Unity, the popular video game engine, recently announced changes to its pricing structure that have left developers confused and angry. Starting from January 1st, 2024, Unity will implement a pay-per-download pricing scheme, charging developers a flat fee each time a game using Unity software is installed. This new policy, called the Unity Runtime Fee, aims to provide creators with ongoing financial gains from player engagement rather than relying on a revenue share model.
Unity provided detailed explanations on how the program works, but here’s a breakdown: to be charged with the new fees, a game must meet specific revenue and download thresholds based on the developer’s Unity subscription tier. Additionally, fees vary depending on the market where the game is purchased, with higher fees for “standard” markets like the US and UK compared to “emerging” markets like India or China. Unity shared a comprehensive table in its announcement, outlining the fees based on subscription tier, markets, and download thresholds.
It is important to note that the changes will only affect activity after January 1st, 2024, and previous sales and downloads will be taken into account. For example, if you are a Unity Personal subscriber and your game has made $200,000 with 200,000 downloads by January 1st, you will only be subject to the new fees for any downloads made after that date. So, if you sell only one copy of your game in January 2024, you will owe Unity just 20 cents.
The game development community reacted to this news with fear, anger, and disgust. The primary concern is that these changes will disproportionately impact solo, indie, marginalized, and mobile developers. Many argue that the fees are based solely on the number of installs without considering the various reasons, legal or illegal, that a game may have multiple installs without corresponding purchases. If a game’s downloads outweigh its revenue generation after reaching the revenue threshold, developers will be required to pay. Pirated games, demos, games downloaded across multiple devices, and games offered on subscription services like Game Pass are all potentially affected by these new fees.
There is also a worry that malicious actors could exploit this system by continuously downloading and redownloading games as a form of protest or griefing. Unity has stated that it will implement fraud detection tools and allow developers to report potential cases of abuse. However, it was initially unclear whether subscription services or demos would be exempt from the new fees, leading to further confusion.
Some clarifications have since been provided by Unity. Marc Whitten, a company executive, stated that Unity will only charge for a game’s initial installation. However, an additional fee will be levied if a user installs the game on a second device, such as a Steam Deck, after already installing it on a PC. Whitten also clarified that developers like Aggro Crab would not be responsible for fees in the case of Game Pass or other subscription services, as the charges are applied to distributors, such as Microsoft. Game demos would not incur runtime fees unless they are part of a download that includes the full game, while early access games would be charged for installations.
Developers have expressed frustration at the lack of warning and unilateral decision-making by Unity, feeling trapped into using and paying for a product without alternatives. The introduction of these new fees compounds existing concerns over Unity’s yearly subscription fees, especially with the removal of cheaper tiers. In fact, Unity stated that its Unity Plus subscription tier is being retired, and existing subscribers will receive an offer to upgrade to Unity Pro at the current Unity Plus price. It is likely that former Plus users will face the new, higher Pro rate after one year.
Another worry is how these changes may impact digital preservation efforts, as developers may be incentivized to delist older games to avoid fees. Moreover, questions arise regarding how Unity plans to track installs and whether such tools comply with government privacy laws.
The discontent among game developers is palpable. Many have lost faith in Unity as a reliable partner and fear for their already limited profits, which are significantly lower compared to major publishers like EA, Ubisoft, or Activision Blizzard. In response to the news, some developers are urging people to buy their games but not install them, even offering to host gameplay sessions on their personal computers.
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