Unity has recently announced changes to their pricing and plans.
This spawned a huge shitstorm that is completely blown out of proportion, which I emphasized satirically.
In this post I want to provide some deflating arguments to the average shitstormers. There are real concerns of course, and those should get more room and visibility, and Unity has already addressed and clarified a lot.
So let’s end the shit of this storm!
The Trust Issue
The most common argument brought forth is the loss of trust in Unity. Trust that they may change their terms and prices in the future.
Is this really about trust?
Changes to the Terms
The main argument here is the changes to the Terms of Service Unity has implemented a couple months back are fishy.
A company making changes to a public legal document knows that people will take notice. They will also have had these changes approved by their lawyers. Which doesn’t mean it cannot be legally attacked, but the chances of such changes to be outright illegal are extremely rare.
That’s just statistics plus a common sense regarding sound operation of a publicly traded company.
Some even say Unity tried to hide the TOS changes! Changes made to a public facing, legally binding document for all customers.
Really? They know they cannot hide a single TOS change. Let’s not kid yourself. This is not a scandal, this is normal operating procedure for any business.
If the TOS changes were likely illegal, you’d see way more lawyers speaking up.
Because they will be looking to get clients for a lawsuit against a publicly traded company that they deem winnable, which does not just spell profit but also fame, thus more profit.
There are the usual opportunists but not nearly enough to expect a lawsuit, less so with a clear ruling.
It will also remain to be seen whether any previous agreements for earlier Unity versions are and remain valid for those versions, as some say. This may or may not be true, but at most it will affect just a certain portion of developers.
Chances are that the new TOS will come into effect as soon as a developer publishes an update to their game no matter the Unity version simply because renewed distribution of a licensed software (the Unity runtime) is legally associated with accepting the TOS.
Doesn’t change the fact that Unity forces hands over those developers, since they cannot just replace the runtime engine.
But is this enough to lose trust?
I’d say that Unity has done the worst possible change already. In the future, we’ll very likely only see changes to the fee itself.
Changes to the pricing strategy
Companies change prices all the time. Sure, it’s easier to digest if it’s just going to cost a few percent more.
Companies have all the right to change the way they charge. This isn’t news. It happens frequently. It’s rarely met with happy customers for sure, because the end goal is always to make more money.
No company ever has changed their pricing strategy in an effort to make LESS money. Let’s be realistic.
If you run the numbers, guess what? Unity’s runtime fee is almost always lower than Unreal’s five percent royalty share!
This isn’t greedy!
In reality, it’s probably a financial necessity that forced Unity’s hands to make unfavorable changes either way, and the top-end is going to pay for it.
Granted, charging per install does make it harder for game developers to calculate their future expenses.
But if devs really favor Unreal’s flat 5 percent revenue fee over Unity’s less predictable fees, the question really is:
Is your game going to be in a situation where Unity will likely charge you more than 5% of your revenue?
As has been pointed out numerous times, for the majority of games, Unity’s runtime fee will – few exceptions notwithstanding – amount to significantly less than the 5% that Unreal charges!
So here’s an idea: calculate the next game release with a flat 5% fee of its revenue. See if that is financially sustainable.
If it isn’t, at least you know you can’t afford to use Unreal.
The Face Issue
You know the face: JR.
The same guy that got gamers rage quit over EA.
But .. the CEO doesn’t call the shots alone. There’s always many people involved in making and influencing decisions like these. At the very least there’s the board of directors and the shareholders, the investors.
CEOs are naturals in taking the blame. Yet any attacks directed at them is an argument ad hominem. Blaming or attacking the CEO must be univocally dismissed as what it is: besides the point.
For better or worse, it could have equally been Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Marissa Mayer, Mark Zuckerberg, Tim Cook, Satya Nadella, David Helgason … you name it.
The Selling of Stock
For some, JR selling stock prior to the announcement is indicative of his evil nature.
Others point out that the number of stocks he sold is too low to raise serious suspicions of insider trading, amounting to a lower 6-digit figure – essentially pocket money.
Regardless, any stock trade with insider knowledge is to be scrutinized. Except if the stocks were sold automatically, on a recurring plan.
According to some, that’s what happened here.
I have no sources to confirm this, but I’m sure if you’re really, honestly concerned and not just outraged about this, you’ll find them.
Personally, I don’t feel the need to look it up. Whether you respect JR or not, you’d have to think a CEO of large publicly traded companies for two decades knows better than to act THIS dumb.
In any case, this is of no real concern to Unity developers.
