Unity upsets game developers with new pricing model

13 Sep 2023

Image: © piter2121/Stock.adobe.com

An upcoming pay-per-download pricing scheme is causing a stir among developers, with some concerns that it could be abused by malicious users.

Unity Technologies is bringing in a new pricing structure for its engine, which is causing commotion among game developers.

The company is bringing in a pay-per-download pricing scheme based on Unity Runtime, which is code on the engine that executes on player devices and makes Made with Unity games work at scale. The company said this Runtime has billions of monthly downloads.

Under the upcoming changes, developers will be charged a fee 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,” Unity said in a blogpost. “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 fee is $0.20 per install for developers using Unity Personal and Unity Plus, with cheaper options for Pro and Enterprise developers. The company said this Runtime fee only applies after a game reaches a threshold in both revenue and lifetime installs.

This threshold is $200,000 in revenue in the last 12 months and 200,000 installs for Personal and Plus users, with the Pro and Enteprise threshold being $1,000,000 in revenue in the last 12 months and 1,000,000 installs. These differences appear to be an incentive to get more developers on the Pro and Enterprise versions of Unity.

“Unity Pro and Unity Enterprise subscribers will be eligible for volume discounts that rapidly reduce the per-install cost of the Unity Runtime Fee,” the company said. “This means that in addition to other benefits, the cost of Unity Pro and Unity Enterprise licenses can be offset by the savings as the game grows.”

Game developers have voice concerns about this change, which is scheduled to occur at the start of 2024. Indie game company Landfall called the decision a counter to previous Unity statements and a “huge breach of trust”.

“They are making this change without any form of opt-in or consent from developers and retroactively applying this new rule to games developed and released years ago,” Landfall said on X. “At present, we don’t see how we can start any new projects using Unity when there is no way to know what kind of retroactive business model they might throw at us in the future.”

Another game developer claimed that malicious users have worked together to impact game scores and ratings of certain developers and that this payment model could be deliberately abused to force heavier fees on developers.

Last year, Unity received an offer to be acquired by mobile gaming tech company AppLovin in a $17.54bn deal. However, Unity’s board of directors rejected the takeover proposal, saying it was “not in the best interests of Unity shareholders”.

The board instead urged the shareholders to vote in favour of the acquisition of AppLovin competitor IronSource for $4.4bn, which was completed last November.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic