Game developers flee Unity after exorbitant price plan announced, but not everyone can get out

Originally published at: Game developers flee Unity after exorbitant price plan announced, but not everyone can get out | Boing Boing


Riccitello went to the Elon Musk school of “How To Kill Your Company in Three Easy Steps” I see. I mean:

How does he imagine this strategy is going to work out in Unity’s favor? They may have leverage against game developers, but Microsoft will tell them to go pound sand, and then they’ll send their lawyers after them.


I would NOT want to be the one manning the Unity booth at SIGGRAPH next year.


Get them some sugar-water, and it’ll all be fine.

The part about retroactively applying this charge to ten-year-old games is … interesting. I don’t see how that would be legal, but how many small developers can afford to fight that?


The most coherent explanation I’ve been able to find for the behavior is the accounts of people being told that the runtime fee can be made to go away if you are using Unity/ironsource for in game ads.

As a means of directly raising more money ‘per install’ seems like the lunatic choice, given the numerous unsolved issues with measuring that and keeping it from being gamed; which makes it difficult to comprehend vs. just raising the per-seat fee for the dev tools or having a royalty of some sort; but it makes a bit more sense if the point is to set forth an unpleasant possibility that can then be waived in exchange for compliance.

I’m definitely not legalmancer; there’s apparently a curious tale involving an older ToS that did allow developers to continue using the software under the terms they started using it quietly disappearing from the github repo that used to track ToS changes under their in-2019-after-a-different-controversy “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.” position.

That tells us little about how the actual legality will or won’t shake out; but it appears that Unity themselves don’t think that the story has entirely been straightened up.


GDC is going to be rough, too.


I’ve seen a lot of speculation that even if Unity does walk this change back the damage has already been done and it’s unlikely devs are going to be trusting enough to continue to use Unity. Because really, what’s to stop them from rolling out some other boneheaded pricing scheme?


The new TOS is fucked beyond belief - part of the problem is that it’s retroactive, it impacts games already released under a different TOS that’s now been replaced (or rather will be). (They’ve removed their github repository of their previous TOS as well, in an extremely shady move - they want to remove the evidence that they previously promised they would never do something like this.) At least, this is the current message - which changes hourly, as Unity execs clearly hadn’t thought this through or come up with all the details. The worst part is there’s nothing developers could do to avoid the new install fees - even removing games from stores wouldn’t do it, as they’ve already sold copies that are yet-to-be installed. All the developers would be doing by removing games from sale is destroying their revenue when they needed it most.

Even if that wasn’t true, it’s not that much better - developers spend years working on a game, and it would take years more to switch engines, which really wouldn’t be possible for anyone planning to release next year, as they almost certainly don’t have the dev funds to do so. Either way, it’s a disaster for a lot of developers - I saw a few studios calculating that if the price plan had come into effect this year, they would have been paying Unity 109% of their revenue - not profit, revenue.

Even if Unity reverses this insane decision under intense pressure, they’re dead - no one will trust them going forward (and they’ve recently spent billions buying movie VFX companies for inexplicable reasons and are losing money, so losing all their game engine customers is going to be fatal). This leaves Unreal as the only real contender in the game engine space, and if they decide to go Full Fuckhead on their customers (which being a near-monopoly makes more likely), developers are going to be really screwed.

There are (were) a bunch of Unity-specific events coming up, which will be… interesting, assuming they aren’t all canceled (due to death-threats if not mass cancellations).

Oh, there’s going to be a class action lawsuit if this goes forward.

Yeah, that very much does seem to have been the point - forcing users into their ad network. Problem is, that only works for the 90% of the commercial market that is mobile - it doesn’t apply to console or PC developers who can’t use it. Unity seems to have completely forgotten the PC/console side (and are thus screwing them extra hard), despite the fact that that’s the bit that drives everything (especially after spending billions to pivot to AAA tools and development).

