If you’re an indie game developer, you’ve most likely heard about what’s going on with the Unity game engine. The company has recently introduced plans to create a runtime fee structure for both new and existing games. I know I’m a few days late on this, but I figured I’d make a post about some of my thoughts.
First, I’ll sum up the plan that Unity has presented to everyone. On the free edition of Unity, if your game makes over $200K (within the last 12 months) AND has over 200K lifetime installs*, you’ll get charged 20 cents for every install above those thresholds. If you’re a Unity Pro subscriber, those amounts increase to a million each respectively. The dollar amounts you can earn are calculated in a rolling 12 months. Once you drop under 200K or 1 million in earnings you wouldn’t have to pay the fee.
But Why Though?
So Unity clearly wants to get any developers that are near or above the 200K thresholds to start subscribing to Unity Pro. And that’s a yearly subscription of just over $2K and it needs to be bought for each “seat” at your indie company. That would give indie devs a little bit of a buffer, though there are a lot of factors to consider that could spiral costs.
They probably also see the popularity of certain major mobile games and want thought a recurring install fee would be smarter for them versus a standard percentage fee.
There Are Issues?
The main problem with all of this is that Unity has no reliable way to track their install metric 100% accurately. They also stated that every reinstall on a new device will count as a new install. So 5 installs on different devices would equal $1 now. If any indie dev tries to make a $0.99 game, their margins are perhaps way tooe slim now.
Free to play games are in one of the toughest spots. They usually have high installs with much lower earnings per user. A dev may have 10 million downloads but only earn $300K. Even with a Pro subscription, the developer would lose money compared to what they’re earning. Unity’s plan doesn’t come close to being feasible for these devs.
Let’s look over another calculation. How about a scenario for an indie dev releasing a cheap game on Steam or similar digital store. Let’s say your game is priced at $5 and reaches the $200K earning threshold. That’s only 40K new installs to hit that number, but we have no idea how many new reinstalls or inaccurate install numbers there are from other sources. Maybe there’s a sweet spot between the dollar amount you charge and the install threshold. If your game is priced at $10 it’d be 20K installs… plus the unknown magical amounts. This just doesn’t seem to have any reliable way of knowing what your fee will be. If you have multiple people working at your company this can throw a lot of unknown costs that may make it completely unfeasible to stay open.
Unity also has no solution for pirated copies of your game. They only stated that they’ll work with developers on that. So now the indie devs need to try to get imaginary proof, some sort of metric to show theme. After that the dev will need to contact Unity support to TRY to lower their fees when they’re overcharged for pirated copies. How does that make sense to anyone in charge at Unity?
Unity has done their “we’ve heard you” apology post and will present some sort of changes over the next few days. Will they just adopt a percentage fee instead of the install fee? Will they add different rules for free to play developers? I’m very interested in seeing where this is going and what’s announced.
My Game Development
I’ve had many years of experience with using Unity so this is all unfortunate. However, I’m not against trying an alternative engine such as Godot, Unreal, or something else. Doing that would just add more time to learn a new program.
I also think Unity could possibly announce new positive changes to the runtime fee structure in the next few days and then in a few years try to implement what they originally wanted to do. I’ll probably start learning new game engines just in case and see what Unity announces.