Unity, the popular cross-platform game and media development engine, is on the defensive after a backlash over a controversial new fee structure that developers using the platform have dismissed as destructive and unfair. Now the company is considering withdrawing the announcement, at least partially.
The engine is popular with independent developers as a way to launch and run games on multiple gaming platforms while reducing up-front costs. If the developer earned less than $100K, it was free, while the Plus tier took one up to $200K and above that was the Pro tier. As a result some of the biggest games out there use it: Pokémon GO and Genshin Impact, for example, as well as numerous indie hits like Slay the Spire and Timberborn.
But the company announced Tuesday morning that starting in 2024, it will charge $.20 per game installation after the company sells 200,000 copies of a game and the developer earns $200,000. Developers who pay for higher subscription tiers have higher sales thresholds and lower fees (and remain free for those who don’t meet these milestones).
Selling 200,000 copies may be a dream come true for many indie developers, and Unity itself estimates that about 10% of its users fall under this umbrella, but there are many more for whom the fee could be devastating. Suddenly a game in which the Unity license cost has already been recouped many times over becomes a liability: a surge in sales can saddle you with thousands of dollars in fees. And on mobile, where many games are free and rely on advertising or in-game monetization, a trip to the top of the App Store list can saddle their creators with huge costs and no immediate revenue to pay them.
Unity’s original wording and description of the new fee also suggests that pirated or repeat installations will also trigger the fee, which developers say is unprecedented.
Multiple creators of popular games, probably a recognizable entity Developer Innersloth among us, said that instead of paying the fee, they would take their games offline or delay further development to port them to a different engine. (Open Source Godot has seen considerable interest.)
“This will hurt not only us, but fellow game studios of all budgets and sizes,” the developer wrote in a post on X/Twitter. “If this happens, we will delay content and features until our players want to port our game elsewhere (as others are also considering). But most developers don’t have the time or the means to do so. stop it Wtf?”
Size Five Games’ Dan Marshall was less diplomatic when speaking to Eurogamer: “It’s a total disaster and I’m going to jump ship as soon as I can. Most indies don’t have the resources to deal with that kind of batshit logistics.” (Begins charging a notional 5% royalty after $1M in gross revenue from the product.)
The next day, Unity clarified and reversed some of the policies, clarified that the fees would not be retroactive, and changed the policy so that the device would only be charged for the first installation. In the case of Game Pass, a fee will also be sent to a distributor like Microsoft (which has a large number of downloads), but it is not clear how this will be accomplished and which platforms will fall under that umbrella. If any of the big game stores were suddenly charging millions for a game, they’d be more likely to simply remove Unity-based titles or dispute policy rather than pay. Ekta had not responded to my queries regarding these issues at the time of publication.
At the end of the week, unity Apologized And said an updated policy would be announced “within two days”. However, the news was circulated internally in an all-hands meeting captured by Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier. (Unity also had not responded to my questions about the report’s accuracy by the time of publication.)
In the updated fee structure Unity will soon announce, download numbers will not be counted retroactively (meaning all games will start from zero when the policy is implemented) and fees will be capped at 4% of game revenue after reaching $1M. . The former measure cuts the new fees like a ticking time bomb for some publishers, and the latter is clearly aimed at making the engine competitive with Unreal, which charges slightly more as mentioned above.
Installation will also be self-reported, which brings its own challenges, and there’s still no clarity on whether GamePass and similar services will be proxy peers.
Changes can go a few ways toward making the new structure palatable to some developers. But the vibe online in the maker community is that Unity’s clumsy rollout is something he should have known (Because his own staff told them to) would be a deeply unpopular policy that suggests some sort of fundamental lack of understanding or care within the company.
Ustwo Games’ Danny Gray told GamesIndustry.biz, “It’s going to be tough for Unity to win back the trust of developers. “Although everything is now undone, faith is lost.”