Unity, the firm responsible for the widely-used video game engine, unveiled contentious pricing model alterations on Tuesday, leading to significant backlash from game developers.
The most controversial change introduces a new Runtime Fee, requiring developers to pay every time their game is installed, but only if it exceeds specific revenue and lifetime installation benchmarks.
This report was updated on 18th September with new details presented at the bottom of the page.
Unity Pricing Update - What does Unity say about the price changes?
"Games qualify for the Unity Runtime Fee after two criteria have been met: 1) the game has passed a minimum revenue threshold in the last 12 months, and 2) the game has passed a minimum lifetime install count," the company wrote in the original article detailing the upcoming pricing model changes.
"We set high revenue and game install thresholds to avoid impacting those who have yet to find scale, meaning they don’t need to pay the fee until they have reached significant success."
Unity's pricing model changes are set to come into effect as of January 1, 2024. Although the company will take into account the performance of titles before that date, it only intends to charge for installations occurring after it.
This major shift sparked outrage among game developers, particularly inside the indie space where Unity is widely used. On the one hand, Unity's planned runtime fee alone adds another variable from a financial perspective.
Another major pain point is that of the pricing model changes being announced without any prior consultation or notification.
"Today, Unity (the engine we use to make our games) announced that they'll soon be taking a fee from developers for every copy of the game installed over a certain threshold - regardless of how that copy was obtained," developer Aggro Crab Games wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.
"That means Another Crab's Treasure will be free to install for the 25 million Game Pass subscribers. If a fraction of those users download our game, Unity could take a fee that puts an enormous dent in our income and threatens the sustainability of our business.
"And that's before we even think about sales on other platforms, or pirated installs of our game, or even multiple installs by the same user!"
The developer then went on to say that Unity's decision puts it in a position where it may be hard to justify using the engine for future titles.
While the latter noted it would outright change engines were Unity's pricing model changes to go through in their current form, other teams whose projects are deep in development using Unity aren't able to take a similar approach.
Leaving aside the fact that changing engines involves learning a new toolset, which takes time and effort especially after reliably using the same tools for years, projects that are months away from release cannot easily pivot.
For the King 2 is one such game, its developer noting that it "can't help but wonder if having this knowledge before we began development would have changed our engine choice completely."
With more and more voices making their negative opinion heard, Unity "regrouped," clarifying to Axios that games offered for charity will not incur fees.
The company plans to offer developers a means of informing them about these cases.
Game Pass installation fees will charged to distributors, while game demos will also not incur fees unless the download includes the full game.
Unity then published another post to X, attempting to provide further clarification.
"The developers who will be impacted are generally those who have successful games and are generating revenue way above the thresholds we outlined in our blog," the post reads.
"This means that developers who are still building their business and growing the audience of their games will not pay a fee. The program was designed specifically this way to ensure developers could find success before the install fee takes effect."
In the comments, the company explained that it uses its own proprietary data model to track installs, believing that it "gives an accurate determination of the number of times the runtime is distributed for a given project."
The runtime fee will also be "evaluated and adjusted" every year. Replying to a question regarding the installation of pirated copies, the company replied with the following:
"We do already have fraud detection practices in our Ads technology which is solving a similar problem, so we will leverage that know-how as a starting point.
"We recognize that users will have concerns about this and we will make available a process for them to submit their concerns to our fraud compliance team."
To say that Unity's pricing model changes stirred up a hornet's nest is putting it mildly. Were the company to fully backtrack on the intended changes, one has to wonder about the damage it caused to its brand.
"It comes down to trust," developer Rami Ismail, formerly of Vlambeer, wrote. "I don't think practically many devs will be bankrupted by this, but any system that is sprung on developers that allows them to be financially harmed in any way by their success should not be tolerated by any business looking to build a sustainable future."
UPDATE SEPTEMBER 18, 2023: With an increasing number of developers speaking out against Unity's planned pricing model shift, the company has issued a statement in which it apologized and promised a series of changes:
"We have heard you. We apologize for the confusion and angst the runtime fee policy we announced on Tuesday caused. We are listening, talking to our team members, community, customers, and partners, and will be making changes to the policy. We will share an update in a couple of days. Thank you for your honest and critical feedback."
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