Unity, one gaming development platform to unite them all, up for sale

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By Ian Sherr

When World of Warcraft maker Blizzard set out to make a card game that worked on computers and mobile devices, it used tools made by Unity to help bring it to life.

Blizzard created Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, which has become one of its most popular titles. That success is due to how easy it is to use on both PCs and tablets, a big accomplishment for Blizzard since Hearthstone was its first-ever game for mobile devices. Much of the credit goes to Unity’s tools, which make it easier to create games that work across devices, said Jason Chayes, who headed up production for Hearthstone.

“It was a first for Blizzard to bring a game to mobile devices, and we wanted it to be a great experience,” he said. Unity made that possible.

Chayes and his team aren’t the only ones tapping into Unity’s game engine to save time and effort. More than 3 million people have registered to use Unity’s tools, which were first released in 2005, the San Francisco-based  company says.

More importantly, nearly half of all mobile game developers today use Unity.

Now the company is gearing up for a potential sale, having shared presentations with possible acquirers including Google, according to people familiar with the matter. It’s also had serious talks with at least one would-be buyer in recent months, they say.

Is this good or bad news for Unity and game developers? That’s an open question. A sale is a risky choice for software tools makers. While acquisitions can help a company grow faster, often by giving it access to much-needed capital to fund development or a large sales staff to pitch customers, a buyout can also hurt its prospects. Large parent companies can reduce funding in development or restrict access to the technology, both of which have happened to other game making tools.

If Unity picks an indifferent sponsor, game developers won’t have many alternatives to which they can turn to get the easy, cross-device development they enjoy today. One choice is Unreal Engine, software developed by Epic Games that offers functionality similar to Unity. But Unreal Engine isn’t as popular among mobile app developers, in part because it was slower to support Apple’s mobile devices than Unity was.

Whether Unity is actively trying to sell itself isn’t clear. Various people tell CNET News that either the company has been courting potential deals or responding to interest from its partners and other companies.

It’s also unclear how much Unity is worth, with a recent VentureBeat article pegging an asking price as high as $2 billion.

Unity declined to comment.

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