Unity, a San Francisco-based video game engine company, came under significant scrutiny following a controversial update to its pricing policy. Previously priding itself on a flat fee system, Unity recently unveiled plans to introduce a per-install fee for games developed on its platform that surpass certain revenue and user thresholds. This amendment is poised to commence on January 1, 2024. Key changes to Unity’s pricing model include:
- Introducing a pay-per-install scheme once games meet specific download and revenue criteria.
- Not charging for game demos or re-installs.
- Implementing protective measures against potential fraud or malicious activities.
- Exempting games in charity bundles from the new fees.
Indie Developers Raise Concerns
While Unity stated that less than 10% of its user base would be affected by this shift, emphasizing that the changes are designed to target users succeeding at scale, the decision has met with significant opposition, especially from indie developers. They argue that the new fee system could significantly diminish their already slim profit margins. The community backlash was so intense that Unity felt the need to clarify its new pricing model, backtracking on some of its more controversial components.
Many developers have taken to Unity’s forums and other online platforms, vocalizing their discontent with the change. Comments like “Unity, you have betrayed the trust of your customers completely” stand as a testament to the level of distrust the policy shift has created.
History of Unity and its CEO
The spotlight is on Unity CEO, John Riccitiello, whom many perceive as the architect behind the pricing restructuring. He previously served as the CEO of Electronic Arts, a tenure marked by its fair share of controversies, such as introducing the contentious loot box monetization to FIFA 09. Riccitiello was also caught on record referring to certain developers as “fucking idiots” for their hesitance to incorporate early monetization and suggesting monetization strategies like charging Battlefield players for in-game actions.
Further intensifying scrutiny on Riccitiello, reports surfaced indicating he sold 2,000 Unity shares shortly before the new pricing announcement, which was followed by a notable decrease in the stock price.
Unity Responds Amidst Threats
The situation took a darker turn as Unity canceled a scheduled town hall meeting and closed two of its offices due to a “credible” threat, as reported by Bloomberg. While specifics of the threat are scarce, some sources, such as Bloomberg, suggest that the companywide meeting, meant to be addressed by Riccitiello, was aborted due to potential dangers to staff members.
San Francisco police, acting on a tip-off from Unity, revealed that an employee had made threats against the company over social media. Although this employee is based outside California, the San Francisco and Austin, Texas offices were shut down as precautionary measures.
A company spokesperson stated, “We have taken immediate and proactive measures to ensure the safety of our employees, which is our top priority. We are closing our offices today and tomorrow that could be potential targets for this threat, and are fully cooperating with law enforcement on the investigation.”
Alternatives to Unity
In the wake of the backlash, many developers are looking at other options beyond Unity. Open-source alternatives, such as Godot, are gaining traction amongst indie developers seeking more favorable pricing structures and more transparent communication from platform creators. Godot’s “no royalty” structure is a stark contrast to Unity’s new proposed fees, and for many, this could be a compelling reason to make the switch.
Additionally, the game development ecosystem is vast, with numerous platforms offering diverse monetization schemes and developmental features. From Unreal Engine to CryEngine, developers have various choices to ensure they find a venue that aligns with their project’s needs and budget.
The Way Forward for Unity
The question on many stakeholders’ minds is why Unity would risk alienating its dedicated user base with such a drastic policy overhaul. Critics argue that, while Unity can adjust its terms for current users, it might find it challenging to attract new developers, especially given the rise of open-source alternatives like Godot. The broader implications of this controversy remain to be seen, but the unity of the Unity community seems to be tested more than ever before, with the company’s reputation and trust in its user base on the line.