Yeah. Unity didn’t think this through, it’s more of a cudgel to drive users to their ad network than a serious proposal, but I think the arbitrariness may also be part of the appeal. There’s no way Unity can have anything like accurate numbers, so anything Unity comes up with is necessarily arbitrary (and thus weighted in their favor). Unity expects developers who didn’t (or couldn’t) cave to the ad network to either just accept the numbers or fight them on a case-by-case basis (which just isn’t tenable for studios).

Yeah, it’s like the US electing Trump - if they did something that stupid once, they can do it again. And the only reason Unity will walk this back is because they’ll be forced to by legal fights and/or mass loss of customers. That means they’ll be even more highly motivated to do something equally stupid that they’re more likely to get away with.

And it’s not just the price plan that’s idiotic - it’s the way they’re rolling it out. Pure chaos that makes it impossible for developers to plan ahead. No one can survive under that kind of instability.


What I find really baffling about that is that it seems like a completely unforced error: there’s absolutely nothing requiring that Unity have an identical policy across targeted platforms; or between games that are sold for an upfront retail price and games that have a monetization strategy where the Applovin/ironsource slapfight would be relevant.

The claim that Unity crafted the policy with artsy PC indie types who still sell games for retail prices, like fucking idiots, rather than selling microtransactions to people who are “really not very price sensitive at that point in time” as an afterthought seems plausible enough; given the comparatively limited size of that segment vs. trying to get a bigger cut of miHoYou’s Genshin Impact money; but what it doesn’t explain is why they went with a blanket policy anyway; when they could have turned the screws on the people they viewed as strategically worthwhile while continuing to let the ones orthogonal to the grand strategic goal pay their per dev/per year fee without interference.


Retroactively applying it to previous games released under an earlier terms of agreement (literally a contract) is NOT legal. It would only be legal if they used the current Unity build and re-released under it’s new TOS. In coming massive legal battles are about to occur.

In the meantime, the indies who relied on Unity are going to find a different engine if they can, that’s their only choice.


Isn’t this the same dipshit CEO who wanted to charge people to reload weapons in games? Grind every CEO into the powder they use to clean up vommit.


There will be a lot of bodies along that trail.


Unity is a whole ecosystem, and developers could have invested in tons of third-party graphics and sound resources and libraries that only fit the Unity world.


Simple, they have no legal relationship to collect from Microsoft (the TOS is between Unity and the game dev, Microsoft is not a party to the agreement), so they are going to tell game dev that it’s their responsibility to collect the install fee from Microsoft on Unity’s behalf. Which they don’t have the clout to do, and so the game dev will in the end still be on the hook for it, and Unity knows this, but the can claim that it won’t be the game devs paying even if at the end of the day they clearly will be.
This is the same as the statement that devs could ‘prove’ how many installes were from pirated copies so they wouldn’t have to pay for them. A completely impossible thing to prove.
Every time it’s pointed out that Unity will be overcounting installs the response is essentially “Well just do the impossible and then you don’t have to pay for those”


Hello, professional game developer here. I’ve shipped multiple console titles using Unity. :wave:

You’re going to find my interpretation here a lot less dramatic and incendiary than the majority of my colleagues in our industry.

Okay, well, I do have one inflammatory thought: applying this retroactively to games that have already shipped is a class action lawsuit waiting to happen. I wonder with our game, for example, that used the 2018 TOS if there’s any legalese in that document that would allow Unity to do this?

As for the specifics of the policy change:

  • Unity Personal and Unity Plus: Those that have made $200,000 USD or more in the last 12 months AND have at least 200,000 lifetime game installs.
  • Unity Pro and Unity Enterprise: Those that have made $1,000,000 USD or more in the last 12 months AND have at least 1,000,000 lifetime game installs.

It’s important to notice the AND part of that policy. And when you do notice it, all the fuss seems pretty irrational.

Students, hobbyists, artists, etc will never cross both the money AND installs threshold.

