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After huge wave of criticism: Unity backs down on new fee model

A week ago, software manufacturer Unity turned the gaming industry upside down with a fee announcement. Stormy headwinds followed, which now have consequences

Last week the gaming industry faced a sea change with CoD Mobile, Pokemon Go, Hearthstone and various AAA titles facing extinction. Even if it sounds trite: Unity caused the “really big bang”.

In the case of the “runtime fee”, which the engine developer announced last week, such phrases can hardly be avoided. For Unity’s announcement literally turned the entire gaming industry on its head.

Inaccurate statements raise questions

A new payment model was introduced by Unity, whose eponymous engine is one of the most widely used development software for video games apart from the Unreal Engine. Just as authors write texts in “Word”, games are developed with Unity or Unreal.

In addition to the previous payment method per workstation equipped with Unity, a fee should now be included for each installed game. The company demanded up to 20 cents per user installation from game developers who rely on the Unity Engine.

As small as this sum may seem at first glance, the wave of criticism in the following days was huge. Unity communicated too vaguely what exactly counts as an “install”. A decisive omission: the “runtime fee” should be charged for 200,000 “installs” or more since the release of a game.

Five-figure monthly fees for indie developers?

Even more problematic for small studios, however, was the announcement that the fee was designed to be retroactive. Titles that had already been published would thus also have been affected. A surprise hit by an indie developer would therefore – depending on the number of installed games – have resulted in a hefty additional payment in the form of horrendous monthly fees.

The engine provider itself calculates: “Unity Pro users who exceed the runtime fee threshold and have 200,000 installs will pay 22,500 US dollars this month. An expensive pleasure – especially against the background that, according to Unity, there is no way to reduce the number of “installs”.

End customers go to the barricades – Unity rows back

In addition, the statement that in the course of subscription models the distributor should pay for the fee caused uproar among end customers. In the case of Xbox’s Game Pass, Microsoft would bear the additional costs compared to Unity – which could lead to significant price increases for subscribers.

The shitstorm that followed on social media was thus pre-programmed – and showed its effect after barely a week. In the night to Monday, Unity turned to the public via X (formerly Twitter) and rowed back. “We heard you. We apologise for the confusion and angst caused by the Runtime Fee we announced on Tuesday,” reads the statement, which is now also emblazoned above the original announcement on the company’s website.

Unity is currently in communication with “team members, the community, customers and partners”, is listening carefully to these groups and “will make changes to the scheme”. What exactly is meant by this, however, remains hidden for the time being. However, Unity intends to speak out again in the near future. An update on the controversial pricing policy is to follow “in a few days”.

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