Unity Game Engine Under Fire from Developer Customers for Plan to Add Install Fees Drama Continues

By Todd Russell Sep21,2023

There’s been commotion in the Unity games development world recently. It started when the Unity brass decided to add a new fee once a certain number of game installations have been reached. Besides being an onerous and obvious money grab, the fact that it’s impacting all games created by the software, and thus a retroactive charge Unity game developers created games using this platform and then not realizing their games might someday be subject to this “new” charge.

Unity at first seemed to hide behind Terms of Service agreements which may or may not have allowed this sort of fee structure to be implemented. While what Unity is proposing may or may not be legal, it’s outrageous in the eyes of their customers, the very developers that put them on the map as a platform worth developing games on by using their platform.

The worm has turned a bit, at least Unity has made a public statement on their Twitter that they are “listening” and changes are being proposed. No idea what specifically those are, but does this mean they will walk back the install fee?

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…

— Unity (@unity) September 17, 2023

Purely my opinion, as someone who has created and sold games in the past, but none on the Unity platform: I don’t like the idea of installation fees for the developer at all. It is a tax on the success of a game and they already had one of those by charging for their software once a certain amount of lifetime revenue had been reached. This proposed install tax is absurd for free games, causing a financial transaction to occur from the developer for a game that doesn’t generate any direct income. Sure, one could argue free can lead to attention and other social media presence and be ad-funded and provide indirect game revenue, but that’s a whole other hill of beans that really isn’t Unity’s playground to monetize. Have to wonder if the change Unity will make will target specifically free games only and remove this number of games install fees for free games. Will continue to watch this, but it can’t be good for innovation, nor is it very good advertising for new game devs to want to use Unity going forward. This could backfire. It already has.

How does this impact gamers? Well, we might see less free games using Unity. There’s always using their competitor, Unreal Engine or, hey, here’s an idea: just code it all in C+ (or another language) and skip the “make it easier” engine. I know, I know, rapid development.

UPDATE 9/23/2023 @ 5:33pm PST: Have stikethru some of the text above in an edit to more clearly define a misunderstanding on my part. FREE programs were still not going to be charged before, as for any of these install fees to take place, a certain threshold of $$ money $$ would have to be earned. So, Unity in the new agreement, has simply decided to up the amount and remove the retroactive clause. Free games would not be impacted in either scenario. Apologies for that mistake. It has been edited and corrected, but the rest of the article remains.

UPDATE 9/23/2023: Unity has announced their new fee structure, walking back a bunch of things they originally planned to do and yes, as I thought above, it will basically not apply to free games (it never did, see 5:33pm PST update above) via Unity announces its revamped pricing model:

The new plan is a drastic departure from what was initially announced. Now, users on the Unity Personal subscription plan will not be charged the new fee, and Unity will increase the revenue cap on games made with that plan to $200,000.

Furthermore, any game made with Unity that makes less than $1 million in 12 months will not be subject to the fee.

The company is also changing what games can be assessed with the new fee. Previously, the fee would have applied to all games that met the specific download and revenue thresholds. This applied to games both in development and released. Now Unity is saying that the fee will only apply to games made with the next version of Unity that is expected to launch sometime in 2024.

UPDATE 1/8/2024 @ 9:10pm PST: (Unity is laying off 25 percent of its staff – The Verge), at least in some part to their failure to operate their business profitably and certainly what’s outlined above did not help the company.

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