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Game developers aren't happy with Unity's new policy changes

Game developers impacted by Unity’s revised pricing model are taking a stand. A coalition of developers spanning 19 companies, primarily based in Europe and predominantly focused on mobile gaming, has issued an open letter pressing Unity to reconsider its recent pricing alterations. This letter echoes sentiments expressed by other developers this week, but with a significant twist.

"As an immediate course of action, our collective of game development companies is compelled to disable all IronSource and Unity Ads monetization across our projects until these changes are reevaluated," the letter states.

Effectively, these companies, representing thousands of games with billions of downloads, have prevented Unity from generating further revenue in their games. Some notable companies in the letter include, Azur Games, and SayGames, each boasting over 100 games.

Developers have been sending numerous messages urging the company to reverse its decision. Some have even threatened to abstain from using Unity in the future or to migrate their ongoing projects to alternative game engines. This collective move from developers marks the latest escalation in the dispute between Unity and its user base.

At the core of the issue is Unity's announcement to update its pricing structure, charging developers for each installation of a Unity game after specific download and revenue thresholds are reached. While Unity asserts that only 10 percent of its users will be affected, it remains unclear how Unity plans to track installations and distinguish a "valid" install from an "invalid" one.

Beyond financial concerns, developers are also frustrated because the new pricing represents a breach of transparency that Unity had previously established with regard to its terms of service.

Companies frequently revise their terms of service and terminate agreements based on TOS violations. In 2019, Unity did just that by terminating the license for software company Improbable, citing TOS violations. This action caused an outcry in the community, and in response, Unity reinstated Improbable’s license and committed to keeping users informed of future changes to terms of service.

In a 2019 blog post, Unity stated, "When you obtain a version of Unity, and don’t upgrade your project, we think you should be able to stick to that version of the TOS."

This sentiment is reflected in a version of Unity’s TOS from March 2022. “Unity may update these Unity Software Additional Terms at any time for any reason and without notice (the “Updated Terms”) [...] if the Updated Terms adversely impact your rights, you may elect to continue to use any current-year versions of the Unity Software [...] according to the terms that applied just prior to the Updated Terms.”

Additionally, in that 2019 blog, Unity mentioned that it would track changes to the terms of service on GitHub “to give developers full transparency about what changes are happening, and when.”

However, Unity has since removed that GitHub repository. Furthermore, in April 2023, they introduced a new terms of service agreement that removed the clause allowing developers to use older TOS while introducing a new clause hinting at the now contentious runtime fees.

2.2 Unity Runtime

Subject to payment of applicable fees, (emphasis The Verge) if any, you may distribute the Unity Runtime as an integrated part of your Projects, solely as embedded or incorporated into your Projects, and solely to third parties to whom you license or sell your Projects or who provide you with services, in each case pursuant to an agreement that is no less protective of Unity and its licensors and its service providers than this Agreement.

In video game development, it's common to "lock in" specific versions of a game engine. Theoretically, developers unhappy with the new fees could have simply “locked in” a previous version of the Unity engine to avoid them, and Unity’s own terms of service would have supported that. But with this change, seemingly made against Unity's own stated goals of transparency, anyone using a current version of Unity has seemingly agreed to these Runtime fees before they were even announced.

The Verge has reached out to Unity for comment regarding the deletion of its terms of service GitHub and on this recent action by mobile developers. While Unity has yet to respond, it has addressed the boycotting developers.

According to an email reviewed by The Verge, a Unity representative acknowledged that the company's ad monetization programs had been paused for an app and remarked that it was likely because of the new fees. The rep went on to say that, in response, Unity would suspend its user acquisition programs for that app — essentially limiting the app's ability to attract new users.

Though this action will hurt these companies financially, for them, it’s not just about money.

"The new regulations from Unity will affect every project that doesn’t generate sufficient income per user," said Nikita Guk, CEO of PR firm GIMZ, who organized the letter. "Pushing developers to either migrate to alternative game engines or place even greater emphasis on monetization, at the expense of creating immersive gameplay experience."

As of now, 19 companies have signed the letter, and more are encouraged to follow suit.

"If you share our sentiment, we call on you to join us. Turn off Unity monetization until a fair and equitable resolution is found."

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