Unity, the company behind the popular game development platform of the same name, announced it would change its controversial runtime fee policy after a wave of backlash from indie game developers who would reportedly face substantial negative impacts once the policy rolls out. What Unity will actually change and when it will announce the policy’s new shape remains to be seen, however.
“We have heard you,” Unity posted on its official Twitter account on Sep. 17, 2023. “We apologize for the confusion and angst the runtime fee policy we announced on Tuesday caused. We are listening, talking to our team members, community, customers, and partners, and will be making changes to the policy. We will share an update in a couple of days. Thank you for your honest and critical feedback.”
We have heard you. We apologize for the confusion and angst the runtime fee policy we announced on Tuesday caused. We are listening, talking to our team members, community, customers, and partners, and will be making changes to the policy. We will share an update in a couple of…
— Unity (@unity) September 17, 2023
The contention began when Unity first announced a new policy set to take effect in January 2024 that said the company would charge developers who met certain criteria $0.20 cents every time a user installed a game built in Unity. Unity would charge the fee for any game that earned over $200,000 in revenue in one year or had 200,000 lifetime installs.
Unity said “only” 10 percent of developers would be affected by the new fee. In the Unity 2023 gaming report, Unity said more than 230,000 studios develop with Unity, including mobile game developers such as Genshin Impact maker HoYoverse, so roughly 23,000 studios would have to pay the new installation fee.
The plan immediately drew criticism for a number of reasons. Some of these included Unity having no plan or technology to track installs, concerns over users with a grudge who would download a game multiple times just to rack up charges, and fears of losing revenue by offering discounts and charity bundles.
— AGGRO CRAB (@AggroCrabGames) September 12, 2023
Unity addressed a few of these issues in the days after first unveiling the policy in a FAQ post. Only the first installation on one device would count, the company said, and they would exempt games in charity bundles from the fee – albeit without any concrete plan for exempting them that wouldn’t cost developers.
Unity also reportedly told some indie studios that they wouldn’t consider every charity eligible for the exemption, including Planned Parenthood and children’s hospitals (thanks, GamesIndustry). Unity didn’t tell the developers how the company would decide which charities were eligible.
— Mega Crit (@MegaCrit) September 13, 2023
Developers who build their games with Unity could waive the fee by implementing Unity-based in-game advertisements, unnamed sources told MobileGamer. This proposed concession raised even more concerns about the policy and prompted the European Game Developer Federation to call for regulatory changes at the European Union level against “unfair, non-negotiable B2B contracts.”
“The new install fees will limit game developers’ freedom to conduct business as it pushes them to implement Unity ad-based business models even in games that otherwise would not have ad-based monetization,” the EGDF said in a statement on the association’s website.
“Furthermore, this will create a competitive disadvantage for those game distribution platforms that do not use ad-based monetization at all (e.g. subscription services and pay-per-download games), as Unity is de facto forcing them to increase their consumer fees compared to channels that allow the use of Unity’s ad-based monetization tools.”
“Install fees will lead to markets where game developers want to limit the downloads and try to avoid installs from the wrong players.”
Written by Josh Broadwell on behalf of GLHF