The recently released Unity Developer Preview is jam-packed with new features. Among the most exciting of these features are previews of two new export options for publishing to the web: Google Native Client and Flash.
In addition to leveraging users' already-installed software to get them into your games even faster, these platforms will allow Unity developers to perform for a previously unreachable audience: Linux users!
Thanks to the cross-platform nature of Google's Native Client toolkit, Unity web players built using the Enable NaCl Support option will just work for Chrome users, regardless of whether they're using Chrome on Linux, Windows, or Mac OSX. This makes the Chrome Web Store one of the first distribution channels to provide high-quality 3D games to all three major desktop platforms.
In addition, players making use of Unity's new Flash export feature will also run in any Stage 3D-enabled browser, regardless of operating system. Linux users will take a moderate performance hit here, however, as Adobe has delayed Linux support for GPU-accelerated rasterization in Stage 3D. Nevertheless, an out-of-the-box Flash build of the Angry Bots demo looked great and ran smoothly on my Ubuntu workstation, at the cost of somewhat higher CPU usage.
We're excited about these publishing options because they represent Unity's first official support for Linux, an oft-requested feature.
Linux usage is notoriously difficult to track, since there's no single point where cash gets exchanged for code, and is generally underreported. However, we do have a few relevant data points.
w3schools, a comprehensive online web development reference, keeps comprehensive statistics about their visitors' operating system usage, as reported by browsers. In 2011, reported Linux usage has held steady between 5 and 6% (for comparison, reported MacOS usage is between 7 and 9%). Additionally, w3schools has been gathering these statistics for years, so it's possible to see a general growth trend for Linux since it started with around 2% reported usage in 2003. Some have suggested that w3schools's content biases its userbase toward more technical users who could be more likely than a random sampling of the general public to have adopted Linux, but there are clearly non-technical roads that lead directly to w3schools.
The Humble Indie Bundle, a series of pay-what-you-choose, independent game bundles that supports Linux, OSX, and Windows, reports that 20 to 35% (based on highly scientific pie chart estimation ;-)) of each bundle's total revenue originates from Linux users. In addition, Linux users choose to pay an average of 100%+ more than Windows users, and about 50% more than OSX users. (Current statistics for HIB4 show an average payment of $10.29 for Linux, $7.42 for OSX, and $4.57 for Windows.) Other data points include 2D Boy, who reported that 17% of the sales in their pay-what-you-choose campaign for World of Goo came from Linux users, compared to 18% on OSX, with Linux users again choosing to pay substantially more than users on other platforms. Frictional Games reported in 2010 that 12% of sales for their Penumbra series were attributable to Linux users.
So, this means that you can realistically gain 12-35% revenue potential just by clicking the Enable NaCl Support checkbox before building your webplayer.
The Angry Bots demo has been on the Chrome Web Store for some time now - go check it out! Google also featured several Unity games (4 of the 7 games featured were built with Unity) in its recent Chrome Web Store trailer: Cordy, Pirates of New Horizons, Sleepy Jack, and Running Fred.
The Chrome Web Store is the first link every Chrome user sees when opening a new tab, so get your awesome games up there where 33.4% of all Internet users can't miss them!