Unity followup

Monday, September 25, 2023

Comments: 2   (latest 2 days later)

Tagged: unity, enshittification

I wrote about Unity's license change a couple of weeks ago. Unity responded to all the yelling on Friday, so I guess I should follow up.

The summary of the changes:

  • The runtime fee does not apply to people using the Unity Personal or (soon to be extinguished) Unity Plus subscription.
  • The runtime fee only applies to games using Unity 2024 and later.
  • The runtime fee is capped at 2.5% of your game's revenue.
  • "Installs" is self-reported. They're saying "initial engagements" now, with notes that you can ignore piracy, reinstalls, and other corner cases.

Also, the splash screen requirement for Personal is being removed. (For Unity 2024 and later.) I laughed, because that was my first response to this whole debacle:

Since Unity will now benefit financially per install of a game, I’m sure they will remove the requirement to display their logo on startup. (Which was their previous strategy for benefiting per install.)

Right? Right?

--@zarfeblong, Sept 12

Points for being right, but my logic doesn't really hold. The splash screen requirement only applied to Personal, which is now exempt from the runtime fee. So this is a real concession -- just a very tiny one. Unity doesn't need the splash screen any more. Everybody knows who they are. They can afford to drop it. Well, good on them for noticing.

Bagatelles aside, what do I think of the new terms?

Short answer: there is still retroactive license screwing. My followup comment still applies:

Unity is now in the phase of “Oh, we can explain, it’s not as bad as it sounded at first."

What they do not grok is that even if this price hike isn’t so bad, developers are now terrified of next year’s price hike. Because the one thing we know about next year’s price hike is that it will also be retroactive.

How can a studio possibly budget for that?

--@zarfeblong, Sept 14

Unity backed out the current "retroactive change" wankery. Anybody using an old version of Unity can keep using that version with no new fees.

However, that is not the same as fixing the problem. Unity can still change the license terms out from under you; they can still hike the license fees at will.

Crucially, they have not restored the "no harm no foul" line from the old license terms. This paragraph was introduced in January 2019:

Unity Editor Software Terms 8. Modifications. Unity may update these Unity Software Additional Terms at any time for any reason and without notice (the “Updated Terms”) and those Updated Terms will apply to the most recent current-year version of the Unity Software, provided that, if the Updated Terms adversely impact your rights, you may elect to continue to use any current-year versions of the Unity Software (e.g., 2018.x and 2018.y and any Long Term Supported (LTS) versions for that current-year release) according to the terms that applied just prior to the Updated Terms (the “Prior Terms”).

You can still see this paragraph at https://unity.com/legal/terms-of-service/software-legacy, but it is marked as "Replaced: October 13, 2022". In fact the October 2022 terms had a similar paragraph. However, the April 2023 terms did not.

Unity's FAQ says:

We will make sure that you can stay on the terms applicable for the version of Unity you are using as long as you keep using that version. We will post these changes on our GitHub repository and https://unity.com/legal.

But they haven't done that. And even when (if?) they do, it's a small consolation to any developer who needs to update Unity because of toolchain dependencies, SDK dependencies, or, you know, all the other thousand reasons you might need to update your tools.

So that's the big thing. The rest of Unity's changes are... well, basically I don't care.

Letting developers self-report "installs" (or "initial engagements") is sensible. A big company knows about how many copies it's sold. Small studios may not, but small studios are already below the thresholds and so what if they lie? Unity needs to make its money off the big gorillas.

The real problem with "initial engagements" is that it's way too complicated. "How can a studio budget for that?" I asked. Well, the fee is capped at 2.5% of gross revenue share, so that's how you have to budget. Then you can ignore "installs" entirely. Just say Unity's fee is 2.5% revshare! It's simple! It's half of Unreal Engine's 5% revshare! (Which is blatantly the point.)

See, this is how you know this whole mess wasn't a clever scheme. You can find any number of UFO-wall-pointers saying, ha ha, first they post terrible license terms, then they change them to be less bad, and everybody is happy! It's smart PR work!

No, it's stupid. If Unity had been playing us, they would have had better terms ready to go. Not this unholy patchwork of the old terms and revshare. They also wouldn't have spent two weeks bleeding out all over the floor, image-wise. With leaks and rumors confusing the picture.

Only the very biggest gorillas (and their accountants) will work through the tangle. Maybe Unity's discounts will entice them into using Unity's in-house ad service. Maybe not. I don't care. The whole thing just underscores that Unity has stopped caring about any game smaller than Super Gacha Free Boot To The Head: Platinum Edition.

My position remains unchanged. It is stupid to use Unity for any new project.

Unity is fairly safe for students and tiny indies (like me). Like I said, Unity just doesn't care about us; we're too small-scale to pay their bills. And now they know that even seeming to threaten us is terrible, awful publicity. Unity Personal will probably remain free for the foreseeable future.

However, Unity experience is now wasted experience. If you're going to work on your own stuff, an open-source engine is probably fine for you, long-term. Might as well switch now! And if you're looking for a job -- well, the paying companies are the ones who are now switching to Unreal. Or planning to do so for the next game.

It looks like I'm not the only one thinking this, either:

It is with a heavy heart that we are announcing Wednesday, September 27th as the date of the final Boston Unity Group event. [...] Since our launch in 2010, the focus of BUG has been first and foremost about supporting developers, not the Unity company. As members of the broader Boston game developer community, we feel our efforts as organizers would be better spent creating opportunities for everyone, not just Unity users. Please join us as we all work together in the larger local development community to continue to host events and presentations for all to enjoy. -- Boston Unity Group farewell

Strong move, and I have nothing to add.

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