When Unity announced plans for a new "Runtime Fee" tied to a player's installations of a game left many game makers wondering if having a hit game through Unity would cost them more money than they could make.
Unity announced its plans to introduce the new fee in a blog post on September 12th 2023:
Unity rushes to clarify price increase plan, as game developers fume
The reason given for imposing this novel fee was that:
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 new fee will only be levied on games that exceed both a revenue threshold and an install threshold on a three-tier basis according to the creator's Unity subscription. The fee per install varies not only according to subscription-level but also on the volume of downloads and uses a lower rate for installs in "emerging markets", such as China or India. This table has the details:
Objections to the proposal quickly appeared on X - still better known as Twitter. In addition to the complaint that these changes would be harmful to solo, indie, marginalized, and mobile developers, concerns were raised that devs would be charged for pirated games, demos, games downloaded across multiple devices, games offered on subscription services like Game Pass and games included in Charity bundles. Another area of concern was referred to as "install-bombing" - repeated downloading by those with a grudge, grievance or just malicious intent.
Faced with such a barrage of anxiety and distress and the prospect of its developers moving to one of its commercial rivals such as Epic or Unreal Engine or to the open-source Godot, Unity was quick to respond as reported by Stephen Totilo on X:
The link at the bottom of Totilo's tweet goes to his article on Axios where he recounts that Unity's Marc Whitten had been able to assure him on many of the points raised and that whereas as ealier in the day Whitten had told Axios that a player installing a game, deleting it and installing it again would result in multiple fees, having "regrouped" Unity would actually only charge for an initial installation, although an an extra fee will be charged if a user installs a game on a second device, say a Steam Deck, after installing a game on a PC.
Unity's "clarification" of the Runtime fee included that, in the case of multiple installs due to inclusion on Microsoft's Game Plus fees would be levied from Microsoft and Charity Bundles would be exempt. On the other hand, while runtime fees will not be charged for installations of game demos early access games would be charged for an installation.
Tolito also passed on information given to him by Whitten that:
only about 10% of Unity's developers will wind up having to pay any fees, given the thresholds games need to hit.
and, tellingly, that a Twitter furore really works with Whitten admitting:
"It's not fun to get a bunch of angry feedback on any particular day.
Unity may have done enough to allay game devs worst fears, however disquiet remains about the Unity's ability to detect install-bombing and to distinguish pirated copies from legitimate ones and Brandon Sheffield, Games director at Necrosoft Games, posted an opinion titled The Death of Unity on Insert Credit that has the very clear message that Unity is company to be avoided. He writes:
My game company Necrosoft has used Unity for every commercial project it has ever made. But now I can say, unequivocally, if you're starting a new game project, do not use Unity. 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.
What has happened? Across the last few years, as John Riccitiello has taken over the company, the engine has made a steady decline into bizarre business models surrounding an engine with unmaintained features and erratic stability.
For Sheffield the announcement from Unity is simply the "last and final straw".
His article also responds to the second part of Unity's blog post which includes the news that one of its subscription tiers, Unity Plus is being withdrawn writing:
Oh, and did I mention we're automatically being switched to the more expensive Pro from Plus if we don't cancel our subscription? If the agreement changes underneath you as you're making the game, you can't budget for it, and trust is completely lost. We did not plan for this, and it screws us massively on Demonschool, which is tracking to be our most successful game. You might say poor you, but again, we did not sign up for this and have no option to say no, since we're close to release and this change is 4 months out. You can't simply remake an entire game in another engine when you've been working on it for 4+ years.
Yet again the highlights the dilemma faced by developers as individuals and in companies of being lured in to a seemingly supportive ecosystem only to have the terms of engagement changed in a way that threatens their future existence.