- Unity faces backlash from the gaming developer community over a new "runtime fee" model that charges developers flat fee per installation.
- Developers fear potential misuse by users and the impact on charity bundles and subscription services like Xbox Game Pass.
- Despite Unity's reaffirmation about the new policy and their "fraud detection tool," developer discontent continues, sparking doubts about the engine's future popularity.
The gaming developer community is expressing strong criticism towards Unity following the release of their recent blog post outlining a new business model. Unity's recent announcement of a "runtime fee" for game developers has ignited a firestorm of controversy in the gaming community. The company disclosed this new fee structure, which would require developers to pay a fixed amount every time a player installed a game created with the Unity Engine. However, this move has triggered outrage among developers.
As detailed in Unity's blog post, this fee would only be applicable once a game has achieved a revenue milestone of $200,000 within the last 12 months, coupled with a minimum of 200,000 installations since the game's launch. While the thresholds are in place to combat potentially malicious activities from users that may abuse this system set in place, it still raises a lot of concerns for the developers. One of the obvious concerns is that users can uninstall and install the game repeatedly to impose substantial costs on developers.
It's important to note that the $200,000 in revenue and 200,000 installations are applicable to Unity's tier 1 subscription called Unity Plus. For those operating under Unity Pro and Enterprise, the threshold cap increases to $1,000,000 in revenue and 1,000,000 installations since the game's market debut.
Once games exceeds the revenue and installation threshold, Unity enforces a set fee for each installation, depending on the Unity subscription tier. The fee structure is outlined in the table below:
Among the concerns raised was the impact of Unity's new decision on games included in Xbox Game Pass. Aggro Crabs, an indie game developer, expressed their frustration in response to Unity's new fee structure, highlighting how this new rule could "threaten" the sustainability of their business.
— AGGRO CRAB (@AggroCrabGames) September 12, 2023
I personally believe that the concerns voiced by developers hold merit, as this situation has the potential to take "review bombing" to an entirely new level. Typically, when a game gets review bombed, it adversely affects its ranking in the digital store, but that's where it ends.
However, with Unity's new business model, players have the ability to repeatedly install and uninstall the game, using this as a means to vent their frustrations on developers. If they are aware that such actions will result in significant fees being imposed on the developers, why wouldn't they take it? Every gaming community comes with a toxic bunch!
While the internet was in a flurry of rage following Unity's unexpected announcement, Axios gaming site sought clarification from Marc Whitten, the president of Unity Create.
Let's get the elephant out of the room first. Yes, uninstalling and then reinstalling the game will indeed result in charges for developers. Uninstalling and reinstalling is counted as two installations, equating to two charges, even if it's on another device.
I got some clarifications from Unity regarding their plan to charge developers per game install (after clearing thresholds)
- If a player deletes a game and re-installs it, that's 2 installs, 2 charges
- Same if they install on 2 devices
- Charity games/bundles exempted from fees https://t.co/1GVuE0NXHC
— Stephen Totilo (@stephentotilo) September 12, 2023
According to Whitten, developers are only required to pay for the initial installation and, if they opt to install the game on a second device, the second installation. However, this statement appears to contradict the information provided in their FAQ, which explicitly states, "The creator will need to pay for all future installs. The reason is that Unity doesn't receive end-player information, just aggregate data."
Whitten also reassured developers that those who have their games featured on Xbox Game Pass won't be "on the hook" as the charges will be directed towards their game distributors. So for Xbox Game Pass games, it'll be Microsoft. Additionally, the installation of game demos will not incur charges, unless they are part of the full game package. Safe to assume that Aggro Crabs can have a sigh of relief, at least, for now.
Developers will be charged for the installation of these games. This could pose a challenge, especially for indie developers who rely on early access to gather crucial player feedback before the full game release. Although it's not entirely clear at this point, if early access installations come with fees, it might raise concerns among players who could potentially end up paying for the game twice (once for early access or beta and again for the full installation).
In response to the "install-bombing" malicious concerns, Whitten stated that they have "fraud detection tools" in place to ensure that doesn't happen. Unity further reaffirmed this on their official Twitter account in response to a concerned studio's query about installation tracking. They explained that they utilize their proprietary data model, which ensures an "accurate determination of the number of times the runtime is distributed for a given project," effectively mitigating any abuse of the system.
We leverage our own proprietary data model, so you can appreciate that we won’t go into a lot of detail, but we believe it gives an accurate determination of the number of times the runtime is distributed for a given project.
— Unity (@unity) September 12, 2023
The discontent among game developers, particularly those who have invested extensive time mastering the Unity engine, is clear regarding this recent decision. While the policy is primarily aimed at major game developers like Activision Blizzard or EA, who can easily meet Unity's established thresholds, it has generated widespread dissatisfaction among developers, both indie and larger publishing houses. Unity has stated that only approximately 10% of Unity developers will ultimately be subject to these fees, but its long-term implications remain uncertain and will only become clear with time.
It's evident that developers will continue their protests against Unity's new fee structure. The question remains whether Unity will be deterred by the significant backlash it has faced or if these developers will be compelled to seek alternative gaming engines, like Godot, to avoid the fees imposed by Unity.