Flash vs Unity 3D

Posted in Flash, Unity 3D by Protopop on December 27, 2008

*ive moved the official post to my games blog:

Please link to the post above. Thanks!

After reading John Grden’s post about  Unity 3D and this post on the subject, I thought I’d add my opinion. Let me say that i am a longtime flash developer coming from an artist’s background. I love Flash and am attracted to Unity 3D, and think there is plenty of room for both. That said:

The Current Situation

Flash is a well-tested technology with a lot of goodwill behind it. Decisions to limit the capabilities of the Flash player to ensure ubiquity have been good ones, but now the imagination of it’s users is outpacing the power of the flash player. Flash’s primary draw has been it’s effectiveness as a creation tool and delivery method for a variety of media (games, music, videos, animation, apps), but while the delivery method is still pitch perfect, the creation tools are lacking.

Why Flash is King

Flash works.

Slower on mac and haphazardly on Linux perhaps but it works.  As for Unity, I have installed the Unity 3D web plug in twice.  The first time i checked out a unity example with it, it threw up a black screen that required a restart of my computer to get out of.  I gave it another test today with another Unity example and had the same results. My computer specs are not an issue for the point i am trying to make – flash works even on my old system, Unity didn’t.


Flash and Unity 3D are like PCs and Televisions.

Televisions do one thing very well. They turn on instantly. They don’t crash. They are easy to use. But the trade off is that they are not very flexible. My television cannot create rich internet applications if I decide to try that.

PCs Personal Computers do many things with less reliability than a television turning on and off. They crash. They frustrate. They don’t work and then suddenly they do. They take an age to turn on and off. But unlike the specialized television they can literally do millions of things. Run air traffic control centers. Surf the internet. Play music. Explore Mars.

Flash is like the PC in this analogy. It doesn’t harness the most power or create 3d as well as Unity, but it has consistently offered people who are willing to try a surprisingly unlimited range of opportunities. Unity specializes in games and does it really well. Flash is less specialized but does more – games, motion graphics, video, music, animations, apps, banners and more

Why Unity Rocks

Sex Appeal

Read John Grden’s post and you will notice something – he is excited. The kind of  “I’m staying up all night because wow the power of this is so cool” excitement that keeps flash developers working past their bedtime and without encouragement from the outside.  Unity offers the kind of sexy interface and promise of power that made flash a phenomenon in the first place. I’m excited about it and it essentially crashed my computer twice.

Web 3D

Everyone has wanted this since 1999. Powerful, simple, accessible 3D for the web. Is anyone surprised that an app like Unity is making such a splash by delivering the holy Grail?


Flash doesnt deliver enough graphic power for many situations, and people looking to create powerful applications that can be distributed online are reluctantly looking elsewhere. When Flash superstars like Bit 101 start blogging about the ABC’s of iPhone development with the zeal of a kid in a candyshop, code and tutorials included, the trend is clear. There are new ways to deliver your creations to the masses and this will quickly eat into flash’s userbase. Especially since i don’t see full-powered Actionscript 3 flash apps being available on any devices besides the desktop and laptop anytime soon.

The Masses

If Unity 3D didn’t have a web player, we would not be having this conversation. Unity would be just another game creation app, albeit a very attractive one. It is Unity’s developing ability to deliver 3D on the web that will directly compete with Flash.

How Flash can Compete

The following suggestions are for Adobe to consider:

Open your vision of Flash

No excuses about how Flash is meant for this or that and Unity is meant for something else.

Flash is not the ‘industry-leading-authoring-platform-for-delivering-engaging-interactive-experiences-and-deploying- accessible-and-content-rich-internet-applications-on-the-world-wide- web-and-breathe-whew! ‘. Flash is the best way of getting your imagination out on the web for all to see.  And it has done a terrific job of doing that no matter what kind of imagination you might have.

Acknowledge the Competition

Unity 3d with its web plug in offers exactly the same thing – imagination online. Adobe -get moving! Everyone knows you are the monopoly and we all know what happens to monopolies in terms of innovation – it falters. You have got to surprise us by giving the fans what they want, and for the better part of the last decade, that dream has been hardware acceleration and web 3d.  Learn from them and acknowledge they are offering something out of the box (powerful gorgeous 3d web) you aren’t. No it won’t be easy – but do it or someone else will

Leverage the Power of the Flash Player

Reading a few posts on Adobe’s new C/C++ to Flash solution Alchemy and the open source meta compiler Haxe has surprised me:

1. Flash player IS capable of native OS-like speeds

2. Flash player is capable of delivering all kinds of code bases

Who knew?

I love the flash player – i can play it windowed, full screen, in a  web page – my choice. There’s no reason Adobe or anyone cant create a new IDE that leverages more powerful 3d tools and compile this down to something the flash player can play.  Keep the player – expand the technology that can use it. After all it’s everywhere, its well known, its cute and it works. Adobe has already done this with Flash CS series and Flex. Yes they both use actionscript, but they are two separate apps that compile to the same player. People are willing to use whatever tool they need to to get the job done.

The Buyout Option

Quite frankly, it looks like the Unity team is doing just fine on their own. I’m not sure Adobe buying them would have such a positive effect. Yes it would stifle Adobe’s competition in this area, but it would potentially shake up Unity’s corporate culture in negative ways. Unity has a cool, young app here, so cool we have people buying Macs just to use it. And I know there are a bunch of flash developers just waiting to pounce once a PC version arrives. Yes, they are doing something right so let them flourish. Instead of buying them out, innovate.

The Bottom Line

New technologies that allow content creators to deliver more graphically intensive and powerful games and apps across the internet are emerging.

The Unity Web Player will overcome any instabilities and its content creation tools will go cross platform, attracting hundreds of thousands of developers aching for powerful web 3d in an instant.The Apple appstore reaches millions of customers and the iphone and iPod touch themselves outperform the graphic capabilities of flash on the desktop. The Flash player has excellent reach, easy of use and cross platform capabilities. What it lacks now is raw power and an expanded vision to compete with these new technologies.

The good news  that while i see Unity 3D and Apple apps only continue to expand their marketshare and user base (which is a good thing), the same will be true with Flash if it addresses these concerns.