Daniel Sooman, developer of two free indie games that went viral, estimates that had the upcoming Unity pricing changes been in place when he released his games, he would owe the engine creators $5.6 million in fees.
Sooman is the creator of the low-res survival game Muck and the parody party game Crab Game. Upon release, both of these games went viral, with Muck being installed over 12 million times and Crab Game over 16 million times.
The current controversy gripping the gaming community is the newly-announced changes to Unity’s pricing structure. Unity, by merit of its accessibility, is widely-used for casual and indie game development projects. However, plenty of high-profile games have also been built using Unity, namely Pokémon Brilliant Diamond / Shining Pearl, Hollow Knight, Cuphead, Escape from Tarkov and so on.
Unity’s new pricing structure will charge developers for every install of a game. The price varies across Unity’s different subscription plans, but for the cheapest Unity plan, a developer would be charged $0.20 for every install after its game had been downloaded 200,000 times and had made at least $200,000 in revenue.
aaah shit i guess i owe Unity $5,600,000
anyone got some spare change? pic.twitter.com/HcgaMTDOt5
— Dani (@DaniDevYT) September 12, 2023
A big gripe that developers have with these changes is that Unity is calculating installs based on its own data, and have not provided robust explanations on how their calculations would exclude piracy installs, users installing the game multiple times and the plan’s interaction with bundles and demos.
In an FAQ released by Unity, a partial explanation was provided for each of these potentially damaging situations. However, these answers boil down to “We’ll work with the developer” in cases of piracy, “install bombing” and multiple installs. In the case of users installing a game on multiple devices, Unity has confirmed that each of these installs would be considered a new install and the developer will be charged a fee for each.
In Sooman’s case, he wouldn’t actually be liable for millions because his games are free without microtransactions, meaning he wouldn’t cross the $200,000 revenue threshold required to be charged by Unity regardless of his games’ combined 28 million downloads.
In the wake of this announcement by Unity, several developers have come out against the changes. Developer Aggro Crab raised concerns that its upcoming title is coming to Game Pass, meaning there are millions of players who could potentially install the game, which would drain the lump sum the developer received from Microsoft to put the game on the platform. Unity has since stated that it would be Microsoft, not Aggro Crab, which would be charged for Game Pass installations.
Cult of the Lamb developer Massive Monster has stated that it plans to delete the game on January 1, the date on which the Unity pricing changes are set to take effect in protest. Publisher Devolver Digital also released an allusive tweet, urging developers to “include what engine you’re using in pitches.”
While Unity has released statements trying to assuage developer concerns, many remain unconvinced.
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