Earlier this week, Unity, the company that makes the Unity video game engine popular with indie developers, announced that it was changing its pricing model. The changes included a pricing scheme that sought to charge developers on a per-install basis for games that met specific download and revenue thresholds.
Unity wanted to charge developers for game installs without seemingly taking into account the many reasons a game might be installed without being purchased. Unity’s new model could theoretically result in situations where developers would be on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees without the revenue to pay for it.
Once the news broke, the video game developer community reacted strongly and negatively to the news, citing Unity’s poor communication, lack of clarity, loss of trust, and what they saw as a naked attempt to squeeze money out of small developer teams. Many developers and even publishers took to social media to register their anger and to call on Unity to reverse its decision.
“This decision puts studios in a position where we might not be able to justify using Unity for our future titles,” read a post on X (formerly Twitter) from developer Aggro Crab. “If these changes aren’t rolled back, we’ll be heavily considering abandoning our Unity expertise.”
Many developers shared a similar sentiment, explaining they were considering abandoning Unity as a game engine. Other game developers, like Massive Monster, were more drastic, which, via the official account for its game Cult of the Lamb, threatened to delist the game entirely.
Though the post was a tongue-in-cheek joke, it’s one being repeated by other developers.
“[Please] buy our game,” posted the official Viewfinder account. “But don’t install it after January 1, 2024.”
Other game makers wondered how Unity could put forth such a statement without considering all the ways it could negatively impact its users. According to a post on the Unity forums from someone who claimed to be an employee, objections were raised internally.
“Know also that all of the concerns that are understandably blowing up at the moment have been raised internally by many weeks before this announcement,” the alleged employee wrote. “Why it was decided to rush this out anyway in this way I can only speculate about.”
Shortly after the news broke, Unity addressed some of the questions raised about its new pricing model, specifically those surrounding installs. Initially, developers were concerned that products like demos or game keys given away to be a part of charity bundles would also be subject to fees, as would activity like piracy or repeated installs as a means to harass developers.
Unity stated that it would be implementing a system by which developers could flag malicious activity and that charity bundles or demos would not count as an install. It further clarified, however, that installing a game across multiple devices would still be subject to fees. Also, for games included as a part of subscription services, Unity stated that the service providers like Microsoft would be charged instead.
Since the initial announcement, Unity has updated its FAQ and blog post announcing the fees and answered questions on social media in an attempt to provide additional clarification. In an X post, Unity made one more change, stating that it would not charge for reinstalls while reaffirming that it doesn’t expect these fees to apply to the majority of its customers.
“More than 90% of our customers will not be affected by this change,” Unity posted. “Customers who will be impacted are generally those who have found a substantial scale in downloads and revenue and have reached both our install and revenue thresholds. This means a low (or no) fee for creators who have not found scale success yet and a modest one-time fee for those who have.”
Developers expressed that even with these clarifications, it would not be enough to undo the harm Unity’s announcement has caused. Even if Unity only expects 10 percent of its customers to pay fees, the damage has been done. The trust has been lost.
“Let me be clear.. the cost isn’t a big issue to us,” wrote Garry Newman, founder of Rust developer Facepunch Studios. “If everything worked out, the tracking was flawless and it was 10p per sale, no biggy really. If that’s what it costs, then that’s what it costs. But that’s not why we’re furious. It hurts because we didn’t agree to this. We used the engine because you pay up front and then ship your product. We weren’t told this was going to happen. We weren’t warned. We weren’t consulted. We have spent 10 years making Rust on Unity’s engine. We’ve paid them every year. And now they changed the rules.”
Developers weren’t the only ones to weigh in on this. Other game engine companies and publishers expressed their dissatisfaction, some more creatively than others.
Devolver Digital, notable for being both an indie developer powerhouse and for its unorthodox communication style, posted, “Definitely include what engine you’re using in game pitches. It’s important information,” which seems to suggest that it would look less favorably on future games developed in Unity for the unknown costs they could incur.
“One of the cool things about RPG Maker is that once you buy the engine, you can sell your game as many times as you want and never owe us another dime,” RPG Maker, the engine for games including Yume Nikki, Corpse Party, and Always Sometimes Monsters, posted.
Opera GX, a gaming browser, simply posted a meme.
It seems that without a full-scale retraction, Unity has irreparably damaged its brand and its customers’ trust. And even if the company reverses course, there seem to be developers who will not come back or are exploring other engines like the open-source Godot, which is similar to Unity.
“I’ve been through ‘this will destroy indies’ policy changes before, and none of them were as bad as they looked [...] so I’m hoping this Unity thing will be similar,” posted David Szymanski, developer of Dusk. “That said, regardless of what happens, Butcher’s Creek will be my last game on Unity.”
Others put it more bluntly. “Despite the immense amount of time and effort our team has already poured into our new title, we will be migrating to a new game engine unless the changes are completely reverted,” posted Mega Crit, developers of Slay the Spire.
“We have never made a public statement before. That is how badly you fucked up.”