Exploring the world of XR development? Well, the big question is: Unity or Unreal Engine? These two heavyweights are in a showdown for XR supremacy. In this Unity vs Unreal Engine for XR development comparison, we’re diving into the nitty-gritty of them, those powerhouses shaping the virtual landscapes we get lost in.

Whether you’re a seasoned pro, an artistic spirit, or just stepping into the XR game, figuring out the quirks of each engine is the key. Join the journey as we unravel Unity and Unreal Engine to figure out which one rocks the XR development scene.

What is XR Development?

XR development, short for Extended Reality development, encompasses the creation of immersive experiences that merge the physical and digital worlds. XR is an umbrella term covering VR, AR, and MR.

In XR development, creators leverage technologies to blend computer-generated elements with the real world or immerse users in entirely virtual environments.

This involves the design and implementation of applications, simulations, or interactive content that can be experienced through devices like VR headsets, AR glasses, or mobile devices. 

What is XR Development?
What is XR Development?

>>>Read more: Can You Make VR Games in Unreal Engine? If Yes, How To Make One?

Unity Vs Unreal Engine For XR Development

The top RT3D (Real-Time 3D) engines at the moment for game development, filmmaking, industrial simulation, XR, and other applications are Unity and Unreal.

To assist you in selecting one over the other, I’ll compare the two engines. First, let’s check out this brief comparison table!

FactorsUnityUnreal Engine
Scripting (Application Logic)C# language, friendlier learning curveC++ complemented by Blueprints, steeper learning curve
Visual ScriptingVisual scripting package (Bolt)Blueprint system for assembling game logic
Rendering QualityRequires configuring render pipelineHigh-fidelity graphics out of the box
Real-time Cinematic RenderingShowcase of real-time cinematic trailer (Enemies)Long-standing leader in real-time rendering
VFX (Visual Effects)Visual Effect Graph for particle manipulationNiagara visual-based editor with modular system
Target PlatformsCross-platform development, including WebXR supportCross-platform development
Creator-focused Multiplayer XR ExperiencesPopular for multiplayer XR experiences (VR Chat, Population One)Limited experiences, smaller community
Animation CapabilitiesFundamental real-time animation featuresMature animation tools, scriptable rigging system
Community SupportLarger community, beginner-friendlySmaller community but growing
Marketplace for ExtensionsLarger marketplace, diverse optionsComprehensive built-in features, somewhat smaller marketplace
Subscription CostPaid plans based on revenue, starting at $399/yearStandard License (no fees), Enterprise program at $1500/year/seat with royalty fees under certain conditions

Now, let’s dive into the details!

Application Logic (Scripting)

Unity and Unreal Engine have their unique approaches to application logic scripting, catering to different preferences and skill levels.

  • Text-based scripting

In Unity, C# is the primary scripting language. It is known for its friendliness and faster learning curve compared to C++.

C# is well-suited for common use and software architecture implementation at scale, making it easier to maintain as the application grows. Unity allows developers to create an entire project using only C#.

On the other hand, Unreal Engine utilizes C++ for scripting, complementing it with the Blueprint tool. While C++ is powerful and allows for in-depth software architecture, it is more challenging to learn and use than C#.

Unreal’s implementation of C++ relies heavily on Unreal-specific code that doesn’t directly translate to general C++ usage. Creating an entire project in Unreal using only C++ is impractical, as Blueprint is a significant part of Unreal’s visual scripting approach.

Unity Text-based scripting
Unity Text-based scripting

>>>Read more: Is Unreal Engine 5 Easy? How Long Does It Take To Learn UE5?

  • Visual scripting

For those who prefer a visual approach to programming, both engines offer solutions, each with its characteristics.

Unity provides a visual scripting package known as Bolt. It is a node-based logic engine, that allows designers or developers to implement behaviors for game objects directly in the editor.

While Unity’s scripting documentation is C# centric, learning C# scripting makes it easier to grasp visual scripting. Extending visual scripting nodes in Unity requires no special skills.

Unreal, on the other hand, uses Blueprint as its primary visual scripting tool. It is especially favored by beginners, with C++ available for tasks not achievable through Blueprint.