As for commercial games, if you have a premium price you are also unlikely to cross both thresholds. If you keep your average unit price above say $5 and sell 900,000 copies you would owe Unity nothing under these new terms and your gross revenue would be $4.5 million.

Interesting to me is the fact that one major income stream for games is the sale of vasts swaths of Steam keys on second and third tier distributors where your price per unit is much less than $1.

Is somebody trying to crush that market specifically?

Given my example of a game that makes $4.5 million and owes Unity nothing because they skirted just under the install threshold, one starts to think Unity is leaving the lion’s share of their possible income on the table. It actually seems like this policy change will apply to so few games that it’s bizarre they even bothered. That seems like the real story here to me.

And what’s with the “in the last 12 months” qualifier? I don’t understand that. So if your game makes $900,000 each year, year on year, but never past $1,000,000 … you just don’t owe Unity anything? I have to be misinterpreting that, right? Unity has done such a terrible job on the communication of this. (And many other things, historically.)

We should also take a look at Unreal’s fees as part of our discussion:

A 5% royalty is due only if you are distributing an off-the-shelf product that incorporates Unreal Engine code (such as a game). Provided that you notify us on time using the Release Form, you will only owe royalties once the lifetime gross revenue from that product exceeds $1 million USD; in other words, the first $1 million will be royalty-exempt.

Unity’s new policy also would exempt your first $1 million. Unreal would charge you 5% on your second $million. Unity would charge you a maximum of $0.15 per install for your second $million. Unity’s fee would be considerably less money than Unreal for anybody who keeps their unit price out of the basement.

Here are a couple more useful tidbits from Unity regarding this new policy:

Once my game passes both revenue and install count thresholds, will I be charged retroactively for all installs up to that point?

No. The install fee is only charged on incremental installs that happen after the thresholds have been met. While previous installs will be used to calculate threshold eligibility, you will not have to pay for installs generated prior to January 1, 2024.

Will this fee apply to games using Unity Runtime that are already on the market on January 1, 2024?
Yes, the fee applies to eligible games currently in market that continue to distribute the runtime. We look at a game’s lifetime installs to determine eligibility for the runtime fee. Then we bill the runtime fee based on all new installs that occur after January 1, 2024.

And another particularly juicy one, since we’ll need a legal definition of what “distribute” means:

Who is charged the Unity Runtime Fee?

The Unity Runtime Fee will be charged to the entity that distributes the runtime.

So are Microsoft and Nintendo and Steam getting the bill?


Lots of interesting comments.

I really, really want to hear Veronica Connor’s take on this.


I thought I was just making a flippant comment. It turns out I was not. There is a connection between Unity’s Board and Musk. Specifically, Roelof Botha, an OG Paypal mafia guy, is on Unity’s board. This is an interesting video.


But that’s a large new market now, after the success of Vampire Survivors. I don’t think a success story like that or its clones would be financially feasible with the new terms and I think that goes hand in hand with Riccitello‘s previous assertion that developers who don’t go after microtransactions are idiots. I guess they should all just go to Godot…


Even if there is a way for it to stick; I’m not sure exactly who this policy is supposed to comfort: If it costs Microsoft more to offer a Unity-based title on Game Pass that is presumably going to be reflected in how much they are willing to offer the developer to do so.

I’m not sure how far in advance the game pass deals are worked out, so perhaps there is a specific slice of games that were already committed to game pass at an agreed rate prior to this policy change; and those specific developers will be better off if MS decides to either contest or eat the surprise fee; but any future arrangements will presumably see Unity-based games being offered less exciting licensing fees based on MS’ projections of how many installs putting it on game pass will generate


I believe that you buried the lede:

Unity isn’t a game engine. It’s a malware-pushing advertising network which merged with a game engine to acquire a delivery channel and now wears its skin.


Hopefully this will shake out like Hasbo/WotC having to walk back their changes to the OGL; with the corporation having to walk things back.