Game devs revolt after Unity reveals plan to charge them a fee based on installs: "You'll literally bankrupt me"

 Genshin Impact
Genshin Impact

Unity has announced a plan to charge game developers a fee every time someone installs their game after a certain threshold. The "Unity Runtime Fee," which will only apply to games which have achieved success based on both installs and revenue over a period of time, is being universally lambasted by the game development community.

You can check out a breakdown of the pricing structure, but essentially, Unity plans to begin charging game devs a fee for every install after their games reach thresholds based on downloads and sales over the past year. For example, if a game built in Unity Personal made $200,000 over the past 12 months and has been installed 200,000 times since launch, the developer will be charged a flat fee for every install.

The engine's higher tiers, Unity Pro and Unity Enterprise, offer subscribers "volume discounts" that reduce the fee for installs. Unity says those discounts mean the price of the install fee "can be offset by the savings as the game grows." Meanwhile, Unity Personal, which Unity says is designed for "individuals, hobbyists, and small organizations," will just have to eat a flat .20 cents per install for the life of the game.

As you might expect, those at risk of being charged every time their game is downloaded aren't happy.

Valheim Ashlands
Valheim Ashlands

"Hey Unity, our game 'The Fall' was on the Epic Games Store as a free game - I was quite happy to sell them the rights for peanuts and the game was installed like 7 million fucking times," reads a tweet from Over The Moon Games. "How do you propose this will work? I'd owe you more money than I've made in my life."

"So this means no demos, no charity keys, no prologues, no gamepass, no ps+, no indie f2p. What a sh*t show," reads a tweet from Megagon Industries co-founder Daniel Helbig. "How can a game company be so out of touch with the current market situation!?"

Kenney, a game dev and provider of free game assets, is concerned about the issue of privacy with regards to Unity tracking installs and downloads, as well as "preservation and changing the whole business model while devs are using the engine for their projects."

Mike Blackney, maker of cosmic horror game Dead Static Drive, estimates Unity's new install fee will cost the studio "360K more than we made."

The founder of Newfangled Games, Henry Hoffman, is straight-up asking fans not to install the studio's games. "If you buy our Unity game, please don't install it," he wrote in a tweet. "Demos also count, don't install this demo, you'll literally bankrupt me," reads a follow-up that includes a link to the game Paper Trail on Steam.

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It's worth noting that Unity isn't alone in charging developers these kinds of fees. Unreal Engine, for example, bakes similar charges into its contracts with developers. Part of the outcry here seems to stem from Unity historically being a financially accessible alternative for indie studios and solo developers, not to mention the impact this could have on charity services like Humble Bundle, developers of free-to-play games, and even Xbox Game Pass, where subscribers can download any game they want for free and indirectly result in a charge for the developer.

For its part, Unity says the new fee "will not impact the majority of our developers."

"The developers who will be impacted are generally those who have successful games and are generating revenue way above the thresholds we outlined in our blog," Unity says. "This means that developers who are still building their business and growing the audience of their games will not pay a fee. The program was designed specifically this way to ensure developers could find success before the install fee takes effect."

Unity says the controversial fee will start tracking revenue and installs on January 1, 2024, so it's not a retroactive thing that'll charge devs for downloads and sales from before that time. But it does seem to have some confusing language in the FAQ specifically noting that it will, in fact, look at lifetime installs in order to determine whether to start charging. The company also differentiates its fee from revenue share by clarifying, "We will charge once for a new install; not an ongoing perpetual license royalty."

The company also says it "looked for ways to lessen the impact on developers, and provide ways to bring the Runtime fee to zero." Developers using any of Unity's ad products, Unity Gaming Services, or cloud services, are advised to "contact us to discuss discounts."

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