UE’s scripting documentation is Blueprint-centric. Learning Blueprint doesn’t directly translate to C++ scripting, requiring additional training. Extending Blueprint nodes in Unreal requires knowledge of C++ libraries and engine-specific macros.

UE Visual scripting
UE Visual scripting

>>>Read more: What Engine is Best for VR? Top 8 VR Game Engines in 2024

Rendering

Both shine in real-time rendering for XR experiences, but they have distinct approaches. Unreal delivers impressive graphics automatically, while Unity needs some tweaking to match that level.

If you’re targeting mobile in Unreal, you might have to scale down the graphics, and the opposite is true for Unity. In XR, optimization often takes precedence over flashy graphics, making Unity’s default setup more suitable.

Unity’s rendering system is flexible with Shader Graph and HLSL code, giving experienced developers more control. Yet, Unity struggles with transitioning between different render pipelines, which can be time-consuming.

Unreal lacks direct HLSL integration but offers a user-friendly node-based editor. However, Unreal shaders often need external source code. Unreal provides a wider range of post-processing choices compared to Unity’s basic options. 

Unity Rendering
Unity Rendering

Real-time Cinematic Rendering

Both Unity and Unreal Engine are getting good at creating realistic scenes in real time, but they’re finding their best uses in different areas.

Unreal has been a leader in things like architecture and movie effects, while Unity’s High Definition Render Pipeline (HDRP) is showing its strength in high-quality visuals.

Unity showcased a real-time cinematic trailer called ‘Enemies’ at GDC 2022.

This trailer had a detailed female model with realistic features like moving eyes, facial expressions, and lifelike hair. The level of detail was so impressive that it was hard to tell if it was real or not.

This highlights Unity’s growing ability to create stunning visuals in real time, especially in areas like advanced car visualization. While Unreal is still strong in various fields, Unity’s HDRP is proving itself as a powerful tool for delivering lifelike and beautiful visuals in real-time cinematic experiences, particularly in XR development.

VFX 

Unity and Unreal Engine offer different tools for creating special effects in XR development. They commonly use animated planes with custom materials for visual effects (VFX). These planes align with the camera, and shaders handle the animation. However, this method lacks reactive procedural effects.

Unity’s VFX Graph is a user-friendly tool with nodes for creating and manipulating particles. It’s like Unity’s Shader Graph but has limitations on certain platforms, especially in the Universal Render Pipeline used for mobile devices.

Unreal’s Niagara is also user-friendly but may feel different for Unreal developers. It’s modular, allowing for interactive effects, but learning it might be a bit unfamiliar.

On mobile, Niagara has limitations, not supporting some rendering features and needing specific settings for Android and iOS.

Unity VFX 
Unity VFX

Target Platforms

Both Unity and Unreal Engine let you create apps and games for various devices like Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, and gaming consoles. In XR (Extended Reality) development, Unity has an extra advantage because it supports publishing HTML5 for the web.

Unreal used to support this but stopped after version 4.24. So, if you want to make XR experiences for the web, Unity is still a good choice.

For XR development, Unity tends to work better for virtual and augmented reality. Unity gets toolkits for these technologies faster than Unreal.

Unreal may take longer to release these toolkits, and some features supported by Blueprints (a visual scripting system) might be limited compared to Unity.

In simple terms, both are good for making things on different devices, but if you’re into XR and want to reach the web, Unity has a bit of an edge.

Unity Target Platforms
Unity Target Platforms

Creator-focused Multiplayer XR Experiences

Unity is a popular choice for making multiplayer XR experiences like Zenith MMO and VR Chat, while Unreal Engine faces challenges in this area.

One big reason is Unity’s support for runtime mesh access, allowing easy customization of environments and avatars. Unreal, until recently, had limited features for this, making it tougher for creators.

Unity is friendlier for creators with its Asset Packs, letting them easily add different art assets to their games. Unreal has DLC and patching features, but they’re not as user-friendly.

Although Unreal has made progress in runtime loading with formats like GLTF, there are still optimization challenges, especially when constructing skeletal meshes, causing potential rendering issues.

UE Creator-focused Multiplayer XR Experiences
UE Creator-focused Multiplayer XR Experiences

Animation 

Unity supports essential real-time animation features like armature-based animation, vertex animation, state machines, and sequences. These are the building blocks for creating complex animations in XR projects.

