The game development community was recently shaken by Unity’s announcement of significant changes to its fee structure. With the introduction of a new ‘Unity Runtime Fee,’ indie developers worldwide are feeling enraged and confused. The implementation of this pricing model, slated for January 1, 2024, has sparked widespread criticism and concerns about its potential to bankrupt small studios. While Unity claims that the new fees will only affect a specific group of developers who have reached a certain sales or download threshold, many argue that a revenue share model would have been more ideal.
New Pricing Tiers and Concerns
Unity has established different pricing tiers for the Unity Runtime Fee based on subscription plans. Smaller creators relying on Unity Personal and Unity Plus will be required to pay $0.20 per download once their game exceeds $200,000 in revenue and 200,000 installs within a year. This amounts to approximately $40,000 in annual payments to Unity. In contrast, AAA developers utilizing the Unity Pro and Unity Enterprise accounts will face the fee once their revenue reaches $1 million and lifetime installs reach 1 million.
This new fee structure has raised concerns among developers regarding its potential financial burden. Many argue that requiring developers to pay per install may not be the most equitable approach. Additionally, the lack of clarity surrounding the thresholds and how Unity tracks install numbers has further fueled confusion and frustration.
The Reasoning Behind Unity’s Decision
Unity explains its decision to implement the Unity Runtime Fee by emphasizing the connection between game installations and the installation of the Unity Runtime. They believe that an initial install-based fee allows creators to retain the ongoing financial benefits from player engagement, unlike a revenue share model. Initially, Unity stated that deleting and re-installing a game on the same system would trigger a fee, but they have since clarified that charges will only apply to the initial install. However, if a game is downloaded on different systems, developers will incur additional fees.
Fuming developers have voiced their concerns about potential abuse of the new fee structure. It is feared that game piracy could be incentivized if players are able to download and delete a game, repeatedly installing it on various systems to increase a studio’s charges. Unity has responded by referencing their ongoing fraud detection practices, which they plan to leverage to prevent studios from being charged for games they never sold. However, their response has fallen short of addressing the issue comprehensively, leaving developers dissatisfied.
Freemium games that generate revenue through in-game purchases will also be affected by Unity’s new fee structure. These games may end up paying more than they earned due to the high number of downloads within a year. However, if a game is downloaded from subscription plans like Xbox Game Pass, the fee will be charged to the distributor, such as Microsoft. Unity also clarifies that games offered on charity or demo installations will be exempt from the fees. Nevertheless, there is a lack of transparency regarding how Unity tracks these install numbers, other than their claim to rely on an accurate ‘proprietary data model.’
Developer Backlash and Consequences
In response to Unity’s changes, some developers have expressed their discontent and frustration. Massive Monster, a studio specializing in Unity and known for their critically-acclaimed roguelike Cult of the Lamb, has threatened to remove their game from storefronts on January 1. Other developers, including Innersloth, the creators of Among Us, have also acknowledged the possibility of pulling their games from storefronts.
The Impact on the Game Development Community
Unity has been the engine behind numerous popular titles, such as Genshin Impact, Cuphead, Ori and the Blind Forest, Rust, and Hollow Knight. The announcement of these fee changes has fueled concerns among fans about the potential impact on upcoming games. For instance, Silksong, the highly-anticipated sequel to Hollow Knight, may face further delays if developer Team Cherry decides to rebuild it on a different engine. As of now, no official comment has been made by the studio regarding this matter.
Unity’s decision to implement the Unity Runtime Fee has sparked controversy within the game development community. The new fee structure, with its varied pricing tiers and concerns about fraud and piracy, has left indie developers feeling enraged and uncertain about their future. The potential financial burden on smaller studios, coupled with the lack of transparency surrounding install numbers, further exacerbates their frustrations. As the community continues to voice its concerns and discontent, the long-term consequences of Unity’s fee changes remain to be seen.