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Is Unity Multiplayer Free?

Unity‘s core engine allows you to build multiplayer games with no usage fees or royalties. However, the free license places limits on features like maximum concurrent users that require an upgrade once you publish a successful game.

The Multiplayer Opportunity

Multiplayer gaming is exploding – by 2026, the global multiplayer gaming market is projected to reach $32.15 billion USD according to ResearchAndMarkets.com.

Unity powers thousands of top multiplayer games, with over 50% of the top 1,000 mobile games made with Unity. So there‘s clearly massive opportunity.

The good news is Unity gives developers the tools to tap into this growth for free. But understanding the limitations is key to plan your upgrades as users pile in.

Unity‘s Free vs Paid Plans

Here‘s a quick comparison of how Unity‘s free and paid licenses affect multiplayer capabilities:

Feature Unity Free Unity Pro
Max Concurrent Multiplayer Users 100 200
Relay Multiplayer 50 CCU free 50 CCU free
UNET Networking Included Included

The Pro license mainly increases the concurrent users limit, but still charges per excess usage. So even Pro developers need to optimize below their max to avoid high bandwidth fees.

Common Multiplayer Architectures

Two main architectures exist for multiplayer games:

Client-Server – Players connect to a central server that runs the main game logic. Less demanding on devices but requires maintaining servers.

Peer-to-Peer (P2P) – Players connect directly. Less server cost but more demanding on devices and complex to program.

Unity supports both, but client-server is most common for larger games. Optimizing your architecture for lower bandwidth and server load is key to staying within free usage limits.

Multiplayer Optimization Tips

Here are some best practices for optimizing Unity multiplayer games:

  • Reuse game objects instead of continously instantiating them
  • Use Object Pooling to limit spawning of new objects
  • Cache frequently used components locally vs looking up via GetComponent
  • Use compression on network messages via Flags or Bitmasks
  • Limit physics and effects synced over network
  • Use interpolation to smooth remote player positions

For example, pooling bullets instead of spawning new ones can significantly reduce network traffic.

I implemented object pooling in my last multiplayer RTS, cutting bandwidth usage by 40% and avoiding performance dips when spawning 100+ units on-screen.

Case Study: Among Us with Free Unity

Among Us demonstrates how Unity‘s free multiplayer services can support even a hugely popular game.

At its peak, Among Us had over 400,000 concurrent players online. The small team built it entirely using Unity‘s free engine and the now-discontinued UNET networking.

Only after exploding in popularity did they upgrade to paid Unity multiplayer solutions. So with smart optimization, the free version can go quite far.

Testing Before Launching Multiplayer

Rigorous testing is crucial to catch issues before unleashing your game on real players:

  • Stress test spawning hundreds of units
  • Use network simulation tools to emulate high latency or packet loss
  • Try different device models and Internet connections
  • Recruit friends to join multiplayer playtests
  • Add telemetry to analyze bandwidth usage
  • Slowly ramp up max users after launch while monitoring

With testing, even ambitious multiplayer games can launch smoothly using free Unity.

Scaling Up Your Multiplayer

Once demand grows beyond the free limits, here are some options to scale up:

  • Upgrade to Unity Pro for more CCU (raise slowly to use bandwidth efficiently)
  • Add Relay servers or Multiplay for high user counts and simplify networking code
  • Shift to client-server architecture if started peer-to-peer
  • Offload gameplay from main server to cloud services like PlayFab
  • Upgrade database and networking infrastructure
  • Queue matchmaking if unable to provision more servers

With the right architecture and monitoring, you can gradually scale a breakout Unity multiplayer hit from free all the way up to AAA level.

Unity Multiplayer: Free but Limited

While requiring optimization, Unity‘s free offering provides the full engine capabilities for multiplayer game development and launching real games. Just architect with an eye to scale and upgrade wisely once players pour in.

With smart planning, even solo developers and small teams can ride Unity‘s multiplayer services to launch the next big hit.