Next Up: Read Game Developer’s interview with Unity Create President Marc Whitten, discussing the road to the changes below and what Unity has learned from the backlash surrounding the original Runtime Fee policy.
Unity’s much-derided Runtime Fee is receiving a massive rework almost two weeks after its disastrous debut. In an open letter posted on the Unity blog, the company formally apologized for the chaos sowed since the announcement and revealed massive changes to the policy in response to a week of negative feedback from the game development community.
The Unity Runtime Fee will no longer apply to games built on Unity Personal. Developers on said plan will also be able to now earn up to $200,000 in revenue according to the terms of service. Those developers will also no longer be required to use the “Made with Unity” splash screen.
For developers on the Pro and Enterprise plans, the Runtime Fee will only take effect beginning with the next LTS version of Unity arriving in 2024. Games made on the current or prior versions of Unity will not be included, unless they are upgraded to the next version of Unity.
“We will make sure that you can stay on the terms applicable for the version of Unity editor you are using,” the company wrote in its announcement.
Games subject to the Runtime Fee will have the option to either be subject to a 2.5 percent revenue share or a calculated fee based on “the number of new people engaging with your game each month.” Unity says revenue and “new people” (phrased elsewhere as “initial engagements”) can both be reported by developers, who will “always be billed for the lesser amount.”
No game with less than $1 million in trailing 12-month revenue will be subject to the fee.
This is a massive shift from the previous plan, which promised to charge developers anywhere from $.001 to $.20 each time their game was installed. Those rates would vary based on which Unity plan a developer subscribed to and how many installs over a certain threshold their game achieved, and would be charged for all games made in Unity, even ones made on prior versions of the terms of service (though the company would only start counting installations after January 1, 2024).
In a conversation with Game Developer last week, Unity Create president Marc Whitten said that this fee was being charged to help invest in the engine, particularly the Unity Runtime executable. “We want to make more money so that we can continue to invest in the engine,” he said at the time.
Now Unity is striking a far more conciliatory tone. “We want to continue to build the best engine for creators,” Whitten wrote in the latest announcement. “We truly love this industry and you are the reason why.”
Though Unity saidthefee would impact less than 10 percent developers using the engine, creators of all shapes and sizes overwhelminglyrejected the policy and felt it represented a hugebetrayal of trust. Free-to-play developers who see a higher number of installs were also left unimpressed by Unity’s offer to lower or waive the fee if they used Unity’s own ad bidding services. Developers like Innersloth, Massive Monster, and Aggro Crab all explained that the policy would hurt their businesses.
Innersloth co-founder Forest Willard went so far as to say it would be cheaper for the Among Us team to “just hire two people to port Among Us away from Unity instead of them taxing us for zero added value.”
It was also unclear how Unity’s policy would affect developerswith a presence on services like Xbox Game Pass, where players can install titles without needing topay at the point of download. Unity stated last week that platform holders like Microsoft would be responsible for those fees.
Unity’s missteps may reshape the game industry
Whether or not Unity quells anger from some of its most loyal and (and highest earning) customers, a significant amount of damage has been done to its business and reputation. At minimum, its fumbled rollout of the Runtime Fee has jumpstarted investment in open-source game engines like Godot and open-source frameworks like FNA.
It doesn’t help that,as Unity struggled to effectivelyrespond to developer concerns, high-profile indies began sharing methods to port certain games from Unity to Godot in as little as two days. Any who begin to follow in their footsteps may now find little reason to return to their former engine.
But wouldn’t a more lenient fee incentivize developers to stay with Unity? For some, no. Unity introduced these fees in a way that could have radically reshaped the business plans of many users—especially those who entered a 2-5 year development cycle basedcertain cost expectations. “The headline is that [Unity] (surprisingly) can and (staggeringly) will change how much of our revenue you wish to take at any time after we’ve already committed,” wrote Gunpoint and Tactical Breach Wizards creator Tom Francis, who also said he would never have chosen Unity as a game engine if he’d known it would take a portion of revenue from sales of Tactical Breach Wizards after release.
To earn back that trust, Unity needs to reassure developers that it won’t be making additionalchanges to its pricing models in the future to provide a sense of stability. Butwould such a promise hold weight? Francis and others were infuriated to learn that Unity had quietly tweaked its EULA over the last few months to eliminate a pledge that ensured developers were only beholden to theEULA tied to the version of Unity they were using.
Symbolically, changing those terms showed that Unity was perfectly happy to wipe the slate clean on its promises. Unity’s promise that developers can stay on the terms of service applicable for the version of Unity they are using may resolve such concerns.
As Omdia analyst Liam Deane noted, Unity’s pricing update ultimately “tried to solve too many problems at once,” and may have spawned new problems in the process.
Even if the company regains developer trust with the revised Runtime Fee, it still faces major headwinds on its path to profitability. Whatever revenue gains it hoped to make with the Fee are sure to be diminished, and the events of the last week may still sour trust in Unity for years to come.
Disclaimer: Omdia and Game Developer are sibling organizations under Informa Tech