It has been an interesting few weeks for the video game industry. Starfield released with ironic issues rendering a field of stars. The head of Fortnite has left Epic Games. But the one action that happened that has captivated the entirety of the industry is a very weird announcement from Unity Technologies that completely changes the way developers may use the gaming engine and how they will pay for its usage.
What is Unity?
Unity is a video game engine that is used to create games for multiple platforms, including PC, console, and mobile. It offers a comprehensive suite of tools and features that allow developers to design creative experiences for gamers. It allows developers to produce high-quality 3D graphics, create sophisticated AI algorithms, add realistic physics and animation systems, and develop multiplayer online games.
Unity also features an intuitive user interface and powerful scripting capabilities, allowing developers to quickly prototype and refine their game ideas. Unity is used by many professional studios and independent developers alike, making it a great choice for any game development project. Thanks to its flexibility and scalability, Unity gives developers the freedom to create unique and immersive gaming experiences.
Many popular games have been developed using the Unity engine, including Hearthstone, Cuphead, and even Pokémon GO. Unity also offers powerful tools for creating virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) applications, making it an ideal choice for developers looking to explore these technologies. With its vast library of assets, Unity makes game development easier than ever before.
How has Unity changed?
Previously, users of the Unity Personal subscription could use the platform for free for their small, single-developer projects. Unity Pro subscribers pay $399 per seat, meaning each developer on the project will pay that licensing fee. Unity Enterprise and Unity Industry use different licensing models for access to the tools.
Starting January 1, 2024, however, Unity is adding what they call the Unity Runtime Fee, an additional charge on top of your licensing fee if you are on the Personal or Pro licensing. This Runtime Fee will be charged to any project that has 200,000 installs of their project and $200,000 in revenue for a 12 month period. This fee will be 20 cents per install, meaning if you only barely meet the criteria, you'll be giving $40,000 of your $200,000 revenue over to Unity.
The Unity of developers and gamers
The platform's name certainly manifest its reality with this decision. Everyone in the industry, from developers to gamers, united against Unity's decision. For developers and publishers, especially small teams, this means that developing games with Unity is likely not financially feasible anymore. If you have to give up 20 cents per install, regardless of the value of that install, you're likely going to lose a ton of money.
Take, for example, those mobile games you've installed and played for 10 minutes and never touched again. Even though the game was never played, and therefore revenue was never generated (even ad-based revenue), the developer would be on the hook for 20 cents because you installed the game and never used it. This is going to make the cost of developing and maintaining a game more expensive, and we know what that means.
Gamers are going to feel the burden of the increase in development and maintenance costs. Either the cost of a game is going to go up, for those games that cost to purchase. For others, whose install cost is free, the in-game purchases are likely to go up in cost to make up for the cost of zero usage installs. This is why developers and gamers have united against Unity this week.
Brandon Sheffield of Necrosoft, wrote an article entitled The Death of Unity, in which he said,
My game company Necrosoft has used Unity for every commercial project it has ever made. But now I can say, unequivocally, if you're starting a new game project, do not use Unity. If you started a project 4 months ago, it's worth switching to something else. Unity is quite simply not a company to be trusted.
Alex Nichiporchik, CEO of TinyBuild, echoed this feeling, posting on social media,
There's not a single dev out there that would look at the announcement and think it was a good idea. We often factor in engine fees when making decisions on projects, and at face value the math goes towards Unreal Engine if we factor in free installs of demos, free to try versions on iOS, and playtests on Steam. I find it hard to believe this will actually go through.
These are only some of the many game developers that have committed to moving away from Unity. This gives other game engines, such as Epic Games' Unreal Engine, an opportunity to win over these smaller developers. In 2020, the company changed its licensing model making it free until a game hit a $1 million threshold and then had a 5% license fee. This also included a free licensing model for the tools. Being able to play into this change, versus the unexpected price increase of Unity, could bring developers over to Unreal.