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“It is just pure greed” Unity developers weigh in on the game engine’s pricing controversy

We spoke to developers currently working on Unity games and asked how the proposed per-install pricing changes affect the industry
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We reported on Unity’s recent pricing changes and the reactions to them just yesterday when we wrote ‘Unity announcement outrages developers, backtracks within hours’. Would you believe that further backtracks – or “clarifications” – have happened since we went to sleep last night and woke up this morning? The significant changes to Unity’s pricing model are being considered a tax, one that hits small and independent creators the hardest.

“It is just pure greed,” Denkiworks game designer Liam Edwards tells GLHF. “[It’s] coming from a board that has no grasp on the services they provide.”

Game development isn’t a process that takes months – it takes years. Often years for large teams, let alone smaller ones and individuals. As a result, stability is a necessity for developers, and when their main toolkit suddenly announces that their chances of profitability are lower than ever before – well, it’s not difficult to see why creators are frustrated.

“How can you plan your business around the tools you've invested years into if the company that provides them can just wake you up one day with an announcement that could literally pull thousands of dollars from your revenue?” Edwards asks. “How on earth do you plan for that? Well, the reality is you can't – so your only option is to move away from that service.”

The “per-install” charge that Unity proposed had dozens of holes that developers recognized instantly, and if Unity sticks firmly to its plan, it will likely learn the same things devs already know, the hard way.

“The first thing I think said was, ‘holy fucking shit.’” Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles developer Tomas Sala tells GLHF. “Everyone that’s in the industry knows that installs mean nothing. You install demos, players install games hundreds of times, and we give keys to charity – we organized a Ukraine charity bundle and asked every developer to give away 10,000 keys – so that’s 10k keys, poof. So the amount of installs they are quoting are very easily achievable.

“And with mobile games, you have a lot of cheap games that cost for install, and then you make a little bit of money on the ads,” Sala continues. “It’s obvious that the Unity CEO and [executives] come from an advertising background, so they think every game installed is someone making money off ads. You could say that’s a metric that says something about [potential] revenue, but for everybody who makes premium games, it’s ludicrous.”

The only question going forward, then, is what developers and creators will do if the situation doesn’t change, and Sala only sees one option if things remain: “People will pack up and leave.”

“This is what I dislike about [...] how they’re framing it as if it’s only affecting rich developers that make more than a million dollars. I think that’s disingenuous,” Sala says. “And even those developers, like the Among Us devs or whoever, say; ‘This is not how we want to do business or be treated. We don’t work for Unity. Unity works for us. We buy [its] product’.”

That’s a sentiment Edwards shares, saying: “A lot of what devs are talking about now is how the ‘trust’ is lost and that truly is the worst part about all this,” Edwards explains. “Not only do the fees suck, but it sucks to know that a service that has been accessible and used to get so many new game developers into the industry can just change overnight.

“We are waiting to see how far these retractions go and what re-structuring the prices and fees will go through,” Edwards continues. “The sad reality of it is that game development is hard enough that just jumping ship is not necessarily an option, and why Unity knows it can get away with this, and knows that game devs will just eat it.”

Any Unity projects that are several years into development now, potentially planning to launch late this year or early next year, are suddenly having their profitability shot in the foot. It’s bad enough that publisher Devolver Digital posted a sly tweet, saying “Definitely include what engine you’re using in game pitches. It’s important information!”

“I’m always reminded of [...] Autodesk. 20 years ago, Maya and 3ds Max were the standard, it was taught at universities, art schools. Everybody taught Maya, that’s the tool you used to get into movies, or gaming, or whatever,” Sala explains. “Now people get taught Blender, because it’s free, and Autodesk did some horrible things to their clients – very similar to what Unity is doing in their approach – and people just walked away at the first opportunity.

“So what’s Autodesk now? It’s one of the players – but they’re not the industry leader anymore. And I think that’s something Unity can look forward to.”