Thursday, September 14, 2023

Unity Runtime Fee

Unity Technologies (via Rune Skovbo Johansen, Hacker News):

We are introducing a Unity Runtime Fee that is based upon each time a qualifying game is downloaded by an end user. We chose this because each time a game is downloaded, the Unity Runtime is also installed.


We set high revenue and game install thresholds to avoid impacting those who have yet to find scale, meaning they don’t need to pay the fee until they have reached significant success.

Emanuel Maiberg (via Hacker News):

Unity announced the new plan in a post on its website, but more details emerged on Game Developer, a site catering to people working in the video game industry. The new fees are in addition to the annual cost of making commercial products with Unity, which are available at a few tiers between $2,000 and $5,000 per year. According to Game Developer, these new fees will be collected from game developers on a monthly basis, charging them between $0.01 to $0.20 per install, depending on how many copies they sold, in what region (emerging markets have lower fees), and what Unity plan the developer is paying for already.

The video game development community is still scrambling to unpack how Unity’s new pricing scheme will impact them, but some developers who spoke to 404 Media said that Unity’s changes are a “disaster” and that they are already eyeing open source alternatives for their next projects.


However, new installs on new games will apparently impact game developers, forcing a new business model they didn’t prepare for when they initially published the games. Regardless of when a game was released, it’ll be subject to these new fees starting in 2024.

Even worse, Unity later clarified that it will charge developers for multiple installs by the same user. This creates a nightmare scenario for developers where disgruntled gamers could install, delete, and reinstall games as many times as they can stand just to inflict fees on developers they don’t like, a scary possibility in an industry where users are known to review bomb and send death threats to game developers.

Unity seems to be backtracking on this part and on charging for trial downloads. It’s not clear how the data will be collected or reported.

Cabel Sasser:

“Devs not on the hook for Game Pass” means that they expect Microsoft to be on the hook for it, right? How does that affect deals?


My biggest Q: we’re not about to update our Unity build for existing games. So does this mean that older builds ALSO phone home for tracking?


They’re also introducing new DRM requirements for the editor:

Starting in November, Unity Personal users will get a new sign-in and online user experience. Users will need to be signed into the Hub with their Unity ID and connect to the internet to use Unity. If the internet connection is lost, users can continue using Unity for up to 3 days while offline.

Karol Severin (via Hacker News):

When it comes to ‘fair’, it usually depends on who you ask. From Unity’s (and likely its shareholders’) point of view, it has technically been subsidising developers’ work (i.e., operating at a substantial GAAP-basis loss) every year since inception (despite posting a profitable Q4 2022). In the current macroeconomic climate, money is expensive, and investors are increasingly looking for returns rather than non-profitable revenue growth. Unity was able to rely on the growth narrative of the overall games industry propelling it to a sweeter future, but of course, the games industry declined in 2022, so that ‘brighter future’ argument became a lot tougher to buy into.


To be clear, this is not to say that the approx. $200 billion games industry is going away. But, the growth hey-day of the games industry is over, and consolidation in the developer and publisher landscape is inevitable.


It’s not the fact that Unity wants to make more money from its engine that has gotten people so up in arms about it, it’s the way it was structured.

If they simply took a percent of revenue, everyone would have shrugged, you might have had some indies complaining, and the world would have kept on turning. Instead, they made a couple of compounding missteps. An install based fee creates a massive amount of uncertainty about how much you will owe at the end of the month, creating potential cash flow issues. You are at the whims of Unity in terms of how they calculate it, and praying that they properly handle all the edge cases and potential abuses, despite all their incentives giving them plenty reasons not to care that much. And then on top of all of that they made it retroactive to all existing games on the market using their engine. Companies had a very reasonable expectation that they could rely on the terms their games were released under. All that trust has now been upended. Unity has shown they are willing to change terms retroactively with little notice.

Joe Wintergreen (via Hacker News):

So You’ve Decided To Move From Unity To Unreal Engine


Update (2023-09-18): Vincent L. (via Hacker News):

Following the update to its pricing plan that charges developers for each game install, Unity has seemingly silently removed its GitHub repository that tracks any terms of service (ToS) changes the company made.

As discovered by a Reddit user, Unity has removed its GitHub repository that allows the public to track any changes made to the license agreements and has updated the ToS to remove a clause that lets developers use the terms from older versions of the game engine that their product shipped with.

