Unity vs Unreal: Which is Better for XR Development?

Unity or Unreal: The Best Option for XR Development

Unity vs Unreal Which is Better for XR Development - XR Today News
Mixed RealityInsights

Published: June 21, 2024

Rebekah Carter

Rebekah Carter

Unity vs Unreal: Which is the best option for companies creating content for extended reality? Both companies are well-known for their innovative approach to supporting the production of augmented, mixed, and virtual reality solutions.

However, each option has its own unique pros and cons to consider. Unity is popular for its accessibility and beginner-friendly features. It combines an innovative drag-and-drop interface with many tutorials and online resources. Plus, Unity has a broad asset library brimming with models, scripts, and textures that streamline the development process.

Unreal, or “Unreal Engine”, on the other hand, excels at enabling the creation of visually stunning graphics. It’s ideal for those creating high-end AR/VR experiences with advanced rendering capabilities, state-of-the-art lighting, and effects.

Here, we’ll explore the major differences between these platforms to help you make the right choice for your development journey.

Unity vs Unreal Engine: The Quick Comparison Guide

Unreal Engine and Unity are two of the top solutions for companies investing in XR development. They both offer creators access to various tools that enable the creation of immersive experiences in various environments. We’ll dive a little deeper into the differences between the two options in a moment, but here’s a quick overview:


Factor Unity Unreal Engine
Pricing Plans based on revenue, starting at $399 per year Standard license, enterprise fees starting at $1500 per year, per user (some royalty fees)
Scripting/ Application logic C# (beginner-friendly) C++ complemented by additional blueprints
Visual scripting capabilities Bolt visual scripting package Blueprint system
Rendering Configuration of rendering pipeline required. Out-of-the-box high-fidelity graphics
Real-time cinematic rendering Real-time cinematic trailers Long-standing leadership in real-time rendering
Visual effects (VFX) Visual Effect Graphs Visual-based editor with a modular system (Niagara)
Target platforms Cross-Platform with WebXR Cross-platform
Creator-focused multiplayer experiences Convenient multiplayer solutions Limited options for multiplayer accessibility
Marketplace extensions Extensive marketplace with a wide range of options Smaller marketplace (but more built-in features)
Animation Fundamental animation features Mature animation capabilities with scriptable rigging
Support Large community for consistent support Slightly smaller community

Unity vs Unreal: The Complete Guide

So, Unity vs Unreal: Which is the best solution for your development needs?

Ultimately, the answer depends on several factors, from the devices or platforms you’ll be developing experiences for to your experience in the industry.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the main factors you’ll need to consider.

The Pricing and Subscription Costs

How much you’ll pay to use a platform like Unity or Unreal Engine can vary based on various factors. Unity offers access to a range of plans, the cost of which can vary depending on your revenue in the last 12 months. Prices typically start at around $399 per user per year. You can find out how the pricing structure works here.

Notably, there aren’t any royalty fees included with Unity plans, which can make it a bit easier to calculate your budget if you’re using this platform. Unreal Engine, on the other hand, offers access to one standard license with no hidden fees. There are even free plans available to some users, although royalties can apply depending on your revenue.

If you’re an advanced user with more specific enterprise-level needs, Unreal also offers an Enterprise plan, which starts at $1,500 per user per year.

Application Logic and Scripting

Both Unity and Unreal Engine take a unique approach to scripting application logic. Generally, beginners in the XR development space will prefer Unity, as it uses C# as its primary scripting language. This makes Unity a lot more user-friendly and flexible, as C# is better suited for implementation at scale.

Unreal Engine, on the other hand, uses C++ as its primary scripting language, with the accompaniment of a “Blueprint” tool. Overall, C++ is a more powerful option, allowing for comprehensive customization to software architecture.

However, it also comes with a higher learning curve, and Unreal focuses heavily on specific code that can be difficult to understand. This generally means Unreal is the better choice for complex projects but requires more technical knowledge.

Unity vs Unreal: Visual Scripting

If (like many developers) you prefer a visual approach to scripting for XR or VR content, both Unreal and Unity have distinct solutions to offer. Unity delivers a user-friendly scripting package (Bolt), which leverages a node-based logic engine. This allows developers to build behaviors for content objects within their editor platform.

Unity’s solutions make it easier for beginners to get started in the XR landscape if they already have C# knowledge. You don’t need any special skills to extend visual scripting nodes in the ecosystem.

Unreal uses “Blueprint” as its primary visual tool and allows developers to leverage C++ for anything they can’t create in Blueprint. Compared to Unity, Unreal’s solution is easier to learn if you don’t have prior scripting experience. However, learning how to use Blueprint won’t directly translate into C++ scripting. This means you’ll still need extra education and training.

Rendering and Real-Time Cinematic Rendering

When assessing Unity vs. Unreal, it’s worth noting that both solutions excel at offering real-time rendering capabilities. Again, though, both platforms have distinct approaches.

Unreal delivers incredible graphics automatically, whereas with Unity, you’ll need to tweak a few things to achieve the perfect results. Notably, if you’re designing mobile AR experiences, you might have to scale the graphics down with Unreal and up with Unity.

