Unity Introduces Controversial Per-Install Fee, Several Indie Devs Respond

Unity Introduces Controversial Per-Install Fee, Several Indie Devs Respond

This morning, popular game-engine creator Unity Software announced an update to its pricing and packaging plans, which will go into effect on January 1, 2024. The new pricing plan introduces a fee that activates and charges developers of high-performing games each time the title is installed by a user or player. The justification is that each time a game is installed, Unity Runtime is also installed. 

Unity Runtime Fee

Starting in January, games will qualify for the Unity Runtime Fee after the game has passed a minimum revenue threshold in the last 12 months and passed a minimum lifetime install count. Unity says it has intentionally set high revenue and install thresholds to avoid impacting smaller developers. Unity’s current threshold for Unity Personal and Plus is set for games that have made $200,000 or more in the last 12 months and have at least 200,000 lifetime game installs; after hitting the threshold for those plans, developers will be charged $0.20 per install over the threshold. For the Pro and Enterprise versions, the games must have made $1,000,000 or more in the last 12 months and have at least 1,000,000 lifetime installs. For the Pro license, developers will be charged between $0.02 and $0.15 per install over the threshold, while Enterprise license holders will be charged between $0.01 and $0.125 per install over the threshold. According to Unity, the company will use proprietary data models to track and determine how much developers owe, which has some developers concerned about a lack of transparency.

Though Unity says it feels this new install-based fee will let creators keep their ongoing financial gains from player engagement, the policies do not directly address methods outside of traditional sales by which people can acquire video games in 2024, such as subscription services like Xbox Game Pass or Apple Arcade, free-to-play games, or piracy. Additionally, Axios’ Stephen Totilo reports that if a player deletes a game and re-installs it, that counts as two installs towards the developer’s push towards the threshold, or if they’ve already reached the threshold, two individual charges to the developer. The same applies if the game is installed on two devices by the same user. However, it sounds as though games and bundles sold for charity are exempt from the fees, though some have questioned how Unity will accurately track the difference between standard sales and sales for charity.

Following the announcement, Unity took to Twitter to clarify some of the points. While the company acknowledges this is a price increase for the use of its engine and technology, it is steadfast in its assertion that the majority of its developers will not be impacted by this change. “The developers who will be impacted are generally those who have successful games and are generating revenue way above the thresholds we outlined in our blog,” the company said in a post on Twitter. “This means that developers who are still building their business and growing the audience of their games will not pay a fee. The program was designed specifically this way to ensure developers could find success before the install fee takes effect.”

Unity also released an FAQ post in its user forums, addressing some of the prevailing questions. Of note, it says that demo downloads, if they are early access, beta, a demo of the full game, or you can get from the demo to the full game, will all count towards the download total; the sole example provided for demos that do not count towards the download count is if it’s a non-upgradeable demo that consists of, say, a single level. Unity also claims that it has fraud-detection practices in place to detect pirated copies to prevent them from charging developers for those. It mentions that if a game has previously been released and, for example, hit the threshold years ago, Unity will begin imposing the Unity Runtime Fee for each new install starting on January 1, 2024.

You can read the full post on the Unity Blog here.

Developers Respond on Social Media

In response to these new policies, many independent developers have taken to social media to decry the new pricing plan and install-based fee.

“Today, Unity (the engine we use to make our games) announced that they’ll soon be taking a fee from developers for every copy of the game installed over a certain threshold – regardless of how that copy was obtained. Guess who has a somewhat highly anticipated game coming to Xbox Game Pass in 2024? That’s right, it’s us and a lot of other developers. That means Another Crab’s Treasure will be free to install for the 25 million Game Pass subscribers. If a fraction of those users download our game, Unity could take a fee that puts an enormous dent in our income and threatens the sustainability of our business. And that’s before we even think about sales on other platforms, or pirated installs of our game, or even multiple installs by the same user!!! This decision puts us and countless other studios in a position where we might not be able to justify using Unity for our future titles. If these changes aren’t rolled back, we’ll be heavily considering abandoning our wealth of Unity expertise we’ve accumulated over the years and starting from scratch in a new engine. Which is really something we’d rather not do. On behalf of the dev community, we’re calling on Unity to reverse the latest in a string of shortsighted decisions that seem to prioritize shareholders over their product’s actual users. I f—ing hate it here.” – Aggro Crab, the developer behind the upcoming Another Crab’s Treasure, in a statement posted on Twitter.

Longtime indie developer Rami Ismail also posted on Twitter about some of the potential negative effects of this change from the player’s perspective, stating, “Just as a note, gamers, the Unity changes mean the following for you: Demos are now risky to devs. DRM-free games are now risky to devs. Bundles are now risky to devs. Giveaways are now risky to devs. Updates are now risky to devs. Multi-device users are now risky to devs.”

Developer Over The Moon Games initially reacted harshly to the news, saying that the 7 million people who downloaded the game when it was free on the Epic Games Store would cost the studio more than their lifetime earnings, but the developer’s follow-up posts on Twitter feature a more measured take on the situation. “So [Unity’s] new policy is s— but I overreacted as well,” the account posted on Twitter. “200k in the last month AND 200k installs protects a lot of cases. It’s still insane and prone to abuse but if your game sells for 10 bucks a pop, $200k is 20k installs – at $10, you’d have to make 2MM before [you hit the] threshold. Actually if I understand it, it’s even better – with a pro license you need to cross 1MM/1MM. At $10, $1MM is 100K Copies. That means you can make 10MM in a single year before fees kick in.”

While the initial announcement was enough to cause Unity Software Inc.’s stock, which opened today at 37.41, to surge to 39.69, it quickly fell back to 37.58 before climbing back up to 38.98 before the stock market closed.

Popular games to use Unity as their engine include Sea of Stars, Pokémon Go, Call of Duty: Mobile, Cuphead, and Cities: Skylines. We’ve reached out to Unity for comment on the response from the development community but did not immediately receive an official comment from the company. We will update this story with its comment if it provides one.