Hein-Pieter van Braam (via Hacker News):

This price change has some particularly grave consequences on mobile where revenue per install is highly variable. According to Ironsource (A Unity company) for example, the average revenue per ad impression is $0.02. Unity would like to charge $0.20 per install after your app has made $200,000 over the past year. What this means is that every one of your users has to see at least 10 ads after installing your app to not have it cost you money. These numbers are averages. If your app is more popular in emerging markets then the revenue per ad would be significantly lower, making the problem far worse.

To make matters (even) worse, this change will be done retroactively on existing applications as well.

Petter Vilberg (via Hacker News):

So if it’s not even going to affect that many developers, what is Unity’s plan here? How does any of this make sense? Well, the answer is that Unity isn’t particularly interested in keeping developers of premium games as its customers, especially not small ones. In fact, Unity doesn’t really care. Indie developers are merely collateral damage to this change.


Unity is not a game engine company that also provides operating services. It is a mobile F2P services company that also provides a game engine.


They are going after the publishers of hugely profitable, long-lived mobile games, for whom their cost to Unity (in the form of license fees) in no way scales with their ongoing revenue. Even talking about pricing things “per install” is a thing that sounds outlandish in premium game development, but is normal language in mobile user acquisition.

The real gotcha in Unity’s announcement isn’t that you have to pay a fee per install of “Unity Runtime”, it’s the fact that you can get a “Fee reduction for use of Unity services”. If you’re a big company concerned about the install fee, just use Unity’s advertising and monetisation solutions, rather than third parties, and you’ll get away for cheap. This way you’ll either put money in the pockets of the engine branch by paying the install fee on millions of installs, or you’ll put money in the pockets of the services branch by using their services.


I don’t think a lot of users of the engine understand that Unity the engine company doesn’t exist anymore.

Last year Unity merged with IronSource, a mobile ad network, which is much more profitable than Unity. In a public company, the profit drives the business. The company that’s called Unity is in the business of selling ads and showing lots of them to people on phones. They own a game engine as a delivery vehicle for those ads.

There was an unsolicited competing bid from another ad peddler, AppLovin, who also wanted to buy Unity. I guess the optics with the IronSource deal looked better because it could be called a merger rather than a straight-up acquisition. But the end result is the same.


We have heard you. We apologize for the confusion and angst the runtime fee policy we announced on Tuesday caused. We are listening, talking to our team members, community, customers, and partners, and will be making changes to the policy. We will share an update in a couple of days. Thank you for your honest and critical feedback.

This lacks specifics and sounds like too little too late, though switching engines is not an easy thing.

Tom Francis (via Hacker News):

We chose Unity for Tactical Breach Wizards over 5 years ago. The deal was, it costs $125 per month per programmer, but that’s it – they take no share of your income when you release. Unreal, a rival engine, has no monthly fee but takes 5% of your revenue when you release. If Unity wanted any part of our revenue, whether percentage or per-install, we wouldn’t have used it – I had more experience in Game Maker, which takes no rev share and has a lower sub cost.

So now we’ve spent 5+ years investing in Unity on that understanding:

  • All of our coding and implementation work (about 70% of my job, and all of my programmer’s job) is in Unity, and could not be pasted into some other engine – it would need to be redone.
  • To be able to even do that productive work, I spent a ton of this time learning Unity.


In case we were worried about how much we were investing, in 2019 Unity went out of their way to say, and cement in their Terms of Service, that “When you obtain a version of Unity, and don’t upgrade your project, we think you should be able to stick to that version of the TOS.”

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Unity removing the clause in its TOS allowing developers to stay on older versions of it, and then deleting/hiding the TOS change history, is notable.

"a scary possibility in an industry where users are known to review bomb and send death threats to game developers"

What would you expect? What could possibly go wrong? Violence generates violence. Just look around in the world today!

They're sorry:

IMO, too little, too late. Publishers have apparently already cancelled publishing deals with smaller indie games that were being developed in Unity, and the fact that Unity just dumped this on devs without doing even the most basic communication first, or thinking through any of the implications of their ideas, shows that Unity's current leadership can't be trusted. I can't see how any serious company would start a new project in Unity now.

Apparently, they're now planning to cap fees based on revenue:
"Under the tentative new plan, Unity will limit fees to 4% of a game’s revenue for customers making over $1 million"

"No more install fees" is not correct.

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