Unity, the cross-platform game engine, announced big changes to its fee structure, enraging indie developers around the world. The company has introduced a new ‘Unity Runtime Fee,’ that will charge studios a cost every time a game built on their engine is installed. The new pricing structure goes into effect January 1, 2024, with different install costs being levied based on its multiple subscription tiers. Understandably, developers are upset and confused and have begun speaking out against the rules and their lack of clarity, which could easily make them bankrupt. While this only applies to a certain group of developers who’ve hit a prescribed threshold of sales or download numbers, a revenue share model would’ve been ideal.
“Yes, this is a price increase and it will only affect a small subset of current Unity Editor users. Today, a large majority of Unity Editor users are currently not paying anything and will not be affected by this change,” the company outlined in a tweet. The thresholds have been decided based on what plans a developer opts for. Smaller creators who rely on Unity Personal and the Unity Plus models will be forced to pay $0.20 (about Rs. 17) per download, once their game crosses $200,000 (about Rs. 1.65 crore) in revenue in one year and 200,000 installs. This would amount to approximately $40,000 (about Rs. 33 lakh) in payments to Unity, every year. Meanwhile, AAA developers using the Unity Pro and Unity Enterprise accounts have their thresholds set at $1 million (about Rs. 8 crore) in revenue and 1 million lifetime installs, before the Runtime Fee is levied.
“We chose this because each time a game is downloaded, the Unity Runtime is also installed. Also, we believe that an initial install-based fee allows creators to keep the ongoing financial gains from player engagement, unlike a revenue share,” the original blog post from Unity read. Initially, the company claimed that deleting and re-installing a game on the same system would also count towards the charge, but has since walked back on the claim stating that developers would only be charged on the initial install. That said, if the same game is downloaded onto a different system(s), the developer will get hit with additional charges.
NEW – I got a major update from Unity about their new fees
– Unity “regrouped” and now says ONLY the initial installation of a game triggers a fee
– Demos mostly won’t trigger fees
– Devs not on the hook for Game Pass
— Stephen Totilo (@stephentotilo) September 13, 2023
Fuming developers on the Internet have since gotten together to point out how these rules could make them go bankrupt, as well. One could simply pirate a game, download it and delete it, then repeat the process on different systems to add onto a studio’s supposed charges. In response, Unity referred to its ongoing ‘fraud detection practices’ which will be leveraged as a starting point to prevent studios from getting charged for games they never sold. Basically, the company doesn’t have a proper answer for it, and is in the process of figuring it out. “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,” the blog post reads.
In addition to piracy, freemium games that make revenue through in-game purchases will be affected by Unity’s new rules — essentially being forced to pay more than they earned, simply because of the millions of downloads it garnered within a year. Fortunately, if the game has been downloaded from subscription plans like Xbox Game Pass, the fee will be charged to its distributors, which in this case, would be Microsoft. Similarly, games offered on charity or even demo installations are exempt from being charged. However, there’s no transparency in how Unity tracks these install numbers, besides claiming that they believe in the accuracy of their ‘proprietary data model.’
In retaliation, some developers have expressed their distaste for Unity, starting with Massive Monster, which has threatened to delete their critically-acclaimed roguelike Cult of the Lamb from storefronts on January 1. The studio specialises in Unity and has multiple projects in the pipeline, all of which are now delayed as the team figures out new engines and workflow. Even Innersloth, developers of the pandemic-era sensation Among Us, confirmed to IGN that pulling the game from storefronts is on the list of plans.
The response is totally warranted when you consider how many popular titles have been birthed from the Unity Engine — Genshin Impact, Cuphead, Ori and the Blind Forest, Rust, and Hollow Knight to name just a few. The last of them even had a highly-anticipated sequel planned — Silksong, which was delayed earlier this year for better polish. And now, fans are worried that it could get delayed further if developer Team Cherry decides to rebuild it on a new engine. There’s no official comment from the studio yet.