If the Unity C-suite were hoping to get to the weekend without further drama after a punishing week of 'Runtime-gate' reactions, then they would've been disappointed to see their chief rivals AppLovin picking Friday afternoon (US time) to wade in with their own hot-take on the situation.
There's history between the two entities, of course, beyond the fact they are the main players left in the mobile advertising space. Last year, they appeared to have had potential merger talks before Unity ultimately opted for ironSource instead.
What's more, chatter in certain quarters suggests the whole Unity Runtime Fee manoeuvre could be part of a land-grab for advertising business, with potential credits against the Runtime Fee offered for those using Unity Ads services (although the reality and scale of this remain speculation).
Even so, the beleaguered tool-maker will surely still have been surprised by the ferocity and candour of an open letter coming from AppLovin CEO Adam Foroughi on the Mobile Apps Blog, and also linked on the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.
"Over the past couple days numerous game developers have asked my opinion about the Unity pricing changes," Foroughi prefaces his letter. "Given that some of the changes look motivated by competition with our MAX product, I didn’t even know what to say, and the inspirational gaming community has already voiced the concerns very elegantly.
We know you have to improve your business economics, but don’t do it at the expense of the entire communityAdam Foroughi, AppLovin
"The reason I’m writing now is because a group of leading game developers, 'United Game Devs', are revolting against the changes by turning off the Unity and Ironsource ad relationships and we’re being asked if we also support these developers. Our gaming studios run independently, but all unanimously support this cause and are signing up to be a part of 'United Game Devs'. I know from speaking with our studios that no one wants to turn off Unity as it hurts the economics of everyone involved, but game developers feel under attack and they aren’t seeing any other choice right now."
He continues: "As JR [John Riccitiello] knows I really respect the community & software he has overseen the last many years. I believe the tools Unity has built, as well as the tools we’ve built, have been a cornerstone set of solutions that have helped this community prosper. Continuing to innovate and work with amazing developers is what inspires me to come to work every single day."
While it's exceptionally rare to see the CEO of a multi-billion dollar listed business offer such candid comment on a direct competitor, it's arguably even more amazing that this was followed by what appears to be a literal 'Dear John' letter to his Unity counterpart John Riccitiello...
There was a time when I would’ve texted you this, but the actions you’ve taken seem too targeted at us for me to do that, so I’m voicing them here. Our jobs are to help this community expand while also running our businesses. The decision you made doesn’t help the community, and the backlash you’ve seen is reflective of that. But what you may or may not be hearing is that there isn’t a single user of your software who doesn’t love it. I can speak for ourselves as a paying customer of the Unity engine across our gaming studios. We know you have to improve your business economics, but don’t do it at the expense of the entire community. We also want you to improve your business economics so that you can continue to improve in your tools.
Don’t make this about advertising. Don’t make this an attack on indiesAdam Foroughi, AppLovin
Here’s my recommendation: retract these changes and shift to transparent price increases for seats for your Pro and Enterprise customers. Don’t make this about advertising. Don’t make this an attack on indies. Go back and rethink the choices you’ve made, revert your decision to a much more simple and sustainable price increase model, and communicate with your developers better. I’m sure the community will be supportive if you are collaborative and communicate transparently about decisions that have this much impact on their businesses.
If you continue to go on the path you’re on, you’ll destroy the trust and credibility that you have spent years building and it’s going to tear our industry apart.
Unity has, so far, been concise in its response to the criticism of its Runtime Fee announcement. However, given the scale of the potential impact and intensity of the reaction, this is unlikely to be the end of the debate. Indeed, we expect this one to run for some time.