We need talk about Unity, the game engine
Last week brought a lot of big and wild news. Unity Game Engine announced pricing changes that upset and confused many developers. For those that were camping off the grid for a week here’s the scoop.
While Unity themselves have already announced that they are walking back this policy change, they have yet to identify how. And what remains is broken trust.
So if you’re a game developer working solo or with a team and use Unity you likely have already considered a new game engine. We agree that’s a shrewd consideration.
We also want to remind you that we are vendor agnostic. This means we are not necessarily for or against any particular software or hardware. We use a wide variety of different vendor’s technologies and consult you on the best fit for your goals. We tend to prefer free open source software because it is free as in freedom. This means you have control over your tech and executive boards cannot make broad changes on a whim. There are major downsides to this approach including requiring extra support from a community that is often part-time or volunteer.
The Switch, it’s not just Nintendo anymore
We also recognize switching game engines in the middle of development is madness. But you don’t have to take our word for it, just listen to Tom Coxon developer of Cassette Beasts. While you’re at it, if you like creature collector games like Pokemon, you owe it to yourself to play his delightful indie game!
Better off wait for the next project to switch, especially now that Unity themselves may be reversing course on some of the policy changes.
What’s the big deal? How did we get here?
Way back in 2014 when CEO of EA had left to become the new CEO of Unity technologies many people saw this as a warning sign. Riccitiello said about a year ago that mobile game developers who opted not to use Unity’s advertising tools were “some of the biggest f@#$ing idiots.” And he did that while the company was knee deep in laying off 4% of their employees.
Zoom back to a couple weeks ago when you saw executives selling off stocks ahead of this controversial announcement to require developers to pay every time someone downloads a game made with their engine. This is on top of any subscription license fee you are already paying for their software tools.
(Rust game developer) Facepunch Studios would owe [Unity] $410,000 based on the number of installs.Garry Newman
While it doesn’t appear that any of this is technically illegal, it’s a really bad look for Unity. We have seen reports of people making threats to Unity which is undeniably illegal, wrong, and we do not support such actions. Instead, you do have other options which we will talk about below.
Breach of Trust
On top of new fees, Unity did not do a great job of explaining how they would even measure the amount of fees owed by developers. While there were some forms of exemptions it seems clearly something that would squeeze out a lot of smaller developer studios. It hurts doubly when we remember how Unity started by making a great game engine that was available to learn, use, and pay for all within a small team’s resources.
If you’ve heard our founder say anything you’ve probably heard Alan Youngblood quote the old Russian proverb: “Trust. But verify.” We always work to be open, honest, and understanding so that we can earn the trust of our clients, partners, and community.
What Unity has done whether they reverse it fully or not signals a breach of trust with developers who are their customers. Sadly, there have been some other notable business changes that have at least left people scratching their heads, and at most caused serious damage to their own brand. Or maybe just a reminder that you aren’t getting enough value to resubscribe to a service like Sony’s PSN plus.
I want you back
Things don’t always go over as we expect in life. If you work in the board rooms of a big business or have the ear of someone making these decisions I think there’s a few simple strategies we may suggest:
- Voluntarily freeze stock trading, especially among executives for a few weeks before and after your major business change. Lots of businesses have technical “soak” time built in to monitor the effects of a major change request, it might help your business and finance teams to do the same.
- Know what you are known for. In the examples above Unity is known for being accessible and affordable to anyone wanting to make games; RedHat is known for being the first successful business using the open-source model; Twitter is known for having fun quick quips allowing anyone to participate in the conversation; PlayStation Network was known for adding a lot of value with monthly free games and great online play. In each case, those organizations have been perceived as violating those core identities with the people who matter most.
- We all have to raise our prices some times and it can be painful for all involved. Instead of try to bury the lead look to inform your customers why you see it as necessary. If possible, change the offering of services or products to assure that you are also adding some value to that higher price tag.
- Treat your employees with respect and your customers will notice. If you really need to raise prices to keep your employees it will undermine your case to be laying people off or showing contradictory actions and policies.
Alternative Game Engines
Now for something completely different: good news? Yes, good news! You aren’t totally locked in to a vendor, and while there are concerns when switching tech tools you may find they are worth it. A great way to make the move is to first not make the move. Hear us out, you can get a free version of most of these engines and work on a game jam project over the weekend or in your free time and see if you like it. If not, it’s trivial time investment and then you can try another one from our list or another source.
- Godot Engine – A great free open source software solution that has cross-platform game engine and tools to make 2D and 3D games. Godot is one of the better options for 2D/retro styled games. If you are targeting release of your game on low-end devices or the web we recommend checking out version 3.5.2 or whatever is marked LTS at the time, otherwise you may want to use the version 4.x. We also recommend you get the “with Mono” version especially if you want to keep using C# like you did in Unity. Here’s a quick start guide coming over from Unity.
- Unreal Engine – A great proprietary game engine developed by the teams behind Fortnite, and classic games like Gears of War, and Unreal Tournament. Great for making 3D games and content!
- GameMaker Studio – Boasts itself as The Ultimate 2D Game Engine and with titles like Hyper Light Drifter, Hotline Miami, and Katana Zero it’s easy to see why! Coming from Unity? Here’s a quick start guide to jump right in!
Version Control Systems
As you are navigating some of these decisions and changes at your developer studio, you may encounter something that’s overwhelming or you just want another opinion.
Our company’s founder Alan Youngblood started out his career in game dev and still does it as a hobbyist. We also are excited to share that we have been helping Mighty Rabbit Studios with their IT infrastructure needs this year.
The company has been through a few changes over the years, and they’ve been staffing up while working on new projects this year. One of the early needs was a version control system (VCS) and we consulted with their in house tech lead to design, build, configure and even in this case host their VCS server.
When we started many on their team had experience with Perforce and we set that up. As they grew they asked for a license quote and decided it was no longer the best fit for their needs. We take a lot of pride in being able to quickly spin up a docker image of GitLab that is now their VCS solution.
Growth Pain Points
Much like Mighty Rabbit Studios’ growing pains big changes can also be uncomfortable. But it’s worth it when you have important new goals to meet. If you are not a game developer and you’ve read all of this, thanks! There are actually many ways some of these trends can apply to your business. Big change happens everywhere and whether it is by seeming edict or necessity of your operations we want to help smooth out your technology.
I came here to make games and chew bubble gum…
And I’m all out of gum!
For the game developers out there if you haven’t already, contact us! Share this article with your friends in the industry. We have over a decade of IT industry experience on top of experience with game dev. We are fluent in your dialect and can quickly help you with any tech challenges you face.
Enjoyed reading our thoughts here? Want to hear more about a new way of thinking in economics for your business? Check out our post about Doughnut Economics to see how re-thinking the economy can serve your goals better and prevent PR and productions disasters like we discussed today.