Why Unity's New Install Fees Are Spurring Massive Backlash Among Game Developers
Logan Plant, writing for IGN:
Game developers aren't happy with a new policy from Unity that will cost developers a small fee every time someone downloads a game built on Unity's game engine.
It's called the Unity Runtime Fee, and the new pricing model will apply to developers who reach a certain amount of installs and revenue.
"We are introducing a Unity Runtime Fee that is based upon each time a qualifying game is downloaded by an end user," Unity's announcement reads in part. "We chose this because 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 Unity Runtime Fee is scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2024, and it's been universally panned by developers on social media since its announcement earlier today.
(Update 09/12/2023 - 6:29pm: Unity is walking back some aspects of the runtime fee amid escalating anger from developers. According to Axios, the fee will now only apply to the initial installation of game and that developers are not on the hook for installations through Xbox Game Pass, with fees instead being passed to platform holders like Xbox. Demos will also not be affected unless they are part of a demo that includes the full game. Games offered in charity bundles will be exempt from fees." Unity executive Marc Whitten claims only 10 percent of developers will be impacted by the fees.)
Unity's blog post details what games will qualify for the Unity Runtime Fee, based on two key criteria:
- The game has passed a minimum revenue threshold in the last 12 months
- The game has passed a minimum lifetime install count
Unity further lays out the minimum revenue and install count to qualify, with different thresholds for developers using Unity Personal/Unity Plus, Unity Pro, and Unity Enterprise. For smaller indie developers who use Unity Personal/Unity Plus, they'll have to pay Unity $0.20 per install once their game passes $200,000 in revenue over the last 12 months and 200,000 life-to-date installs. This new policy has caused a lot of backlash among developers, who are raising concerns about free-to-play games, charity bundles, and more.
One big concern is surrounding "freemium" games that cost nothing to download and rely on in-game purchases for revenue. For instance, if a free-to-play game has made $200,0000 in the last 12 months but has millions of people installing it, the developer could end up owing Unity more than the profit earned from in-game purchases.
Others are worried this could lead some smaller developers who built their games on Unity to pull titles from digital storefronts to prevent more people from racking up downloads.
"I bet Steam, Epic, Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft will love having waves of developers pulling their games," writes Forest from Among Us developer Innersloth Games. "Innersloth has always paid Unity appropriately for licenses and services we use. I'm not a discourse guy, but this is undue and will force my hand."
Folks who work on Epic Games' Unreal Engine — which is Unity's biggest competitor — are capitalizing on Unity's bad day by pointing out that Unreal's 5% royalty model kicks in only after a game grosses $1 million.
Unity has been under pressure lately, laying off hundreds of employees in the first half of 2023. Riccitiello also came under fire in 2022 for referring to developers who don't focus on microtransactions as the "biggest f*cking idiots" before apologizing. Featured in everything from Cuphead to Beat Saber to Pokemon Go, it has been lauded for ease of use. However, trust in the platform has been declining over the years, leading many developers to look to alternatives.
"Now I can say, unequivocally, if you're starting a new game project, do not use Unity," wrote developer Brandon Sheffield in a post summing up the feelings of many creators. "If you started a project 4 months ago, it's worth switching to something else. Unity is quite simply not a company to be trusted."
Developers have a right to be mad at Unity's new runtime fees so I highly recommend you go read the rest of Logan's post.