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Why Unity's New Install Fees Are Spurring Massive Backlash Among Game Developers

Game developers aren't happy with a new policy from Unity that will cost developers a small fee every time someone downloads a game built on Unity's game engine.

It's called the Unity Runtime Fee, and the new pricing model will apply to developers who reach a certain amount of installs and revenue.

"We are introducing a Unity Runtime Fee that is based upon each time a qualifying game is downloaded by an end user," Unity's announcement reads in part. "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."

The Unity Runtime Fee is scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2024, and it's been universally panned by developers on social media since its announcement earlier today.

SIGH pic.twitter.com/YgJEKGVQEI

— AGGRO CRAB (@AggroCrabGames) September 12, 2023

Unity's blog post details what games will qualify for the Unity Runtime Fee, based on two key criteria:

  • The game has passed a minimum revenue threshold in the last 12 months
  • The game has passed a minimum lifetime install count

Unity further lays out the minimum revenue and install count to qualify, with different thresholds for developers using Unity Personal/Unity Plus, Unity Pro, and Unity Enterprise. For smaller indie developers who use Unity Personal/Unity Plus, they'll have to pay Unity $0.20 per install once their game passes $200,000 in revenue over the last 12 months and 200,000 life-to-date installs. This new policy has caused a lot of backlash among developers, who are raising concerns about free-to-play games, charity bundles, and more.

Developers share their fears over new policy

One big concern is surrounding "freemium" games that cost nothing to download and rely on in-game purchases for revenue. For instance, if a free-to-play game has made $200,0000 in the last 12 months but has millions of people installing it, the developer could end up owing Unity more than the profit earned from in-game purchases.

make a game
game is fremium
game makes 200k from in-app purchases after being installed 3 million times
now owe Unity 20c per 2.8M installs, $560K
that’s 360K more than we made https://t.co/6fe6Ob35Oj

— michael j foxney 🌵 (@kurtruslfanclub) September 12, 2023

Others are worried this could lead some smaller developers who built their games on Unity to pull titles from digital storefronts to prevent more people from racking up downloads.

"I bet Steam, Epic, Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft will love having waves of developers pulling their games," writes Forest from Among Us developer Innersloth Games. "Innersloth has always paid Unity appropriately for licenses and services we use. I'm not a discourse guy, but this is undue and will force my hand."

I bet Steam, Epic, Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft will love having waves of developers pulling their games.

Innersloth has always paid Unity appropriately for licenses and services we use. I'm not a discourse guy, but this is undue and will force my hand. https://t.co/zLC9a8lBED

— Forest (@forte_bass) September 12, 2023

Other developers are actually asking people online to not install their game built in Unity, with Paper Trail developer Huenry Hueffman writing, "if you buy our Unity game, please don't install it… demos also count, dont install this demo, you'll literally bankrupt me".

if you buy our Unity game, please don't install it

— Huenry Hueffman (@HenryHoffman) September 12, 2023

This new pricing model has some developers considering rebuilding their game in an entirely different engine, calling on Unity to refund lifetime license costs for everyone.

So uh, do I just rebuild my whole game in a different engine?

spent a small fortune on pro licenses to develop the game over several years, seems kind of insane that Unity can just throw this out there on a whim.

They should refund the lifetime license costs for everyone.

— Sanatana Mishra (@SanatanaMishra) September 12, 2023

Some have pointed out that toxic, angry gamers could organize mass-install campaigns against developers they don't like. They could get as many people as possible to download a Unity game from a small developer to attempt to financially harm them.

Unity responds to charity bundle and malicious installation fears

In a statement to IGN, a Unity spokesperson said they're already working on preventing malicious install harassment campaigns.

"We do already have fraud detection practices in our Ads technology which is solving a similar problem, so we will leverage that know-how as a starting point," the Unity spokesperson said. "We recognize that users will have concerns about this and we will make available a process for them to submit their concerns to our fraud compliance team."

Unity also clarified that the fee will not apply to charity games or charity bundles. Unity defended the pricing model, saying it's designed to only charge developers who have already found financial success.

We only succeed when you succeed. Our 5% royalty model only kicks in after your first $1M in gross revenue, meaning that if you make $1,000,001 you owe us 5 cents. And this is per title!
Also, revenue generated from the Epic Games Store will be excluded from that 5% royalty. pic.twitter.com/OamPlB05FD

— Ari Arnbjörnsson (@flassari) September 12, 2023

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

Unity also said it will track installs with its own proprietary data. Speaking to Axios, Unity also confirmed that if a player deletes a game and re-installs it, that counts as two installs, and two separate fees.

Folks who work on Epic Games' Unreal Engine — which is Unity's biggest competitor — are capitalizing on Unity's bad day by pointing out that Unreal's 5% royalty model kicks in only after a game grosses $1 million.

Unity has been under pressure lately, laying off hundreds of employees in the first half of 2023. Riccitiello also came under fire in 2022 for referring to developers who don't focus on microtransactions as the "biggest f*cking idiots" before apologizing. Featured in everything from Cuphead to Beat Saber to Pokemon Go, it has been lauded for ease of use. However, trust in the platform has been declining over the years, leading many developers to look to alternatives.

"Now I can say, unequivocally, if you're starting a new game project, do not use Unity," wrote developer Brandon Sheffield in a post summing up the feelings of many creators. "If you started a project 4 months ago, it's worth switching to something else. Unity is quite simply not a company to be trusted."

Logan Plant is a freelance writer for IGN covering video game and entertainment news. He has over seven years of experience in the gaming industry with bylines at IGN, Nintendo Wire, Switch Player Magazine, and Lifewire. Find him on Twitter @LoganJPlant.

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