Forget Starfield, Baldur’s Gate 3, or [insert the game that you’re currently playing here]. The big story in the game industry over the last week has been Unity and how the makers of the cross-platform engine have pissed off pretty much everyone. On Friday, Unity issued an update a little over a week after announcing a new per-install fee structure that would have drastically increased costs for developers large and small. Following the near-universal outcry, Unity has scaled back some — but not all — of the planned changes.
Most importantly, the free tier of the Unity engine will not automatically charge game developers a fee for every installation of games developed with it. In addition, the terms applying this fee to games retroactively, possibly setting the bar for the charge impossibly low for thousands of titles already on the market for PCs, consoles, and mobile phones, are now gone. The runtime fee changes will only be applied following the next major release of the Unity game engine. That release won’t come until 2024.
Other controversial aspects of the new fee structure are still in place. Per-installation fees will remain for new games that earn more than $1 million USD in a 12-month period with an option to swap out this revenue model for a rather steep 2.5% revenue share scheme. That fee will be based on the estimated numbers of users engaging with the published game on a per-month basis. And along with the user installation numbers, these will be self-reported. The self-reporting concession sidesteps many of the issues that developers had with how users would be calculated, like re-installations, game streaming, or games offered on multiple platforms.
While per-installation fees for bigger and more profitable games remain, it seems like these changes address most of the issues that developers (and by proxy, gamers) had with the original shocking announcement. The concession that existing games built with Unity will not be subject to retroactive charges, endangering the very existence of some games and their developers’ ability to continue selling them, is a big walk-back. The announcement was made in a post that begins with an apology, and one that’s more sincere than a previous damage control tweet.
Even so, the week-long episode created a deep rift between Unity and the game dev community that won’t be easy to reverse. Many developers began considering a shift to Epic’s similarly cross-platform Unreal Engine, or smaller alternatives like Godot or Defold. With a reprieve of several months at least before the less dramatic changes are set to go into effect, Unity may find that it’s no longer the de facto standard for indie developers.