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Unity's Runtime Fee Farrago: The whole story in one place

From start to finish. Want to know why the games industry got so blazing mad at one of its most popular development platforms and why its CEO just got offed? Look no further…
Unity's Runtime Fee Farrago: The whole story in one place

UPDATED September 21: It can be tough to keep track of the ins and outs of how game dev tools maker Unity upset an entire industry, but we’re here to help.

Their planned introduction of a new Unity Runtime Fee - effectively charging Unity users a new per-install $0.20 for each user - has taken it's tens of thousands of users by surprise and gone down like a foul smell in a spacesuit.

Want to know everything? Here - all in one place - is all you need to know.

September 12th: Unity to charge for installs with new Unity Runtime Fee

With predictions as to the exact nature of Unity’s new Muse and Sentis AI systems and its implication for developers bubbling under, all the talk of an upcoming Unity announcement was decidedly upbeat. However when the news eventually broke on September 12, AI innovation was pretty far from the top line takeaway… Instead of making things easier it looked like Unity’s new pricing structure - and the introduction of the Unity Runtime Fee - would make things a whole lot harder for aspiring devs…

September 13th: Unity's big cash grab: Unity Runtime Fee explained, what it could mean, and how you can dodge it

With opinion swirling and the reasons behind Unity’s move growing increasingly confused we caught the mood of the moment and put all the facts in one place.

September 13th: Unity Runtime Fee: "Isn't it hard enough already?" The industry speaks out

And it didn’t take long for a tidal wave of social comment to tell it like it is. Devs and publishers big and small took to social media to vent their confusion and anger and ask the questions that needed to be answered.

September 13th: Unity take to X to clarify new runtime fees, but fails to stem the tide of discontent

Unity take to X (formerly Twitter) to take the sting out of the story, addressing users' concerns and claiming that 90% of users won’t see any kind of change. However the issue of them charging an unavoidable new fee for users too embedded within their platform to make a change does still rankle in the comments…

September 14th: Unity's CEO John Riccitiello sold shares a week before their pricing bombshell

It just gets murkier and weirder. It’s revealed that John Riccitiello, Unity’s CEO sold shares in the company a week before dropping its pricing bombshell. While the reasons for the sale are most likely unconnected and the amounts fairly trivial (2000 shares) the timing is, at best, absolutely thoughtless. And the bigger picture of the CEO selling off 50,610 shares in the company he runs across its last tumultuous 12 months (during which the share price dropped 80%) isn’t exactly ‘a good look’.

September 14th: Unity closes two offices following death threat

Now things are getting bizarre. Unity are forced to temporarily close two of their offices - one which was set to feature an appearance from Unity CEO John Riccitiello himself - after death threats are received. Icing on the cake? Rumors suggest that the perpetrator was one of Unity’s own employees.

September 15th: Developers issue collective ultimatum to Unity. "No more ironSource or Unity Ads until RunTime conditions are reviewed."

In an unprecedented move, game developers big and small come together to pen a single agreed Collective Letter to Unity. And rather than simply being a plaintive request for a change of mind, this one has a sting in its tail… Developers including Azur Games, Voodoo, Homa, SayGames, CrazyLabs and more remove ironSource and Unity Ads from their titles, shutting off Unity’s ads money tap until plans for the introduction of Unity Runtime Fee are “immediately canceled”

September 15th: Even the European Games Developer Federation takes a swipe at Unity

Yup, the European Games Developer Federation wants a piece of Unity too, addressing the concerns of their members at the highest level to decry the reliance on Unity’s systems and blame existing EU legislation for a scenario in which an American software giant is able to effectively hold the European development community to ransom.

September 15th: The experts speak out.

Multiple big names from around the games world step in with their thoughts and hopes for the future. Including Game Maker's Toolkit founder Mark Brown, Miniclip's Sérgio Varanda and Lightheart Entertainment’s CEO Kalle Kaivola all asking all the right questions.

September 15th: Dear John... AppLovin CEO Adam Foroughi wades into the Unity Runtime fee debate with letter to Riccitiello

Rounding out a tumultuous week the Applovin CEO - a man who clearly only ever has Unity boss's John Ricccitiello's VERY BEST interests at heart after they snubbed Applovin and bought ironSource instead - writes AN ACTUAL LETTER to the beleagured boss. Only he doesn't just write it to its intended recipient, he sends it to everyone in the industry instead. Of course.

September 18th: Unity back down following mass-dissent over its Runtime Fee plans

It's over!… Only it isn't… Unity take to social media to say that "We have heard you" (how could they have failed to?) and promise "changes to the policy". As to what form such changes will take, Unity haven't - at the time of writing - made clear and - most likely - don't know themselves. But with a million Unreal Engine manuals creaking open round about now, they had to do something, right?

September 18th: “We fucked up on many levels..." Unity co-founder David Helgason wades into the Runtime Fee debacle

There's nothing like clear corporate comms. And this is nothing like clear corporate comms… After a week of biting his tongue and watching the company he co-founded with the goal of democratising development be tarred as evil money grabbers, the much admired David Helgason has waded in with comment. And while his words may well be totally unofficial (and there's likely a fair amount of personal face-saving and distancing at play here...) his reputation has meant that he's done the best job so far of calming Unity's storm.

September 18th: TIGA calls for CMA intervention on Unity’s proposed Runtime Fees

Pile on! UK games industry body TIGA put the boot into Unity for their overhaul of install fees, calling for nothing less than the UK Competition & Markets Authority to step in and yank collars.

September 19th: A 4% cap and self-reported data: Inside the rollback of the Unity Runtime Fee

With all eyes on 'what will Unity do next?' the leaking of a recording from a Unity all-hands meeting - starring CEO John Riccitiello - was bound to escape the building… Official word on exactly what they're going to do is yet to break cover, but this leak helps break the ice.

September 20th: No love lost: AppLovin helpfully releases tool to switch from Unity to Godot or Unreal

After openly penning a letter to the Unity CEO telling him how he's doing everything all wrong (see above) AppLovin heap on the Unity love by releasing a tool to help developers switch away from Unity. Thanks, guys…

September 21th: The United Game Dev's collective protest letter to Unity has 922 sign-ups

Despite mysteriously going off line during September 20... The site comes back live on September 21, and is now boasting a huge list of 922 members, all willing to switch off Unity Ads and ironSource back-ends in their games until Unity take back their proposed Runtime Fee.

October 10th: Unity CEO John Riccitiello exits after runtime fee backlash

Nope. This is one storm he couldn't weather. Despite the dust seemingly having settled, Unity's collective management hivemind feels the need to pin the blame for the bad move (that everyone's just gotten used to) by offing the guy who's been leading the company for the last ten years. We can only assume that his golden parachute is suitably well stuffed as veteran safe-hand Jim Whitehurst steps into Riccitiello's hotseat.

November 14th: Unity CEO Jim Whitehurst tackles the Runtime Fee farrago one last time

He didn't have to go there… But he did. Unity's new CEO Jim Whitehurst takes to the stage at their Unity Unite event - his first outing in the role and Unity's first live event for four years - and tackles the elephant in the room. "We should never ever surprise you with a decision that has a material impact on you that you don’t know about. That is something I will commit to you going forwards," he says.

Is this over yet? The Runtime Fee kicks in with introduction of Unity 6. Let's see what happens…

Photo by Ryan Snaadt on Unsplash