Unreal Engine has shown a bit more maturity in animation quality and tools. It introduced features like Control Rig, a system that lets you control animations in the engine without needing other 3D software.

Another cool addition is live-link take recording, which captures real-time performances of characters from different tracking systems.

Unity Animation 
Unity Animation

Support 

Unity has a larger community, likely because it’s easier for beginners. This means that if you run into problems while developing, you’re more likely to find solutions for Unity than for Unreal.

Unity’s big community brings more people together to share knowledge and help each other on forums.

So, if you’re stuck on something, you’re likely to get help quicker with Unity. Unreal Engine, while still having good support, has a smaller community. This might mean it takes a bit more time to find answers to your questions.

Assetstore/Marketplace for Extensions & Plugins

UE Marketplace for Extensions & Plugins
UE Marketplace for Extensions & Plugins

When it comes to extensions and plugins for XR development, Unity and Unreal Engine offer different strengths. Unity, despite having fewer built-in features, compensates with a larger marketplace for plugins and extensions.

This expansive marketplace provides developers with a wide array of functionalities at various price points, including 3D models, environments, sounds, shaders, tools, and templates.

On the other hand, Unreal Engine comes equipped with a wealth of built-in features, offering a comprehensive set of tools for developers. However, Unreal’s marketplace for plugins and extensions is somewhat smaller compared to Unity.

Let’s check their marketplace/store!

Subscription Cost

Unity provides a range of paid plans based on the company’s revenue in the last 12 months. Starting at $399 per year per seat, Unity offers flexibility in its pricing.

There are no royalty fees associated with Unity plans, making it a straightforward cost structure. Additional details on Unity Engine plans can be found on their pricing page.

Unreal Engine, on the other hand, offers a Standard License with no fees. For more advanced users or enterprises, there’s an Enterprise program priced at $1500 per year per seat.

Unreal Engine also involves royalty fees under certain conditions. This means that if your project achieves a certain level of success, you’ll need to pay a percentage of your revenue to Unreal Engine. 

>>>Read more: Is Unreal Engine 5 Open Source? Is It Completely Free?

Which do Developers Prefer?

Which do Developers Prefer?
Which do Developers Prefer?

The interest shown by developers in working with Unity and Unreal Engine, as per Stack Overflow’s survey, provides insights into the popularity of these platforms.

Among the 71,828 people interviewed, 12,793 expressed an interest in working with Unity shortly, indicating a substantial interest in the engine for XR development. On the other hand, Unreal Engine garnered interest from 5,154 developers.

While these numbers don’t directly correlate with subscription costs, they do reflect the preferences of developers. Unity’s larger interest might be attributed to factors like ease of use and a larger community.

For XR development, this interest may translate into a higher number of developers subscribing to Unity’s plans.

However, it’s essential to consider other factors, including the specific needs of a project and the features each engine offers, when making a decision between Unity and Unreal Engine for XR development.

So, Which One Should You Choose?

Choosing between Unity and Unreal Engine in XR development depends on various factors:

  • If you’re an XR Unity developer, sticking with Unity is recommended unless you want to explore Unreal or consider it as a safety precaution.
  • For XR Unreal developers, switching to Unity is discouraged unless your specific project requires a feature not available in Unreal.
  • For programmers with no game engine experience, Unity is preferable due to its shallower learning curve.
  • Artists with no game engine experience should choose Unreal for its captivating capabilities, despite potential technical limitations in XR.
  • If you lack programming or art experience, starting with Unity is advisable for a quicker learning curve.
  • For mobile/standalone games or apps with XR distribution, Unity is the preferred choice.
  • For AAA games with XR distribution, Unreal is recommended for its advanced capabilities.

Conclusion

Above is my comparison of Unity vs Unreal Engine for XR development.

Unity’s accessibility and extensive marketplace cater well to beginners and those focused on mobile applications, while Unreal Engine shines with its mature animation tools and suitability for AAA games.

Ultimately, the decision hinges on individual project requirements and personal preferences, making each engine a powerful contender in shaping the future of XR experiences. 

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