Unity, a revered name in the gaming world, recently dropped a bombshell on the gaming community by unveiling a new policy - charging developers for every installation of their game made using the Unity engine. This surprise move, announced via a Tuesday blog post, was met with waves of anger, disbelief, and confusion from game developers around the world.
Starting from the new year, Unity Technologies will implement a Unity Runtime Fee on all games constructed using its video game creation engine. However, there are stipulations. Developers need to cross both a yearly revenue threshold and a lifetime installation count to be liable for the fee.
As of now, these thresholds begin at $200,000 in terms of revenue and 200,000 game installations. Studios might have to shell out up to $0.20 for every game install beyond the specified limits, including installs from pirated copies of the game.
To further put this into perspective, Unity has been the engine behind many celebrated titles, including the likes of Genshin Impact, Among Us, Cuphead, Beat Saber, and many more. The reason for this drastic change, as stated in Unity's blog post, is that every game download also leads to the installation of Unity Runtime. Their decision to base the fee on installs was to allow game creators to retain continuous financial benefits from player engagement, instead of implementing a revenue share model.
However, the repercussions of this policy have been widespread. Developers have been quick to highlight the various complications like the effect on game demos, refunds, involvement in charity bundles, free-to-play games, and installations of pirated versions.
Unity's initial responses, especially around the intricacies of this policy, were muddled at best. For example, the firm first confirmed that reinstalling a game on the same device would levy multiple charges on the developer, only to retract this claim later.
Several more concerns remain despite Unity's feeble attempt at damage control. There will still be multiple charges if a user installs the same game on separate devices. Also, installing game demos could lead to a fee unless it's a level that can't be upgraded to a complete game. Unity has stated that subscription-based game services won't charge studios. Instead, it's the distributors and publishers who will bear the brunt of the cost.
As perplexing as that may be, it still doesn't answerthe question of how Unity will differentiate pirated copy installs and charity bundles from others.
Further complications arise when you consider software piracy. Unity doesn't yet have a clear approach for this, though they intend to use their ad technology's fraud detection mechanisms as a starting point.
Developers have also highlighted a new potential problem: install-bombing. This refers to the potential for disgruntled users to continuously delete and reinstall a game, thereby causing significant financial harm to developers. Unity's word of assurance to charge only once per device hardly seems a satisfactory solution. In addition to this, the manner which Unity will track installations remains hazy. Unity has cited its "proprietary data model" for counting installations but hasn't divulged any further details, raising concerns among developers.
Critics have noted the timing of Unity's announcement, pointing out that Unity CEO John S. Riccitiello sold 2,000 shares just days before the controversial announcement. Speculations are rife that Unity's leadership was aware of the impending backlash but chose to move forward with the decision regardless.
The announcement has been so negatively received that many game developers are mulling over the idea of shifting to a different game engine, a significant decision given the extensive experience many have with Unity.
Not to mention, it has resulted in office closures over at Unity following death threats received by employees.
Ultimately, Unity's new policy underlines a severe breach of trust between the company and its primary user base. All of the affected parties, from indie studios to established names, have expressed fears about the potential abuse of the system, particularly concerning piracy and privacy breaches.
If Unity doesn't address these concerns efficiently, it risks alienating a significant portion of its clientele and losing their trust forever.
Speaking of Among Us, the popular free-to-play has confirmed plans to shift to a new engine by next year. Before then, fans can enjoy a new map, The Fungle, which will be introduced next month.