back to article Having read the room, Unity goes back to drawing board on runtime fee policy

Hell hath no fury like a developer scorned, and Unity is finding out the hard way after poorly received adjustments to its runtime policy last week. Sister publication DevClass reported on the fees the game engine company said it would be charging developers from January 1 if they exceed certain thresholds for revenue and …

  1. aerogems Silver badge

    Too little, too late

    If it were me, it wouldn't matter. The trust has been completely shattered and I'd be moving to a different engine for any new projects. It's only a matter of time before the asshole CEO tries this shit again, or something similar. In fact, that's the only way I'd consider sticking with Unity if I were a game dev: if they fired the CEO whose brilliant idea this was.

    1. Kurgan

      Re: Too little, too late

      I'm not a game dev, but it's clear to me that any commercial product can change the rules and screw you. Only open source is at least partially safe. Partially because it can become close, but a fork is still possible.

      1. aerogems Silver badge

        Re: Too little, too late

        Depends on the license. There are a lot of different open source licenses and some of them could be written in such a way that the developer(s) in charge of the project could prevent forks and allow them to add new terms to the license. Sure, if something is under the GPLv2 and the developers suddenly decide future versions will be closed source, you can always continue on a parallel version using the GPL'd code, but that won't necessarily apply to all licenses.

        1. ssokolow

          Re: Too little, too late

          I know it's months late, but, for anyone else who wanders in, it doesn't "depend on the license".

          "Open Source" has a concrete definition laid out at which rules out that sort of license. That's why you see licenses like that being referred to as "source available" instead.

          (Which makes sense. The Open Source Definition is essentially a derivative of the Debian Free Software Guidelines with the political implications of "free software" filed off, and debian-legal has a test named "the tentacles of evil test" specifically for checking whether a license is suitably good at protecting users of a project from a buy-out by a company like Oracle.)

      2. FIA Silver badge

        Re: Too little, too late

        It's not really an open vs closed source issue I don't think.

        If you build a business around something like this the support is the important thing.

        Even if Unity was open sourced many devs impacted by this would be unable to fork it and just carry on, it's a complex piece of software.

        Redhat have proved you can do the same thing in the open source world.

        Here's a tip... Companies.... stop treating customers like commodities.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Too little, too late

          "many devs impacted by this would be unable to fork it and just carry on"

          It would only take a few.

          1. aerogems Silver badge

            Re: Too little, too late

            Github and the like are littered with abandoned open source projects. Maybe the dev lost interest, maybe life happened and they didn't have time to devote to it any longer, maybe they got hit by a bus and are no longer among the living. Any number of reasons could have happened. Depending on people to spend their free time to work on something that you depend on probably isn't going to be a good idea. For every Linux there's probably at least two dozen projects that blinked out of existence.

          2. Anonymous Cowpilot

            Re: Too little, too late

            But devs are not interchangeable; the skills and knowledge needed for writing game engines is very different from the skills and knowledge needed to write games. Back in my consulting days, I would regularly work with clients that used open source because they felt they could just patch any bugs themselves if the community could not or would not, only to find that their developers couldn't understand the code, let alone patch it.

        2. This post has been deleted by its author

      3. Andy 73 Silver badge

        Re: Too little, too late

        " source is at least partially safe".

        The word "Partially" is doing a lot of work there. If Nintendo, Windows or any of the other dozen platforms your game engine runs on introduce a breaking change in their next system update, who is going to help you? Given the long timescales of game development these days, it's hardly an unlikely event.

        And the key problem here is that for many people the game they write is a commercial proposition - intended to make money. It won't be open source, at least not until some long tail has kicked in, yet you're sending the message that "Nah, don't want to pay for the engine I'm running on". Even if it means that people who've paid for your game suddenly find a feature stops working when they update their graphics card - and you have no means to fix it.

        That's not to say there aren't good open source alternatives - but the screw up by Unity is to unconditionally and unexpectedly change the terms of their commercial license, not to have the temerity to want to charge for the vast amount of code and assets that go into their product. Devs can decide if the amount they charge is worth it - but if they can't trust that it won't randomly change at some point in the future, then yes, it does make almost any other option look better.

    2. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Re: Too little, too late

      In fact, that's the only way I'd consider sticking with Unity if I were a game dev: if they fired the CEO whose brilliant idea this was.

      But he's from EA, home of the microtransaction.

      On which point, the Unity saga mentioned changes to Unity's ad engine and analytics and changes to these elements as part of the new licences. Also that Unity had the ability to track and monitor every install. I know some games give an option to allow or deny analytics, but now I'm going to have to go back and Wireshark some to see if they're ignoring consent, the GDPR and hoovering up data anyway. So I expect that phase 2 of their cunning plan would be to increasingly monetise ad slinging, and trousering that revenue as well.

