Late on Sunday night, when all good apology tweets are made, Unity posted that it apologizes “for the confusion and angst” regarding its new policy that will charge developers a per-install fee for the use of its game engine. It claims “changes to the policy” are coming, with updates in a few days:
As you may expect, this statement was received poorly, and actually offended many who did not want to be patronized as “confused.” In the statement there are no specific policy changes listed, including no actual walk back of the install fee in the first place. “Changes” could very well just be a lower fee or a different threshold to be charged it, for all anyone knows.
The moment Unity announced this policy, it lost many developers, even if it walks it back now. The question developers have to ask themselves going forward is if they want to devote years of their lives and loads of money to developing a game in Unity, a company that has shown it’s capable of decisions like this. And the idea wasn’t just a future-facing change, Unity was trying to retroactively charge for games that had already been sold in Unity.
Unity has already stumbled over itself trying to clarify and change this policy on the fly. Initially it said that any install would count, even re-installs, opening the doors for developer trolling, then altered that to first-time installs. It claims it has its own tools to measure things like devs being charged for pirated copies and everyone just has to trust them. It says there would be exceptions for charity bundles, but it decides what does and doesn’t count.
Again, the bare minimum developers want to see is the erasure of this install fee pricing model and a reversion to how things were working before. But it seems unlikely devs will escape without being charged more money somewhere, as that was the entire point of this change in the first place. The theory is that Unity is fishing for big payments from whales like Genshin Impact, the mega-popular Chinese game built in Unity, but thousands of other developers are getting caught in the process.
There is likely no way back here to earn the trust of developers. No one who made this decision has resigned. The policy hasn’t even been fully walked back yet. Even if it is, it’s certainly possible more bad ideas like this are to come, and if they’re even changing things retroactively, that’s a new level of risk. I expect many developers to permanently switch off of Unity unless they absolutely have to finish or maintain a current project inside the engine. But Unity has miles and miles to go to make amends to developers, if it’s even going to bother.