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What is happening to Unity? The controversy behind the Hollow Knight and Cult of the Lamb engine

We examine the details behind the controversy surrounding Unity, the most popular graphics engine in the independent scene.

Update:
Unity polémica

Hollow Knight, Cult of the Lamb, Blasphemous, and Cuphead have something in common: their game engine. For years, Unity has powered hundreds of independent projects, but now its current CEO wants to change the business model that gave it its position in the market.

Where does Unity stand after the changes?

John Riccitiello, the company’s CEO, has in the last few hours announced the changes he plans to make to the way Unity is used and marketed. First of all, the currently free Personal version will no longer be usable without an Internet connection. The following models (Plus, Pro and Enterprise) will require a fee under a subscription model that will be mandatory for developers who consider themselves professionals.

The most controversial aspect of Unity, however, is that developers working with Unity pay a fee for each installation of their game. For example, if a user installs The Cult of the Lamb, its developers will have to pay a certain amount to Unity. Games on Unity’s free plan that exceed 200,000 downloads and $200,000 in revenue will have to pay 20 cents per install. This will start in 2024.

“Our core point with this is simply to make sure that we have the right value exchange so that we can continue to invest in our fundamental mission to make sure that we can deliver the best tools for people to make great games,” the company told Axios. Shortly after the announcement, some changes have already been made in this new wave of its model. For example, demos will no longer trigger installation payments, and final games will only require payment for the user’s first installation.

What do Unity developers have to say?

Unsurprisingly, the independent community is up in arms. The first to speak out was Devolver Digital, an authoritative voice as a major publisher in this market. “Definitely include what engine you’re using in game pitches. It’s important information!,” they point out in the ironic tone that characterizes them.

Some will take drastic measures. The developers of Cult of the Lamb have announced that now is the best time to buy the game, as they will be “deleting” its presence in digital stores as of January 1, 2024. On the other hand, Gloomwood’s lead developer has confirmed that the project will be “the last” he makes based on Unity if the announced changes become reality. “An install fee is an absurd and horribly abusive system,” Dillon Rogers revealed.

Many accounts, independent studios, and companies oppose the measures. As is evident, Unity’s rivals find in the controversy an opportunity to receive the mass of the community that will leave the engine. Epic Games with Unreal Engine or Godot 4 are some examples.

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