After a controversial roll-out of its new Runtime fee program, Unity faced backlash from the video game development community. Developers wanted to understand why and how this disastrous launch happened, and Unity’s president, Marc Whitten, addressed these concerns in a letter and a live fireside chat on YouTube.
Whitten started by offering a sincere apology for the company’s failure to gather enough feedback before implementing the program. He clarified that Unity’s main goal was to build a sustainable business by establishing a “balanced exchange” between the company and its users, with the aim of promoting shared success. The new plan provided developers with a choice between paying fees based on the number of new players engaging with their games each month or a flat 2.5 percent of all revenue, whichever is lower.
However, some important questions remained unanswered. Whitten did not explain what exactly is involved in the “calculated amount” mentioned in the plan. Developers also questioned why Unity didn’t start with a revenue share plan instead. Whitten explained that the pay-per-install model was intended to tie Unity’s value to the success of high-performing games. He believed that, in most cases, the “calculated amount” would be a smaller number than the flat 2.5 percent, making it more beneficial for developers.
Nevertheless, Whitten acknowledged that developers were concerned about budget planning, especially in cases of viral success. To address these concerns, Unity decided to introduce a revenue share program that offered developers more flexibility in payment options. This way, developers could plan their budgets more effectively while still having a choice in how they pay.
The Runtime fee was Unity’s attempt to capture additional revenue from successful games using its software, creating a “we don’t get paid unless you do” model. However, the initial plan affected a wide range of developers and imposed unilateral payment terms. The modified plan now only affects games that have made $1 million or more and have had 1 million or more engagements with new users in the last 12 months.
During the YouTube Q&A session, Whitten clarified that an “engagement” refers to a legitimate user of a game on a particular distribution channel. These engagements would be self-reported by the developers, excluding instances of piracy or refunding. A legitimate engagement counts as the first-time use of a game, excluding re-downloads on different devices.
Another significant concern raised by developers was Unity’s terms of service (ToS). Unity had previously created a Github page to track changes made to its ToS, but it was mysteriously deleted before the introduction of the Runtime fee. This deletion upset developers who saw it as a breach of transparency. Whitten admitted that he was unaware of the Github page until recently, but he assured developers that it had been restored and that Unity would continue to update its ToS on its website.
Unity also promised to enshrine developers’ ability to lock in the terms corresponding to their version of Unity in the updated ToS. However, some developers expressed skepticism about Unity’s commitment given its previous changes to the ToS. Whitten, on the other hand, assured the community that Unity would stand by its promises and work to regain their trust through actions rather than words.
Despite these efforts, winning back users’ trust will not be easy for Unity. Whitten acknowledged this and emphasized Unity’s commitment to earning back trust through their actions. Ultimately, it will be up to the community to decide if Unity’s efforts are enough to restore their confidence.
Whitten concluded the chat by acknowledging the community’s decision-making power. He recognized that he couldn’t force the community to trust him and that each individual had to make that decision independently.
Unity’s revised Runtime fee program and the steps taken to address concerns were meant to show the community that Unity is committed to maintaining a fair and transparent relationship with its users. Only time will tell if these efforts will be successful in rebuilding trust and repairing the relationship between Unity and the video game development community.