The Unity Runtime Fiasco
Unless you live under a rock, you’ll have noticed that the Game dev world was sent into disarray when Unity announced a new pricing scheme. I certainly couldn’t help but notice as all the Game Dev Facebook groups were full of people disowning Unity and telling the world that they are switching to Unreal Engine or Godot. Even the news had headlines about Unity’s share price plummeting. But what was it all about? What had Unity done?
Unity announced earlier in September that they were changing their pricing to include a per install Unity runtime fee. This greatly upset a lot of developers who were very vocal about it on social media. Unity issued an apology, and then a short time later, a statement containing a revised pricing plan as well as addressing some of the concerns users had.
What did Unity do?
On 12/9 Unity shared this post on their blog about a new Unity Runtime Fee. It explains that Unity is made up of two parts, the editor, and the runtime component. The runtime component is the code which runs your game on the players device.
It’s this runtime component that Unity wanted to introduce a fee for each time it was downloaded, once a game had exceeded some thresholds relating to earnings and number of downloads.
Unity stated they believed a flat fee per install was fairer than taking a percentage of revenue as other game engines do.
They did not however explain which versions of Unity run time would be affected, leaving users angry that it had been applied retroactively, possibly costing developer millions in owed fees.
Nor did they explain how data regarding the thresholds would be collected.
The news spread all across the gaming industry like wildfire. It didn’t take very long before all the social medias were alive with posts from outraged indie developers who felt betrayed by Unity.
People were upset and confused by the announcement. Many smaller developers were worried if this would have affected them. In many of the Game Developer groups I follow, every other post seemed to be “I am leaving Unity and moving to Godot” or “I am quitting Unity and am going to use UE from now on”.
Even Unity Celebrities like Brackeys have made posts condemning Unity for the way it’s treated its customers.
So big was the fall out from Unity’s announcement that the news spread far beyond just the gaming world. It even affected Unity’s share price, which dropped 12% in the days following the announcement.
It only took five hours before Unity started tweeting out in defense of its new policy. Offering explanations and reassurances that these new changes would only affect a small minority of developers. They answered many of peoples questions on their forum online.
However as the onslaught continued, Unity finally tweeted that “they had heard” the voices of concern from the public. They also said that they would share an update again the a few days.
Although this news didn’t quieten the online discontent. It did start a lot of speculation as to what Unity would do instead. Ranging from scrapping the idea of a fee altogether, to charging a 5% flat fee of the games earnings.
A change of heart
Then ten whole days after the drama started, Marc Whitten from Unity, shared an open letter to the community.
This letter started with a heart felt apology, and acceptance that they should have spoken to the community more about the changes they wanted to implement. He explained that the new charges were to ensure that they could support users. As well as to invest in keeping Unity up to date with the latest technologies.
He went on to say he realises how important the Unity users are to the company. And that they will work hard to earn back the users trust. The letter then goes on to describe what changes have been made in Unity’s revised plans.
How does the new Unity Runtime fee work?
Their latest update clarified that the Runtime fee will only apply to games made with the next LTS release of Unity onwards. This is due to be released in 2024. This addresses one of the biggest concerns of the users. That this fee would be applied retroactively to existing published games.
If a game exceeds some thresholds relating to number of downloads and income generated, the developers will be given a choice to pay either a 2.5% of revenue share, or a calculated amount depending on the number of active monthly users. Both these values are obtained from data you provide to Unity. You will always pay the smaller of the two values. This also addresses another large concern from developers. That Unity would be using their own analytics to provide data used to calculate the fees unity would charge.
What are the thresholds
Before you are charged the Run time fee for your game, it has to exceed two thresholds.
The first one of these thresholds is on the number of downloads the game has had. It has to have more than 200,000 downloads since it was published.
The second one relates to the income that your game generates. To exceed the second threshold, your game needs to have earned more than $200,000 in the last 12 months.
So, in order to be eligible for the fee, your game must exceed both these thresholds and be made with a Unity version after the next LTS version.
However, if you do exceed these thresholds, you can always upgrade to Unity Professional. This will increase the thresholds to 1,000,000 downloads and $1,000,000 respectively.
Other changes Unity have made
With the next version of the LTS Unity and the Run Time fee, Unity are also adding cloud-based asset storage, Unity DevOps tools, and AI this November.
They are also removing the requirement for games made with the free Unity accounts to show a made with Unity splash screen when loading.
This is good as they have removed the Plus level account, which had no splash screen requirement.
Shortly after I originally published this article, John Riccitiello, the CEO of Unity has resigned from both his position as Chief Executive Officer, and the board of directors of the company.
He had joined the company back in 2013 after resigning from his position as Electronic Art’s Chief executive.
Mr Riccitiello said “It’s been a privilege to lead Unity for nearly a decade and serve our employees, customers, developers and partners, all of whom have been instrumental to the company’s growth,”.
No reason was given for his resignation.
Although I think that Unity really dropped the ball with their initial announcement, I think they have made a reasonable compromise and have satisfied most of their userbase with their revised plans.
Its good to see that they do listen to their users, and hopefully they have learned a valuable lesson from this fiasco.
Unity is one of the largest game creation tools, I doubt very much that it would simply disappear due to one mistake. Far too many studios have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into developing games with Unity for them to just switch tools mid way through a project.
I hope that my next Unity game beats both the thresholds and becomes eligible for paying the Unity Runtime Fee! Lol.