Unity engine's new pricing model has made game developers furious

Sep 14, 2023

Game engine maker, Unity, has announced a new pricing model that introduces a Runtime Fee. The game developer community has risen against the policy.

What is the Unity Runtime Fee policy about?

Unity will charge a fee for every game install across all supported platforms. Creators will have to pay the fee for each download. An article that has been published on the company's website says that the fee is based on each time a qualifying game or app is downloaded. The company says that when a Unity game is downloaded, the Unity Runtime is also installed with it. The documentation mentions that games distributed via streaming will also be considered as an install.

Games will need to meet a certain threshold in revenue earned, and the number of downloads is also taken into account. Unity has a standard monthly rate for installs in some Countries, while game installs from emerging markets will have a lower Runtime Fee.

If a game earns $200,000 in revenue with 200,000 downloads, it would need to pay $0.20 per installation to Unity. That's about $40,000, assuming each buyer downloads the game only once. Multiple installs could raise the number significantly. Unity offers some higher priced plans and Developers who pay over $2,000 per year, have a higher threshold of installs, and a lower fee.

You can learn more about the Unity Runtime Fee from the official website.

Some notable games that were made using Unity include Cuphead, Cities: Skylines, Hollow Knight, Pillars of Eternity, Rimworld. Even games like Genshin Impact were developed using Unity. It's not just indie studios who use the game engine. Unity was also used by big companies like Nintendo for making Pokémon GO, Pokémon Diamond/Pearl Remakes.

Why are game developers outraged by Unity's new pricing model?

Unity's documentation indicates that the Runtime Fee is not based on a per-sale count, i.e. Unity does not detect whether a user has bought the game and installed it on their computer now. Instead, it uses a per-install count, so a user could download and install a game multiple times, and Unity may track these and charge the developer a fee for each of those instances. That is quite absurd.

The big question here is, how does Unity detect game installs? It has to be using some sort of analytics tool for telemetry to track the installations. DRM-free games could be impacted by this issue as well. I'm not quite sure if this is an ethical thing to do, or does it seem like spyware?

Developers are also worried about "install bombing", where instead of leaving tons of negative reviews (review bombing), angry users may abuse a game by downloading it, uninstalling it, and reinstall it several times, to harm developers. This could also impact games that a person may buy, install, and refund. This leads to a second problem, games which are pirated by users could also be tracked by Unity, and the company could still count it and charge the developer a fee for the installation.  Is it fair for developers? If there is no sale made, you can't be taxed for it, right? You shouldn't be.

Unity's old terms and conditions had a clause that allowed developers to use the Terms of Services for the version of Unity that was used when a game was released. The company has removed the GitHub repo which was used to track license changes in the ToS. The updated license is missing that very clause. Game developers are furious about it, and rightly so. Changing a contract without proper consent from the developers is not legal. I'm not quite sure how Unity plans to pull this off. I suppose game developers may increase their game prices to compensate for the fee they have to pay, but this could severely impact their sales and revenue as well. This is a terrible situation for developers.

Mega Crit, the developers of Slay the Spire, released a statement that they have been working on a new game for 2 years, and that the game uses the Unity engine. The studio criticized Unity's Runtime Fees, calling it harmful for indie developers, and a violation of trust.

Cult of the Lamb developer Massive Monster joked about deleting the game due to the changes to Unity's policies. However, the studio posted a message that indicates that their future projects, which were based on Unity, would be impacted by the new pricing model. Among US developer, Innersloth, also chimed in with their concerns about how the Runtime Fee would ruin game developers.

Aggro Crab, the developer of the upcoming game, Another Crab's Treasure, pointed out that their title would be coming to Xbox Game Pass. The studio's statement explains that Microsoft's gaming service has over 25 Million subscribers, and that if even a fraction of those users download their game, Unity could charge them a fee that could impact the studio's income and the business' sustainability.

Axios writer, Stephen Totilo, spoke with Unity executive Marc Whitten, who had said that developers would only be charged for the initial installation. However, a fee would be charged if a user installs the game on a 2nd device that they own, e.g., when a user installs a game on their PC it counts as an initial installation, and if they install it on their laptop or Steam Deck, that is counted as a separate installation too. Whitten also clarified that developers of Unity games that were downloaded from Game Pass would not be charged the fee for installs. Instead, Microsoft would pay the fee as it is the distributor. Game demos that aren't part of a full game download, and games included in charity bundles, will be exempt from the fees as well. Early Access games on the other hand would be charged the fee.

Unity has released a statement claiming that the price increase will not affect 90% of its customers. It says that the fee only applies to net new installs, and that re-installs would not be counted. The company says it will work directly with developers if cases where fraud or botnets are suspected. Demos, web and streaming games will not be counted as installs. This barely addresses the issue.

Indie devs may flock to Godot, which is an open source, free game engine. Epic's Unreal Engine is free too, with a 5% royalty fee which only applies when a game earns over $1 million USD. It won't be easy to port games from Unity to other engines, as it would cost of a lot of time and resources. Some devs may have to abandon their projects, or learn how to code in other engines, which could cause major delays in their game's release. The Unity Runtime Fee will take effect from January 1, 2024.

Forget EA's cash grab stunts and the D&D OGL scheme, Unity's new pricing model is probably the most greedy and idiotic thing I may have seen in the gaming industry.

Article Name
Unity engine's new pricing model has made game developers furious
Unity's Runtime Fee policy is drawing flak from the game developer community.
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