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The Incredibly Late Capitalist Death of Unity

Today Unity announced changes to their pricing structure, including perplexingly a fee-per-install as well as the end of their middle-tier subscription.

Details are scarce on exactly how their install fees are calculated, but unity developers are not happy about this move. And justifiably so.

Also hidden within the announcement was a brief mention of their AI platform which will be included, it appears non-optionally, in all plans of Unity. Which, I don't even know where to start with that.

I'm not going to retread much of what everyone has already said, and realistically it's not really my place to do so anyhow as I've been out of the Unity ecosystem for years now, first moving on to not-finishing games using SFML and hand written tools and later to not-finishing games in Godot.

What irks me about this is the lack of self awareness on Unity's part, in particular the kind of late-capitalist mindset that somehow they can enforce a monopoly that they only really have on paper. Sure if you look at data like this infographic from 2021 from this article on Game Developer it would seem that Unity has a huge market position but the numbers don't tell the whole story.

I think what's most important is the kind of game that is usually made in Unity. For every experimental game that kicks off like Phasmophobia, or indie darling like Tunic there is a galaxy of tiny games that are either free or near enough to it on Steam, Humble or Itch.io. These games are often purchased not on their own, but in large bundles usually contributing pennies to the developers if at all.

For those devs, even the lowest install fee of 2 cents with a Unity pro subscription (requiring over a million installations and also not including the 2500$ USD annual subscription cost) is unlikely to be made up by whatever the bundle pays out to them.

Unity has stated that charity bundles will not be subject to this fee but I don't see how that can be practically waived and suspect they will resort to a sort of key-whitelisting mechanism that puts the onus on the developer to ensure the information is provided ahead of time.

Now, I know that this all happens after the first 200 000$ USD in sales, which might sound like it's not a big deal. However this misses the point. The issue is that Unity has created a means by which a sale can retroactively cost you money.

So if you get your 200 000$ in sales before hitting the long tail of your game, you could easily find yourself inching toward the red through un- and re-installations because this is based on revenue, not on sales.

Unity's clarification on what a install means and how it is tracked is both vague and unconvincing.

Secondly since this is apparently going to be handled by some vague "data model" there isn't really going to be a human you can contact to dispute what Unity deigns to bill you for. This is going to be a mess, and specifically a mess Unity is going to make your problem.

I'm focusing on this issue specifically because of who makes up the bulk of Unity's customer base. It's exactly the kind of middling-at-best indie dev who is going to be hovering around the thresholds they have set. They know this. What they are doing is attempting to enclose their perceived monopoly because they feel they can.

But the truth is, there are alternatives.

Where do we go, now #

Unreal #

Just kidding, while their royalty model is on the whole better, and their source availability is a huge plus, the kinds of games you can practically make on a reasonable budget is pretty limited.

Godot #

Obviously my first suggestion is Godot. Open source software that has an active community is the best bet against this kind of capitalist overreach. Even if Juan and Adrien decided to take the project inhouse and charge for it, the source is available that anyone could make a fork and continue providing a free community version as we've seen when HashiCorp decided to alter the license of Terraform or when RedHat decided to close access to its source code. Open source provides stability that closed source software simply cannot.

Godot, happily, is very well run, and while it lacks many of the inbuilt features that you may have come to rely on, many of them can be found in similarly open source addons, but what is there is actually complete and workable. You'll not find any of the half-baked features left unfinished by a long departed Unity employee.

And the docs, oh my the docs. Useful method descriptions, up-to-date tutorials for almost everything class and method in the engine. Paradise is real.

Monogame #

I want to keep my suggestions to engines that use C#, as I'm assuming most Unity devs will be most comfortable using it.

Monogame is a bit older of a framework, hailing from Microsoft's XNA Framework, but is still a solid open source toolkit that shouldn't be overlooked.

It also shares Godot's prime feature of being completely free and open source.

Some left field options I'm bullish about #

Not strictly recommendations but things to keep an eye on.

Luxe engine #

I think this is one to keep on your radar. It's in closed beta, but I think when its creators Studio Any Percent get their first game out it might be worth a try.

The alpha version is up on github, but archived, and it remains to be seen how it will be licensed upon release.

Bevvy #

This one is interesting if you want to make a very systemic game, particularly if you've been burned by Unity's ECS offerings.

It is something you can try now, unlike Luxe, is free and open source, but will require you to learn a bit of rust.

Closing thoughts #

I've sort of had this inclination for awhile that as we're headed into an era of percarity, that we're either really and truely headed for collapse this time, or we're bound for a slow wrenching recovery like from the 2008 financial collapse.

If it's the former there's not a whole lot to do but wait for the world to end.

If it's the latter, we're likely due for another indie games golden age, the kind that Unity build itself off of. In one single blog post, Unity has, in my view, excluded itself from being part of it this time around.