Unity's At It Again

As many game developers, especially, smaller, independent ones such as myself, are aware, Unity, has announced a new runtime fee for games.  From what I gather it implies that games made with the free Unity license (Personal) with over $200K in revenue in a calendar year AND over 200K lifetime installs will start paying a fee per install over that limit, something that sounds small on paper, like two cents, but can add up very quickly if you're game is somehow getting millions of downloads.  Suffice it to say, many are not happy about this announcement.  I do believe some fear is a bit reactionary, a bit knee jerk and exaggerated, dreaming up scenarios that 98% of devs will never have to deal with.  For example, at those values, I will never have to pay this fee for either MerFight and Battle High, but this is rather myopic -- though not as myopic as Unity's thought process behind this idea.  A LOT of questions have come up since this announcement:

  • Does this include bundles?
  • Does this include uninstalls and reinstalls?
  • Does this include demos?
  • Does this include installs on a new machine?
  • Can this be taken advantage of with bots?

And so far, the answers seem to be for most of these:  maybe?  I feel any answers given out today are just guesses as a PR team at Unity is probably scrambling to deal with the negative backlash.  Now I could see if this is something that they were planning to do in say January of 2025, giving developers over a year to learn more, consider other engines, and get more information, but no, it's four months from now, giving some devs who have worked on their games for years little wiggle room to do anything but hope for the best.  

I've been a big fan of Unity for a long time.  As someone who has no interest in making their own engine, Unity has been a great -- or at least decent -- tool that I've used for over a decade.  It's very deflating to read time and time again about some poor decision Unity is making, most likely in some effort for its already rich investors and CEO to keep getting richer.  The following are my biggest concerns:

How Is This Tracked?

I know a few months ago, Unity teamed up with an adware (or malware?) company, so I have high suspicions that they've been working on some sort of tracking tool that all Unity games will utilize.  I'm hoping I'm wrong, but this is my biggest concern.  Unity games already have a stigma associated with them.  It's why so many developers pay to remove the Unity logo on splash screens (which I have always felt was a stupid business decision on Unity's part) but now people will have a legitimate reason.  "Oh, Unity games install that weird runtime DRM so they can charge developers two cents per install.  I don't want that on my machine."


Is every Unity game gonna start tracking?

Slippery Slope

I know this is a fallacy of sorts, but what's to stop them from these numbers?  First it's $200K and 200K downloads, but what's stopping them a few years later from going to $100K and 100K downloads and 4 cents per install?  Even outside of this and even if Unity decides to rollback this decision, they've hurt trust.  New developers will be cautious to use the engine.  "What weird business scheme could they try three years after I've started development?"  Other developers will stop recommending it; some already  stating that it's a dead engine.

It's debatable how slippery this messy Unity slope truly is...

Fix The Engine (And The Company)!

This wouldn't be deflating me as much if Unity was the best game engine out there.  It's very difficult to debate what "best" means in this context, but it's certainly not the most efficient, not the best looking, not the best optimized, and doesn't even have the best tools -- many of them are unfinished or abandoned or in preview forever.  Maybe it's the most accessible due to being free, utilizing C# as opposed to C++, and being easier to build cross-platform, but again, there are probably other engines that check those boxes.  This feels very deck-chair-arranging-on-the-Titanic sort of decision.  At the same time, weird decisions -- including those of the CEO selling shares -- makes me wonder how much longer will Unity last?  Is it too big to fail or should I be learning a new engine now? I should be learning a new engine regardless, to be honest, and this situation is just nudging me closer and closer.  This has a big impact overall.  So many students are leaving school having just Unity experience; so many small and medium and even large studios are using Unity.  Unity failing would have a huge impact on the industry, and it's very troubling feeling that a few bad decisions can ripple affect so many, can have a sort of ransom-like hold on so many people's livelihoods.

So Now What?

Runtime fee aside, there are other decisions in this latest announcement that are not great.  The removal of the Plus subscription tier, forcing some devs to go from paying about $40 a month to over $180 a month, is awful.  The always online requirement to use the free license of the engine isn't great either.  It's just bad on bad on bad lately, but like many other developers, a majority of my experience, is in Unity.  Can I learn a new engine, yes, but that takes a lot of time and is a challenge, the biggest of which is what I'm coining regression frustration -- the frustration you deal with when you have to relearn something even though you know how to do it adequately in other tools.  It's why I still use 3ds Max instead of learning Blender.  At the same time, Photon Quantum and all my netcode skills are in Unity, so I'd be relearning how to implement similar systems too.  

I do think if a dev, especially a newer dev, ask me what engine to use, the answer isn't going to be Unity, at least now right away.  To be honest, my answer has not been Unity 100% anyway.  For example, I sometimes recommend GameMaker if the developer wants to make a purely 2D game, but now, if said developer has no console aspirations, I'd probably recommend Godot for 3D and if they are skilled enough, maybe Unreal.  Unity is just too volatile at the moment.  I've been wanting to start a new Battle High iteration, and I'm seriously considering GameMaker -- its original engine -- over Unity at the moment, because I'm pretty sure they won't be throwing a new, confusing pricing scheme at me out of the blue.  Though, this is sort of a risk of using any game engine, that it makes changes that affect your project in big ways.  Every Unity update had created a bit of this frustration and apprehension; this one more so than ever, and if Unreal does ANYTHING to make itself more accessible -- C# version for example -- it'll probably be the final nail in Unity's already well built casket.  So, for now, I'm going to keep working in Unity, but with caution.  I'm not jumping ship, but I'm definitely getting my lifeboat ready in the form of learning some new engines.

This lifeboat is gonna get crowded will quick if more and more devs jump ship.



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