‘This will eat up a massive amount of our revenue’
Unity Technologies, the company behind cross-platform game engine Unity, announced a new pricing model on Tuesday — and it’s been almost universally condemned by the video game developer community on social media since the announcement went live.
Unity is widely used by both AAA studios and indie developers — and everybody in between. It’s the foundation for games like Pokémon Go, Hollow Knight, Rust, and Hearthstone, among plenty others. Unity’s new pay structure ties a fee to game installs, when the Unity Runtime code is booted up on a player’s device, rather than a revenue sharing model.
“We are introducing a Unity Runtime Fee that is based upon each time a qualifying game is downloaded by an end user,” a Unity representative said in a blog post detailing the fee. “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.”
Unity’s runtime fee will be collected once a game “has passed a minimum revenue threshold in the last 12 months” and “has passed a minimum lifetime install count.” Those install fees vary based on Unity pricing plans. Unity Personal and Unity Plus customers must pay $0.20 per install after reaching $200,000 of revenue in the past year and having more than 200,000 lifetime game installs. Unity Pro and Unity Enterprise users will pay $0.15 and $0.125 per install, respectively, after making $1 million in the past year and having more than 1 million lifetime game installs. (Those fees will decrease as higher thresholds are met.) Unity said it set these numbers “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.” Free-to-play games will have another option, which is to use Unity’s LevelPlay service for game ads, to offset the fees.
Lots of game developers on social media and elsewhere don’t see it that way; one particular pain point, aside from eating up revenue, is how the model will impact subscription services like Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass, as well as free demos, charity bundles, and “other models that have been very successful for smaller developers,” Blinkmoon chief technology officer Mike Wuetherick told Polygon. Wuetherick and Blinkmoon just changed engines from Unreal to Unity for the company’s new project; Tuesday’s news means pausing the project until more information is available.
“The only good news is that we just started development, so we only lose a month of work by resetting,” Wuetherick said. “Without further clarification of this information by Unity, I will be forced to reset and switch to Unreal. We are a small developer, and having such a large financial uncertainty hanging over our head basically guarantees that we will switch back for this and all future games we create.”
Wuetherick explained that the genre Blinkmoon is working in “is dependent on low price point per game with large numbers of installs” and that the changes risk eating up a “massive” amount of revenue. “It is extremely unclear how Unity will track installs,” Wuetherick said. “In general the uncertainty about what this will cost in a given month makes the decision to use Unity extremely risky.”
Newfangled Games CEO and co-founder Henry Hoffman is working on a game called Paper Trail, expected out in 2024. The demo is currently available for download, but when Unity’s pricing change goes live, it could cost the studio. Newfangled Games was started specifically to work with subscription services like Netflix Games, Apple Arcade, and Game Pass, Hoffman told Polygon, a strategy that helps “derisk” development for a small team.
“As a small team, these licensing deals afford us the financial stability needed to build a sustainable longterm studio — but it means we may see millions of downloads with no longtail revenue,” Hoffman said. “This new Unity pricing model makes this completely unviable, and would most likely mean us changing engines completely longer term.”
Paper Trail has been in development for four years, and its licensing deals were made quite a while ago and “used to fund further development,” Hoffman said. “It’s entirely possible that we end up owing Unity significant pay per install fees, despite revenue threshold being used to fund development, and new installs not generating any new revenue,” he said.
Hoffman and Wuetherick are not alone in these concerns; developers across social media are expressing concern for the fees and a lack of clarity in Unity’s original announcement. Piracy is another big problem, according to developers: What happens when a game is installed and played if it’s downloaded without a purchase?
Polygon has reached out to Unity for clarification, and will update this story when we hear back.