Notably, Unity’s render system is very flexible, with HLSL and Shader Graph code, giving developers more control. However, it can be difficult to transition between different render pipelines. Unreal doesn’t offer direct HLSL integration but does deliver a user-friendly node-based editor and a range of post-processing options for developers.

Regarding real-time cinematic rendering, Unreal is a leader in architecture and movie effects in XR. Unity’s High Definition Render Pipeline (HDRP) is popular for high-quality visuals, such as cinematic trailers. Unity’s ability to create stunning visuals in real-time is increasing, but Unreal still offers a more robust solution in various fields.

Unity vs Unreal: Visual Effects (VFX) and Animation

Unreal Engine and Unity also both have excellent tools available for the creation of special effects in XR development. Both platforms use animated planes with custom materials, which can align with the camera, and leverage shaders during animation.

Unity’s integrated VFX Graph is a fantastic tool for beginners, with convenient nodes for manipulating and creating particles. It’s similar to Unity’s Shader Graph solution, but does have limitations on certain platforms, such as when you’re using the company’s Universal Render Pipeline for mobile applications.

Niagara, Unreal’s visual effects solution, is also very user-friendly, but it does feel a little different from using some of Unreal’s other tools. The solution is modular and allows developers to create powerful interactive effects, but it comes with a slight learning curve.

Similarly to Unity’s offering, Niagara does have some limitations for certain mobile applications. For instance, it requires developers to implement specific settings for Android and iOS. Plus, Niagara doesn’t support ES3.1 rendering and certain other rendering features.

In terms of animation, Unity offers most of the fundamental real-time features developers need, like vertex and armature-based animation, sequences, and state machines. Unreal Engine delivers a little more maturity in animation tools and quality. It includes features like Control Rig, which allows developers to control animations within the engine without add-on software.

Plus, with Unreal, users can access live-link take recordings to capture characters’ performances from different tracking systems in real time.

Target Platforms and Multiplayer Experiences

When looking for the right development platform, it’s always worth considering exactly which platforms and tools you want to create XR content for. For instance, the Apple Vision Pro developer kit comes with built-in support for Unity.

The good news is that both Unreal Engine and Unity will allow you to create apps for various devices, including Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS. What gives Unity an edge here is that it supports HTML5 web publishing, something that Unreal removed from its system in recent years.

For XR development, Unity is usually the top choice for augmented and virtual reality. Usually (as you can see with Apple’s Vision Pro kit), Unity gets access to these toolkits faster than Unreal.

Ultimately, both solutions are great for creating immersive experiences that work with various devices. However, if you’re looking for more flexibility in XR, and you want to create unique solutions for the web, Unity might be the better choice.

Another area where Unity excels over Unreal is in the development of multiplayer XR experiences (like VRChat for immersive collaboration). Unity supports runtime mesh access, which makes it easier to create custom environments and avatars for multiplayer experiences.

In the past, Unreal Engine hasn’t offered much support for runtime mesh loading, though external solutions can be embedded into the editor. The editor also has the code available to import various assets, but these are editor-only modules.

Unity offers “Unity Asset Packs,” which can load any artistic asset into an application with compatible binaries. Unreal has patching functionality and DLC, but it’s not as easy to create comprehensive solutions in Unreal.

Marketplaces for Plugins and Extensions

If you’re basing your comparison of Unity vs Unreal on flexibility and scalability, both platforms offer access to plugins and extensions for development. Unity doesn’t have as many built-in features available as Unreal, but it compensates with a much larger and more diverse marketplace.

The marketplace connected to Unity offers developers a huge range of functionalities and solutions they can access for different needs, such as shaders, sounds, 3D models, templates, and more. Unreal Engine, on the other hand, has a much smaller marketplace.

There are still various extensions and plugins you can access, but Unreal focuses on giving you the tools you need already built-in to the platform, so you may not have to rely as heavily on extras.

Unity vs Unreal: Community Support

In terms of overall customer support, both Unity and Unreal are excellent at delivering guidance and technical assistance to developers. They both have technical support teams who can interact directly with users through various channels. Both companies also provide access to various training and support resources, like Unity’s training hub.

Unity shines in the community landscape. The platform’s accessibility to beginners means it has gathered a large community over the years. There are plenty of platforms, forums, and social media channels where you can find answers to common questions.

Unreal has a slightly smaller community at the moment, although it is constantly growing, particularly as the XR market becomes more popular.

Unity vs Unreal: Which is Best?

Both Unity and Unreal are popular solutions for XR development, but they generally appeal to very different groups of users. If you’re new to the XR development space and you’re looking for something beginner-friendly, Unity might be the best choice unless you’re looking for an opportunity to create something extremely advanced.

Unity has a much lower learning curve for programmers who don’t have any experience using similar “game engine” solutions. However, if you want to create more advanced visual effects and unique experiences, Unreal Engine is a more powerful tool.

Unity may also be the better option for developers creating standalone and mobile apps for XR distribution. Alternatively, Unreal is recommended to those who want to create AAA games with XR distribution, so it’s worth considering your overall goals.

Ultimately, your decision will hinge on the type of XR experiences you want to create, your project requirements, and even your overall personal preferences. Remember, there’s nothing stopping you from experimenting with both options, provided you have the skills, time, and budget.

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