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Unity divides loyal consumer base with pricing changes

(Photo courtesy of: Gaming Street) “Unity Technologies’ announces changes to they game engine pricing model.”

Zachary Latta Giuliana
Connector Contributor

The internet has been aflame for the past week and a half in the wake of Unity Technologies’ announcement regarding changes to the pricing model of its game development engine, Unity. Posted to their blog on Sept. 12, it outlined a “per-install” pricing model that would charge developers as much as 20 cents per install of their game after passing a revenue and install threshold. Initially, this change was retroactive, meaning that it would even apply to games released before these changes were announced.

Much of the initial outrage had to do with the poor wording of the announcement, leaving many developers anxious with questions. To try and clear things up, Unity posted a Q&A to its forums to answer some of the community’s top questions.

One of the most pressing issues was how exactly tracking installs would work, especially with demos, piracy, free-to-play games or services like Xbox Game Pass, which lets any of its 30 million subscribers download any of its included games at no extra fee. Unity claimed that Game Pass, demos and charity bundles would be off the hook. Developers would not be charged for fraudulent installs or “install bombing” campaigns, a hypothetical but likely scenario where a group of people use bots to reinstall a game many times over to rack up fees for a developer. Developers would not be charged for reinstalls on the same device, but the same copy being installed on multiple devices.

However, this answer was considered lackluster by many. It did not give any details on exactly how tracking installs would work, meaning it amounted to a little more than just a “trust us” stance. Without actual knowledge of how their methods worked, developers felt skeptical of the system, as it is in Unity’s favor to count as many installs as possible to increase their revenue.

These responses helped curb some of the financial concerns, but it did not do much to calm everyone down. Making such a sweeping change that retroactively impacts all versions of the software sets a scary precedent for developers. Making a game takes a long time, and things need to be planned out years in advance. Who’s to say that Unity doesn’t change their model again in the future? It’s an element of unpredictability, the opposite of what you want for a multi-year project.

On Sept. 17, Unity released an apology on X, formerly known as Twitter, saying they appreciate the feedback and “will share an update in a couple of days.” Then on Sept. 22, they added a post to their blog detailing the changes as well as holding a Q&A livestream between President and General Manager of Unity, Marc Witten, and Jason Weimann, a prominent content creator in the Unity community.

The likely final version of the pricing changes removes any additional fees until a project passes $1 million in revenue as well as a million “impressions,” which were defined as any new user meaningfully engaging with the product; essentially, it’s total users not counting any of those with refunded copies. This number will be self-reported by developers, so fears of a “black box” system have been assuaged.

Additionally, this amount will be capped at only 2.5% of the game’s revenue, which will also be self-reported by the developer. The revenue limit for Unity Personal has been increased to $200,000, and users won’t be required to use the Unity splash screen on startup. Most importantly, with the newly updated blog post, Unity has declared the changes are no longer retroactive. These fees will only apply to games made using the 2024 release of the engine.

Overall, these updated terms are a way better deal for developers, although the overall reception is still quite mixed; a poll during the Q&A showed only about 60% of viewers are happy with the changes. Whitten promised that Unity is committed to regaining the community’s trust and that future changes in the terms of service will be more transparent. But, that’s all it is: a promise. Many are still cautious about putting any trust in Unity, especially since the company already promised against retroactive changes after a pricing change in 2019.

Either way, Unity developers can breathe a sigh of relief. With these changes, consumers now have time to consider their next move. Whether that’s time to jump ship and move to a rival engine, like Godot or Unreal, or to keep investing time in the engine they have been using for years, these changes are a big step in the right direction. But, for many, the fact that the original terms were even suggested at all is enough of a reason to leave Unity.

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