Unity altered its pricing model, but can it win back trust?

27 Sep 2023

Image: © Robert/Stock.adobe.com

The disastrous announcement of a new pricing model appears to have eroded trust among many Unity users, even after changes were made.

It has been a chaotic couple of weeks for Unity Technologies, which has strained its customer relations due to its new pricing model.

Unity has attempted to apologise and implement adjustments to this pricing model, but it appears many developers are still unhappy.

The company revealed this pay-per-download pricing scheme earlier this month, where they would charge game developers a fee each time their Unity Engine game was downloaded by an end user. The new scheme is scheduled to come into effect at the start of 2024.

But the developer community struck back with a wave of criticism, with some of the top complaints being due to this change being announced without any discussion and the fact that it would have included retroactive fees – for game downloads prior to the new scheme being implemented.

Various game developers that use Unity declared that they would no longer use the game engine, while there were reports that Unity executives received death threats for the decision.

This week, Unity revealed the adjustments it has made to the upcoming pricing scheme, along with another apology. Marc Whitten, the president of Unity Create – which includes the Unity engine and editor teams – said the changes were made due to user “concerns”.

“You are what makes Unity great, and we know we need to listen and work hard to earn your trust,” Whitten said. “We should have spoken with more of you and we should have incorporated more of your feedback before announcing our new Runtime Fee policy.

“Our goal with this policy is to ensure we can continue to support you today and tomorrow, and keep deeply investing in our game engine.”

The top changes

In the original pricing model, the new fee applied would be $0.20 for developers using Unity Personal – the free version of the engine – who made $200,000 in revenue in the last 12 months and had 200,000 installs before the fee would be applied.

The fee was reduced for developers on the paid Pro and Enterprise versions of Unity, while the threshold before it would apply was also higher, in a clear incentive to get developers onto these versions of Unity.

Under the new changes, the company said there will be no runtime fee for games built on Unity Personal and that “no game with less than $1m in trailing 12-month revenue will be subject to the fee.”

The retroactive aspect of the policy has also been removed, so the runtime fee will only apply to games shipping with the next versions of Unity in 2024 “and beyond”.

“Your games that are currently shipped and the projects you are currently working on will not be included – unless you choose to upgrade them to this new version of Unity,” Whitten said. “We will make sure that you can stay on the terms applicable for the version of Unity editor you are using – as long as you keep using that version.”

Other changes include giving developers the option to give the company a 2.5pc revenue share or the calculated fee based on the number of new people engaging with a game each month. Whitten said developers will “always be billed the lesser amount”.

A loss in trust

The changes are a stark difference to the fee that Unity originally revealed earlier this month. But many groups within the Unity community appear to still be unhappy with the company for attempting this fee in the first place.

The Boston Unity Group – which claims to have been the first official Unity user group in the world when it launched in 2010 – recently announced it is dissolving due to the “unthinkably hostile terms of service and pricing changes”.

“We’ve seen how easily and flippantly an executive-led business decision can risk bankrupting the studios we’ve worked so hard to build, threaten our livelihoods as professionals and challenge the longevity of our industry,” the Boston group said.

“The Unity of today isn’t the same company that it was when the group was founded and the trust we used to have in the company has been completely eroded.”

Meanwhile, prominent indie game developers have voiced concerns with Unity since the changes were revealed. Tony Coculuzzi, a game developer for InnerSloth which made the popular Among Us game, said “nothing has changed” to stop Unity from attempting a similar policy change in the future.

“The ghouls are still in charge, and they’re thinking up ways to make up for this hit on projected revenue as we speak,” Coculuzzi said on X.

In a discussion on Reddit, the developer behind the game Vampire Survivors – Luca Galante – said his company will be looking at “different engines going forward”.

“Even if Unity were to walk back entirely on their decisions, I don’t think it would be wise to trust them while they are under the current leadership,” Galante said.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic