Disappointed developers blast Unity after company announces plan to charge fee for eligible game installs
Unity, one of the most popular game engines on the market, has angered developers and fans alike after the company announced plans for its new pricing policy on September 12. Termed “Unity Runtime Fee”, the company plans to charge qualifying developers a set fee for every new copy of the game installed.
The new Unity Runtime Fee is set to take effect from January 1, 2024, and will apply to new game installs after January 1 for titles that meet certain revenue and lifetime game install criteria:
- Unity Personal and Plus: 200,000 lifetime game installs and US$200,000 revenue in the last 12 months.
- Unity Pro and Enterprise: 1 million lifetime game installs and US$1 million in revenue in the last 12 months.
Once a title has met the above-mentioned conditions, users on a Unity Personal/Plus subscription will need to fork out a standard rate of US$0.20 for every new install of their game. The fee is lower for Unity Enterprise and Unity Pro users who will need to pay between US$0.02 and US$0.01 to US$0.15 and US$0.125 respectively depending upon the install threshold reached.
Explaining the rationale behind charging a set fee per install of a game, the company states that “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”.
The apparent issues in Unity’s new Runtime Fee policy
On the surface, the Unity Runtime Fee seems quite simple. You pay for each new install once your game reaches a certain level of player and monetary success. But upon looking a bit closer, there are quite a few issues with the policy most of which stem from the company’s failure to clarify how the new installs will be tracked.
Unity explains that the company will “leverage our own proprietary data model. We believe it gives an accurate determination of the number of times the runtime is distributed for a given project”. The statement is undoubtedly vague and seemingly fails to answer the question of the actual way that the company will go about measuring installations.
Furthermore, Unity says that the fee will only apply to new installs. However, if you have already bought a game on Steam and want to install it on multiple systems, say a PC and a Steam Deck, it was initially unclear if the developers would have to pay a fee for multiple installs by the same user.
Unity later clarified that it won’t be charging for re-installs as “the spirit of this program is and has always been to charge for the first install and we have no desire to charge for the same person doing ongoing installs”.
Another concern with calculating game installs includes the issue of fraudulent installs like piracy. How would Unity differentiate between game installs of a title obtained from a legitimate source and a pirated copy? Once again, Unity’s answer is vague and doesn’t inspire any confidence. The company claims that “we do already have fraud detection practices in our Ads technology which is solving a similar problem, so we will leverage that know-how as a starting point. We recognize that users will have concerns about this and we will make available a process for them to submit their concerns to our fraud compliance team”.
There are also the issues of calculating installs from subscription services like Game Pass and games distributed through charity bundles like the Humble Bundle. Unity maintains that the Runtime Fee will be paid by the subscription provider, for instance, Microsoft in the case of Game Pass. As for charity bundles, the company explains that all such bundles and initiatives are free from the fee. Here, once again, the question arises: How will Unity be able to tell if the installed title came as part of a charity bundle?
Last but not least, the new Unity Runtime Fee will be applied retroactively to all Unity games that meet the above criteria and not only the new ones. For instance, if a game was released in 2013 and has since managed to surpass the lifetime game install and revenue threshold, it would still be taxed with the new fee after January 1, 2024, the same as a brand-new game releasing after January 1.
The intense backlash
Soon after Unity announced the Runtime fee and the policies associated with it, developers both big and small were up in arms over the new changes.
InnerSloth, the studio behind Among Us, voiced their concern on Twitter by explaining that the fee “would harm not only us but fellow game developers of all budgets and sizes.” The studio also warned that if the plan goes into effect, they would “delay content and features our players actually want” and could even port the game to a new engine.
Similar to Innersloth, many indie studios are also displeased with the announcement and are considering abandoning Unity for other options like Godot and Unreal if the policy is enforced. Aggro Crab, developers of the upcoming Another Crab’s Treasure, expressed disappointment over the new pricing calling it “the latest in a string of shortsighted decisions”. The studio also stated that they will be “heavily” forced to leave Unity and look towards other engines if the planned changes aren’t rolled back.
It remains to be seen whether Unity reverses these changes and goes back to the old subscription model or doubles down on the decision and risks losing trust as well as support from the indie gaming community. As it currently stands, Unity has only offered clarifications and a few updates but has remained adamant about enforcing the new policy.