Can Unity ever reconnect with developers after their pricing saga?

Unity Technologies has been put through the grinder over the last five weeks. One public announcement of intent to tweak pricing models and introduce a “Runtime Fee” resulted in all hell breaking loose. An angry mob consisting of game developers, media and influencers came down hard on the company spurring a media frenzy that resulted in the stock value going down over 20%, developers pledging to leave the platform and the CEO stepping down.

We are now entering an era of détente between the company and its developers. Can trust be won again, public perception swayed, or are we witnessing the slow demise of to one of the best engines for mobile game and indie developers?

Short backstory on how we got here

On Sept. 12, 2023, Unity decided to announce a major change in its pricing model, and based on the immediate backlash, hadn’t consulted the developers using the Unity Engine even once about it. As a result, many devs announced that they were leaving, while others wrote open letters against the model. Some even decided to turn off Unity monetization until they were headed.

The backlash was so immense that barely five days later, Unity announced that it would be making changes to the policy. They also apologized and said that it was talking to the community, customers, and partners to resolve the situation. Nonetheless, to many developers, the question arises why wasn’t this done in the first place?

Soon, the company announced a revamped pricing model. It didn’t pull back on it completely. Instead, it made changes as a part of which the new runtime fee policy will only take effect with games made in the new version of Unity, set to launch in 2024. Additionally, no game with less than $1 million in revenue over a 12-month period will be subject to the fee. You can read the full changes here.

Nonetheless, the engine, used by many mobile game and indie developers, lost the already dwindling confidence of game devs behind it. Something needed to be done, and Unity responded by announcing that John Riccitello, the CEO and president, would be stepping down.

Is this enough to reassure game developers?

Riccitiello Unity

Mr. Riccitiello absorbed most of the blame for Unity’s recent actions

Plenty of work remains to regain developer’s trust

Branden Sheffield, the director at Necrosoft Games, welcomed the move on X and stated that it was a start for Unity to rebuild trust. The initial announcement a month ago did make the devs realize one thing – the effect of a sudden and unconsulted pricing model change.

One recent article on Wired captured a sentiment game devs and the larger community have: Any change Unity now makes can reversed when they decide its time to reverse it.

As a result, developers get virtually zero agency to commit into development with this engine.

While Riccitello might be moving on, it’s certainly not enough to regain the trust behind the Unity Engine. One of the main reasons is that the pricing model change isn’t a decision made solely by one person. For a public company like Unity, it was certainly consulted with the board of directors, who continue to remain. In fact, as soon as the announcement was made, some Redditors and X users also want to go after the board of the company and anyone tied to Sequoia Capitol or Silver Lake or any company they arbitrarily deem worthy of punishment.

Currently, Unity has appointed James M Whitehurst, formerly president of IBM, as the new interim CEO. In its release, Unity said that:

“The Board will initiate a comprehensive search process, with the assistance of a leading executive search firm, to identify a permanent CEO.”

James Whitehurst Unity

James Whitehurst must bring Unity stability while the company identifies a new CEO

Every developer undoubtedly harbors the thought of what might happen if the dev were to reduce its pricing caps again in the coming years. Being deep into a development cycle and having the threat of immediate pricing tweaks with virtually no say is something that developers have to consider moving forward.

Unity’s new permanent CEO appointment will play a major role in regaining the trust of developers. In the wake of these recent developments, Unity faces a crucial journey ahead to either rebuild its relationship with game developers or lose all momentum they built until this point.

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