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Here’s what Unity is and why the whole game industry seems mad

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The gaming world has been buzzing with the news of Unity’s controversial new policy for developers and discussion surrounding those changes has been heated.

Unity is one of the most popular video game engines in the modern era, used by lone indie developers and AAA companies alike to make titles ranging from AR collectathon Pokemon GO to indie shoot ’em up Cuphead to open-world gacha game Genshin Impact. Unity built its name on its accessibility and flexibility. The company has had a significant impact on the game development space.

But Unity’s surprising decision regarding fees for use of its engine has caused an uproar across the gaming industry. This decision has united many in the gaming world to protest against the policy.

What is the controversy about Unity?

The controversy surrounding Unity from the introduction of the “Unity Runtime Fee,” which charges developers every time their game is downloaded.

Once a developer clears certain thresholds related to revenue and user downloads, Unity will bill developers up to $0.20 each time a user installs one of their games depending on a number of factors. The new policy is planned to roll out on January 1, 2024.

The Unity Runtime Fee will be paid by developers who have cleared certain thresholds of success. According to Unity’s official blog post, those using Personal and Plus plans will have the new fee applied to their games if they have made $200,000 or more in the past 12 months, and reached at least 200,000 lifetime installs for their games. Meanwhile, those using Pro and Enterprise plans will qualify once they have made $1,000,000 USD or more in the last 12 months, and have at least 1,000,000 lifetime game installs.

What major games are affected by the new Unity policy?

The likes of Hollow Knight: Silksong, Cult of the Lamb, Among Us, and Genshin Impact are among the games affected by this new policy.

The announcement of the new policy resulted in a massive negative reaction from game developers, including some big names in the space. Unity states that less than 10% of developers will be affected by the new policy, but developers are still concerned about the announcement. 

Although the company stated that it would not charge re-install charges on social media, a Twitter user posted screenshots of posts from Unity’s forum that say reinstalls will still be paid by creators, as Unity only aggregates data and not any end-user information. Unity’s updated post now claims that both fraudulent installs and reinstalls will be handled on a “case-per-case” basis.

A number of prominent developers who developed games in Unity spoke out against the policy. The Cult of the Lamb developer announced it would be deleting Cult of the Lamb on January 1 in an apparent dig at the move.

There were also concerns over the presence of Unity titles on Game Pass, with game developer Aggro Crab stating it would “threaten the stability of our business.” Unity president of Create Solutions Marc Whitten answered the Game Pass concerns by stating that the distributors would be shouldering any related fees, which would be Microsoft in this case.

Did the Unity CEO really sell their shares before the announcement?

Yes, Unity CEO John Riccitiello sold 2,000 shares in the company on September 6, a week before the announcement.

On top of those 2,000 shares, the CEO has reportedly sold 50,610 shares over the course of the year, and not buying any, according to Guru Focus. Others within Unity have made similar moves including Unity’s president of growth Tomer Bar-Zeev who sold 37,500 shares, and board of directors member Shlomo Dovrat who sold 68,000 shares. Guru Focus states this “raises questions about the company’s current valuation and future prospects.”

John Riccitiello ea games

Riccitiello has faced controversy as an executive for both Unity and EA Games, where he worked as CEO from 2007 to 2013. In 2022 Riccitiello labeled developers who don’t prioritize monetization in their games “the biggest f—–g idiots” and drummed up controversy in 2011 for proposing microtransactions for Battlefield that would give players the chance to pay cash for more ammunition in the middle of a game.

Were death threats actually sent to Unity offices?

Unity’s offices were closed by the company for two days, after the company says it received death threats.

According to a spokesperson, a death threat was sent to the company’s offices. As such, offices were closed for two days to guarantee employee safety. It is unclear whether the threat was related to the controversy surrounding the new fees.

It’s clear now that Unity finds itself at a crossroads with many studios. It remains to be seen whether the company will roll back this plan or if studios will start looking to redesign their games in other engines.

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Written by Gab Hernandez

Gab Hernandez has a particular love for video games that give players control over the narrative direction, such as Divinity: Original Sin 2 and Disco Elysium. Gab spends just as much time playing games as they do gushing about them online to anyone who will listen.

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