  2. User McUser

    Boy howdy, if I had a dime for everytime someone installed the Unity runtime...

    (This space left intentionally non-blank)

    1. talk_is_cheap

      Re: Boy howdy, if I had a dime for everytime someone installed the Unity runtime...

      You would be only making half of what Unity hoped to make from its entry-level users :)

  3. NickHolland

    big lesson: be ready for change.

    I've seen a lot of companies with many decades of history hook themselves to companies with just a few years of history with NO plan for what to do when that vendor becomes "undesirable" for any reason.

    When your company is dependent upon another company, you have a risk there. In addition to an implementation plan, you have to have an EXIT plan -- how you get off Product X and move onto some likely unknown Product Y, because you can't bet your company on Product X being around forever in its current form, and always being the best choice. Believing that Open Source (or closed source) is better on this is denying history and reality. The reason you are using product X is probably because you didn't want to implement it from scratch yourself, so the idea that Open Source will save you because "someone else" will take over development is very possibly incorrect, unless you are prepared to commit to being the "someone else". And if they do take over development, it may not be in the direction you chose.

    Redhat damaging Alma/Rocky/CentOS/etc was just another example. "Just use Redhat" isn't an answer, because RH may not be around forever in its current form, or be the best answer for you in a few years.

    I suspect most companies deal with this in smaller forms, where internal projects end up being "abandonware that must keep running" because the person/people that put it together are no longer around, and no one else knows anything other than, "It must stay running!".

    1. aerogems Silver badge

      Re: big lesson: be ready for change.

      No one ever got fired for buying IBM!

      The fact that IBM owns RedHat just adds a new layer.

    2. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: big lesson: be ready for change.

      It's a problem for every company in every industry. Vendors get greedy and corporate buyers get complacent.

      And do not get me me started on the conflict of interest scenarios.

  4. Valeyard

    what an "apology"

    We apologize for the confusion and angst

    "we're sorry you feel that way" what a non-apology just blaming everyone else for not playing ball

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: what an "apology"

      Also, I'd be interested to hear them clarify what "confusion" they believe they caused. Seems to me people understood them quite well.

  5. TheMaskedMan Silver badge

    Reading the room after the fact isn't all that useful - they were still stupid enough to think that this might work out for them in the way they tried to do it.

    Reverting to previous policy and dumping the CEO are essential first steps, but I'm not sure they will be enough to regain trust just yet. Some incentives to keep developers around long enough to prove that the madness has passed might be in order.

    As others have said, there's always a risk in relying on third party tools or services. Developers know that, and that's why trust is so valuable - it can only be earned, not bought, and can be destroyed in an instant. Unity have a lot of earning to do.

    Developers might think it's worth donating a little time to one of the open source alternatives while unity tries to get its act together - it might turn out to be their own future they're investing in.

  6. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    It's a shame, really

    But I guess this is what happens when you hire someone from Business School to head an open source project.

    Open source and Business are two different mindsets, and they are incompatible.

    This is why.

    1. Filippo Silver badge

      Re: It's a shame, really

      Okay, but in "Business School" they really ought to teach you how to... not fuck up your company's business model? Is there not a lesson somewhere that says "you should know exactly the reasons your customers are choosing your product, because removing those reasons is a bad idea"?

      1. aerogems Silver badge

        Re: It's a shame, really

        As far back as pre-university "business" classes I took, they were harping on the idea of "sustainable competitive advantage" which is a concept that seems completely lost on business leaders of today.

        The basic idea is to figure out something you do better than anyone else and make sure you keep doing it better than anyone else so customers keep coming to you. I suppose in a twisted sort of way, kicking customers in the teeth could technically qualify, though I don't imagine there's a lot of repeat business for that model, not that it seems to keep a surprising number of companies from trying.

        1. James 139

          Re: It's a shame, really

          Fairly sure current US business school consists of 3 classes, how to gain market share rapidly, how and when to squeeze customers and how to maximise returns for shareholders.

          1. aerogems Silver badge

            Re: It's a shame, really

            I'd love to be able to disagree, but I can't.

            Personally, I place most of the blame on the MBA idea of making stock options part of the executive compensation package. It was a good idea, and definitely worth trying, but the experiment has clearly not just failed, but backfired spectacularly. Add to that the bullshit idea that company executives have a fiduciary duty to shareholders -- even the person who came up with this idea has since disavowed it, claiming he never intended it in the way people have come to interpret it -- and you've got the recipe for what we see today.

