Facing financial hardships and after laying off a significant portion of its workforce, Unity, the company behind the ubiquitous Unity Engine, has announced a new “Unity Runtime Fee” starting January 1. Despite the company’s challenges, the announcement has been met with widespread criticism from the gaming development community.
The new fee will be triggered once a game exceeds either $200,000 in revenue or 200,000 installs within a year. According to Unity’s President, Marc Whitten, the fee is intended to “better balance the value exchange” between Unity and game developers. “We want to make more money so that we can continue to invest in the engine,” Whitten told industry news site Game Developer.
But the news has riled many within the gaming community. Garry Newman, creator of the wildly popular Garry’s Mod, took to Twitter, saying, “Unity can just start charging us a tax per install? They can do this unilaterally? They can charge whatever they want? We have to trust their tracking?” Tony Gowland, another indie developer, echoed these concerns, stating, “We pay for our Pro licenses up-front knowing that any revenue then is ours. That after 2 years of dev they can just add this back-end tax if our game happens to be successful? Nah.”
One of the major points of contention is how this fee could disrupt current business models, particularly for games that are part of subscription services like Xbox Game Pass or charity bundles like Humble Bundle. Rami Ismail, a veteran game developer and consultant, raised an alarm, saying, “If you’re a Unity developing studio, good luck if you ever annoy your userbase. Instead of tanking your Metacritic with a mass review campaign they can now straight-up damage you financially by organizing a mass install campaign.”
Despite facing challenges, including the laying off of 8% of its workforce and reporting net losses of $193m in the second quarter of 2023, Unity has been working on innovations. It recently launched two AI tools, Unity Muse and Unity Sentis, to aid in the development of AI-driven games and experiences.
As Unity gears up for this change, many developers are asking for more transparency on how the company will track downloads and protect studios whose business models could be affected. “There is no way Unity talked to a single developer before launching this,” commented Ismail.
The implementation of the Unity Runtime Fee raises more questions than it answers, stirring up concern and debate in a community that has long considered Unity an ally. As January 1 draws closer, many developers are left wondering what the future holds for them and for Unity itself.