The Exodus of Developers
Many are quick to say this is the end of Unity. Developers are quitting the engine in masses. And so on …
Yeah, kind of like we stopped installing Windows in favor of Linux?
Learning a new game engine takes time. It slows you down. It can even be downright frustrating. It can also be a fun experience and broaden your skillset. But this is just the individual’s perspective. They can easily drop one engine and use another.
Once you consider businesses who may need to employ staff with significant expertise, it’s totally different. Experience with Unity is high in demand, and there are a great number of curricula built around this engine. Using another engine is a serious business risk, and a financial investment.
And when faced with a flat 5% royaltee fee as the alternative, any business will run the numbers and conclude that – even if it cannot be calculated exactly ahead of time – Unity’s runtime fee will typically amount to less than 5% of the revenue.
But what about all the outspoken indie developers who are moving away from Unity? Well … with the exception of the RUST developers I’ve simply not heard of any of them and couldn’t make a connection to a game I know. A frequently shared list had about 50 teams and individuals. There’s a Twitter account listing disappointed Unity devs, again largely irrelevant as the low numbers of interactions on their tweets clearly indicate.
So there is a strong cohesiveness within the game development ecosystem that prevents any sudden, drastic shifts away from a dominant player like Unity.
If that weren’t the case, you could argue Unity wouldn’t have risked making those plan changes in the first place.
And let’s not kid ourselves. Did you know that you had to pay close to $1,000 for a copy of Adobe Photoshop? Remember the outrage ten years ago as Adobe switched to a cloud service with recurring billing? Now you can only rent Photoshop for about $300 annually, or $40 for a single month.
Arguably there are pros and cons to both approaches but the point is: despite the outrage, Adobe and numerous other previously-paid-for products are now-subscription-based services and they still not only remain relevant but the leading products on the market.
Once you consider (and some may simply have to accept that for once) that Unity’s runtime fee is still cheaper as the next best contender Unreal with its 5% royalty share, then you know it’s not going to drive off a significant portion of Unity developers.
Why not something else?
The real question is: why did Unity leadership ultimately conclude in favor of the announced changes?
I can say this much with confidence: it cannot have been an easy, obvious decision!
They must have been hard pressed to make a difficult decision either way.
Nobody knows the alternatives. But clearly one goal was to financially protect the average developer. Or rather: discouraging them from switching engines.
Because the only real competitor for Unity is Unreal.
Yes, of course I heard about Godot. And so many others. But financial hit games made with any of these? Rare. Extremely rare. And check the game dev job postings. If they require proficiency in a game engine, it will almost always be either Unreal or Unity.
Unity’s fee typically and often significantly undercuts Unreal’s 5% royalty fee in the low-end, below $1 million yearly revenue.
No matter what smaller studios say, at the end of the day they have to make financial plans, and thus they’ll stick with Unity over Unreal for the most part.
At the same time, Unity’s business remains top-heavy. Which means it will remain operating towards B2B requirements and opportunities.
Thus Unity will continue to feel for many as if Unity isn’t developing for them.
Which .. they don’t.
But that is okay if you accept it. After all, there’s a ton of high tech that gets thrown at you for free. Take it, or leave.
Switch engine?! Hmm, no.
Of course there are other options but none as portable and resourceful as Unity’s engine and ecosystem.
Most Unity devs don’t even know how much we take for granted that, once they do switch engines, some will be … sobered.
That sobering feeling always happens when switching engines, just as there will be positive surprises too. Though at some point you’ll be sorely missing parts of Unity and it really depends on how important these are for your project.
Be it the quality and quantity of Asset Store offerings, or the modularity of package development, or the ability to publish to the Web, or not being forced to decide between visual scripting and hardcore C++, or the sheer number of resources to learn from, or the relative ease and options to create user interfaces, or the powerful ways to extend and customize the editor.
Just to name a few.
Ultimately, only individuals can afford taking the leap, and experiment. That’s what it is. Leaving the tried and trusted environment behind is an opportunity-flavored risk.
Whereas, if you run a business and thus need to run the numbers and possibly even have staff you won’t be making such a decision lightly.
Unity, even with the runtime fees, still remains strongly in favor of those who want to operate a financially sound small business while minimizing risks.
At the same time Unity’s developer base has grown by 20% or more year over year in the past years. For those developers, Unity is still free, actually, it’s even more free AND more feature-rich!
And for companies, that’s a rich human resource pool to hire staff from. Both game companies and individual developers converge on Unity experience being the most sought-after job expertise, by far.
If some experienced devs leave Unity for good, others will gladly take their place.
Therefore, any rumors of Unity’s death are greatly exaggerated.