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Cross-platform game engine Unity apologised to its users with something resembling an apology for their pricing change. The new pricing model had caused an uproar among developers with as many as 19 companies built out of Unity pulling out on the ad revenue, blocking Unity from making money off their games. New developers are now moving to Unreal and Godot as they claim to have ‘lost trust’ in Unity. Popular games like Cult of the Lamb have even threatened to delete their games from Unity amidst all this. In a cascading effect, the company’s stock fell after the announcement.
The new pricing model, announced last Tuesday that goes into effect on January 1, 2024, includes a pay-per-download fee for developers, who use the Unity Personal or Unity Pro plans. The situation turned worse when the company silently removed the GitHub repository that tracks any terms of service (ToS) changes the company made. This has further infuriated the community that has accused Unity of being anti-consumer and trying to hide the changes.
United we stand, divided we fall
The change in pricing affects developers who use the Unity Personal plan as they will be charged $0.20 per install once their game surpasses 200,000 downloads. Developers who use the Unity Pro plan will be charged $0.10 per install once their game surpasses 1 million downloads.
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The pricing plan gets more complex than the previous ones now that Plus is being removed, and the Pro and Enterprise levels all cost a subscription, in a tiered basis determined by the number of downloads. Handling subscription and per-install fees can be costly for the developers, and this expense may get passed on to the players.
However, there is no cooldown period for the developers to adjust the new scheme to their current gaming prices. “Oh, and did I mention we’re automatically being switched to the more expensive Pro from Plus if we don’t cancel our subscription?” writes Brandon Sheffield, the creative director of Necrosoft Games. This gives no incentive to new developers who want to build games on Unity’s engine.
Given all this, Azur Games published a collective letter from the developers that read, “As a course of immediate action, our collective of game development companies is forced to turn off all IronSource and Unity Ads monetization across our projects until these changes are reconsidered.”
Unity responded that they require additional time to ascertain the precise nature of these modifications. It strongly implies that these alterations are unlikely to fully meet the demands for a complete reversal that developers have been advocating for. The company said that the new pricing model is necessary to ensure that the company can continue to invest in its development and provide support to its users. Since the company’s IPO in 2020, they’ve been looking for means to be profitable, but things just went south for Unity.
The rise of Unreal and Godot
Under the leadership of John Riccitiello, Unity has witnessed a consistent decline because of his unconventional business models, a number of features being unattended and a notable lack of stability. His sale of stocks, along with a few top executives, before this announcement too has not gone unnoticed.
For years, developers have been complaining about stability issues and unmanaged features with the engine. There are issues with security and privacy where Unity is no longer patching them. They stopped support for the web player in 2015 and now for every particle system to cost $0.20 per install is also unfeasible. Sheffield said, “Unity has internal champions for its features. Once those champions leave the company, that feature languishes and falls apart.”
The real winners in all of this are Unreal and Godot, where thousands of developers opted in after moving away from Unity. This is more problematic for older games developed on Unity like Pokemon Go, Genshin Impact and Among Us that have established themselves on Unity and won’t be able to shift so easily.
Nick Kaman, the studio head and art director at Aggro Crab Games, said he’s worried that he’ll have to move to another engine for their new game after having spent 10 years in Unity. “A lot of us have kind of staked our lives on these platforms,” he told NPR.
Ismail, another developer, said on X, “This is a trust issue. Devs spent the weekend trying Godot & Unreal for the first time in their lives.” The desperation of the developers who want to move their game to another engine is high as one developer managed to port their (text-based) game core over to Godot in 14 hours of work. Studios prepared to apply for some porting grants to Unreal. Those steps are significant, Ismail explained.
So, people leaving Unity have these two major options open to them. And while Godot is open-source and free, Unreal has a fair pricing plan for their customers. After the Unity fiasco, it would be unwise for Unreal to do the same, though there is no guarantee it won’t. Meanwhile, we will wait till Unity actually apologises, and actually reverses the pricing plan.