            Top executives routinely mortgaging the company's future for profits today, and since they tend to play musical chairs every couple of years, the odds of any one of them being left holding the bag for the damage done is minimal. Even then, they likely have "golden parachute" clauses in their contracts that mean they get paid ahead of anyone else in the event the company goes bankrupt. You see things like what's going on at Salesforce, where they cut 10% of their staff claiming dire financial straits, then a mere couple of months later they announce they're going to go on a hiring binge.* It sort of reminds me of the old joke about classes you need to take to become a plumber: Showing Your Crack and Advanced Showing Your Crack.

            * Bootnote: I once interviewed for a job at Salesforce. What a total shitshow. The job description I was given by the recruiter was for your basic helpdesk role (I was just starting out in my career at the time) and then apparently they decided to mash that together with like a mid-level IT security role, while paying an entry-level helpdesk role salary. For... reasons, they decided to have me talk to someone because they grew up maybe 100 miles or so from me. Not sure what that was about, but then I'm just left sitting in a conference room for for like 20-30 minutes. I was literally just about to get up and try to find my own way out when eventually the hiring manager comes back to show me out. This was also before Smartphones as we know them now, so it's not like I could just dick around on my phone while I waited, I was literally just left sitting there and the only real entertainment was watching the occasional person walk by.

          2. Filippo Silver badge

            Re: It's a shame, really

            It appears Unity's CEO has failed the second of those.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: It's a shame, really

          Well, i present microsoft, and apple, and every government, and........

          They all rough their customers and treat them like shit, yet the customers keep on piling for more.

    2. FrankAlphaXII

      Re: It's a shame, really

      Unity isn't open source. Like at all. It's always been proprietary.

  7. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    So with hindsight he knows what he did wrong. Hindsight is what you rely on when you don't use foresight.

  8. Marty McFly Silver badge


    Roll-back of everything to the previous status quo.

    Then kill the product & its associated license model as-is. It will be a long tail and wind down. Nothing going away, nothing changing, but also no improvements or changes.

    Launch a new product exclusively compatible with new hardware & software platforms...and conveniently a spiffy new licensing model.

  9. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    Ahhhhhhh the

    Ratner moment

    Of opening your mouth to place foot firmly in it

    Then watching the value of your company tank and your customers bugger off

    Then say "come back come back it was all a joke..........................."

    Strangely enough , we have had customers who think they can alter a contract unilaterly.

    The boss simply asks if they'd prefer to talk to the company lawyer or to me.*

    They always prefer the lawyer.

    *maybe I shouldn't rev the chainsaw so high while the boss is on the phone to them .........

    1. Giles C Silver badge

      Re: Ahhhhhhh the

      Otherwise known (in the uk at least) as doing a Ratner.

      Named for the then boss of the self named jeweller who said his stores sold “total crap”.

      Ratner said: “We also do cut-glass sherry decanters complete with six glasses on a silver-plated tray that your butler can serve you drinks on, all for £4.95. People say 'How can you sell this for such a low price?' I say, because it's total crap."

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Ahhhhhhh the

      The sad thing for Ratner, it was just a silly self-deprecating joke.

      He was pounced on by the newspapers whose bosses were friends with the elitist jewellers whose business he had taken.

      The newspapers brought him down, just like they bring down Corbyn, Ed Milliband, and anyone else who threatens their club.

  10. DXMage

    The stockholders should fire and sue the CEO for willfully doing egregious harm to the value of the company and have the SEC come in to Roto-Rooter his ass for insider trading as he sold stock just before the announcement.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      He what?!

      Rut ro.

      1. aerogems Silver badge

        The further up you go in a company hierarchy the more restrictions there are on when you can sell stock. He probably had to file paperwork to sell it months ago.

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Yes. That doesn't mean the announcement wasn't also planned months ago.

          The reasoning could simply have been: This thing we're planning to do in six months could boost the stock price or hurt it, or not affect it much at all. I'll sell a bunch of shares as a hedge.

          Sometimes it's easy to demonstrate insider trading. Sometimes it isn't. Things like pre-trade filing, waiting periods, and blackout periods help reduce insider trading on short-term surprises by executives, but they don't really impair anyone's ability to plan for slightly longer-term events.

  11. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    In case you're not clear on the problem

    Check out this video.

    It's highly educational.

  12. sarusa Silver badge

    They're lying

    They're lying again. They've floated this once, they will come back to it after backing off this time. That's how it always works.

    And once again the Spawn of Satan icon gets overuse.

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