command line tools showcasing what can be done with the UnityFileSystemApi native dynamic library. This is an experimental tool developed by one of our support engineers for Ludia, who wanted a solution to help them reduce their game size.

Their support engineer initially developed an asset bundle analyzer that helped them spot issues such as multiple copies of the same asset, wrong texture sizes or formats, uncompressed audio clips, and so on. Ludia eventually integrated it into their build system so they could track how their game data was evolving from day to day.

How to reach us

Our recently launched Dev Blitz Days are a new way to share your feedback with us. This online event invites you to ask candid questions about roadmap, plans, and feature requests. We’ve already held a Blitz Day for UI and rendering themes, with more coming up soon.

These are our most commonly used feedback channels, which we encourage you to use at any level of Unity experience:

  • Product roadmap: One of the best ways to provide feedback is through our product roadmap
  • In-Editor: We collect feedback through some engine instrumentation, crash reporting, and bug submissions for specific issues you encounter.
  • The Beta program: This gives you early access to new features and is a great way to get ready for upcoming Unity releases.
  • The Insiders program: Sign up to participate in solicited feedback sessions with some of our engineering feature teams.
  • Online: Social media, the forums, Reddit, and Discord
  • In person: From events like Unite to structured meetings to provide engineering support on active projects, talking to our team in-person gives you a direct line of communication.

I think that honest dialogue with our users is one of the best things about being at Unity. Thanks to all of you who take the time to send us your feedback – it makes us a better company and Unity a better product. And please, keep it coming!

Stay tuned for the next installment in the Games Focus series, coming soon. And don’t forget to join us at Unite 2022 on Tuesday, November 1, where you’ll learn even more about what’s next across Unity.

Editor's Note (November 2, 2022): An earlier version of this blog stated that we had released eight updates since the launch of Unity 2021 LTS when in fact the total number of updates at the time of publication was 12. This has since been corrected.

October 26, 2022 in Technology | 15 min. read
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