Popular game engine Unity to implement controversial pay-per-download pricing scheme

In a controversial move, Unity, one of the most popular video game engines, will be implementing a controversial new pay-per-download pricing scheme starting January 1, 2024. The new scheme will charge developers a flat fee any time a game built on Unity is installed.

“We are introducing a Unity Runtime Fee that is based upon each time a qualifying game is downloaded by an end user,” stated the company on its blog. “We chose this because each time a game is downloaded, the Unity Runtime is also installed. Also we believe that an initial install-based fee allows creators to keep the ongoing financial gains from player engagement, unlike a revenue share.”

Unity further broke down the new pricing scheme, explaining that developers wouldn’t automatically be charged per download. Instead, the pay-per-download scheme only kicks on once a game meets a specific revenue and download threshold. In addition, how much a developer pays per install depends on where a game is downloaded—a game downloaded and installed in the US would be charged a higher fee than one bought in an “emerging” market like China.

Image c/o Unity

Reception to Unity’s new pay-per-download pricing scheme has been negative. The main complaint here is that the new scheme would be harmful to indie, solo and marginalized developers. (Read: Project PIGI is looking to help Philippine indie developers turn their dreams into reality)

Indie studio Vlambeer co-founder Rami Ismail noted that the scheme could be used by malicious actors to target games as a form of protest or griefing against their creators.

“I can tell you right now that the folks at risk of this are women devs, queer devs, trans devs, devs of colour, devs pushing for accessibility, devs pushing for inclusion,” Ismail stated in a post on X, the site formerly known as Twitter. “We’ve seen countless malicious actors work together to tank their game scores or ratings.”

For its part, Unity walked back some of the changes and stated that developers will now only be charged for a game’s initial installation. This much was confirmed by company executive Mark Whitten when speaking to Axios‘s Stephen Totilo. However, in his article, Totilo still noted that developers would still be charged an extra fee should a user install the game on a second device.

Whitten also clarified to Totilo that developers would “not be on the hook” for games on Microsoft’s Game Pass—and most likely other subscription services as well. In addition, demos will not trigger the fees, but games released on early access will.

Despite Unity’s walkback, some developers are still taking umbrage at the fact that the company dropped the changes without prior warning, preventing them from moving in-development projects to other engines.

“We did not plan for this, and it screws us massively on Demonschool, which is tracking to be our most successful game,” wrote Brandon Sheffield, director at indie developer Necrosoft Games, in an opinion piece. “[We] have no option to say no, since we’re close to release and this change is 4 months out. You can’t simply remake an entire game in another engine when you’ve been working on it for 4+ years.”

In a follow-up post on X—the site formerly known as Twitter—he called in to question Unity’s trustworthiness even after the walkbacks.

This was a sentiment echoed by other developers, such as Strange Scaffold developer Xalavier Nelson who lamented how it felt like Unity was working against developers’ interest.

“You’re stuck with a partner who may be actively working against your interest, and who you likely increasingly feel you cannot trust.”

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Variable staff

Collective will of the legion

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