Unity’s Outrageous New Pricing Has Placed Indie Games In Troubled Waters

We can't afford to lose these precious gems.

Story Highlights

  • Indie games are an essential part of modern gaming. These brilliant gems introduce creative and ingenious ideas that can even surpass AAA ones at times.
  • Unity’s new price policy that charges a fee-per-install after a certain milestone is a highly controversial step that has earned the animosity of developers.
  • Although a significant problem for every developer, this change could hit indie games and developers the most, who might not be able to adapt to this pricing, and switching engines mid-development could be a nightmare.

Is it only the major developers that have brought gaming to the current level? Surely not. Gaming as we know it would never have been the same without the efforts of Indie developers. For Indie games, there might be a shortage of budget but no restrictions on creativity, as many of them bring such delightful adventures full of love. And there are still many gems among Indie games waiting for you to explore.

Major companies usually have access to customized engines, like Capcom’s RE Engine for example. Indie developers, on the other hand, utilize engines like Unity and Unreal for development purposes. It was all good until Unity decided to change its pricing policy, which can potentially hit Indie developers pretty hard and might cause irreversible harm to existing games and discourage future endeavors.

Unity's new pricing policy (Image Source: Unity)
Unity’s new pricing policy (Image Source: Unity)

Indie Games Are An Undeniable Asset

Ah, Indie gaming, the treasure trove of brilliant ideas free from the shackles of corporate restrictions. Indie games are an integral part of modern gaming, as we can witness the efforts and sometimes unbelievably creative ideas of small-time developers. Indie games are mostly a project full of dedication since a small team is working on them as a passion project. And now with modern tools, this imaginative thinking can reach new heights.

When it comes to big companies, their games are a product of a massive team, and the idea generally follows a script set by many standards and scrutinized by the publisher’s demands. Similarly, when a series has been established and is successful, subsequent titles will follow that template to some extent. With massive production budgets and a gigantic team, you get a project that although a superb creation, follows a set of rules.

With Indie games, you have a small team of dedicated individuals who have no restrictions or superiors looming over them. They can utilize their creativity and develop the project as they wish to. This also comes with certain demerits; with no expert guidance, there is no way of knowing if a particular idea will be good in practice. But the merits also exist like the creative approach is not restricted and sometimes indie developers can produce gems even better than the big names.

As an adult, I find indie games to fit better into my life than most AAA games
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I can list many examples of peerless indie games. Take a look at Hollow Knight. It has become one of the best 2D Metroidvania with its creatively designed environments, excellent level design, and thrilling combat. It also influenced many further games and now we just can’t wait for a Silksong announcement. Similarly, take Dead Cells. Not only is it a magnificent indie game, but also brings a masterclass of indie collaborations.

I’m sure you’ve heard of Undertale at some point. This highly influential game is full of creativity as it provides a unique approach to gameplay. Probably the most surprising entry would be Minecraft. Believe it or not, this massively successful game later acquired by Microsoft started as an Indie project with a small development team. Imagine for a moment a world without Minecraft, or any other indie project for that matter. Gaming would never be the same without these creative ideas.

Can you believe the gigantic Minecraft started as an Indie game?
Can you believe the gigantic Minecraft started as an Indie game?

Unity’s New Pricing Is A Poison For Developers

As I mentioned, big companies have access to their particular engines, while most others like regular developers and indie games rely on either Unity or Unreal Engine. Even among these options, Unity was preferred because of its ease of use and access, compared to Unreal’s steeper learning curve. Thus, many of the games you know and love utilize the Unity engine and are now affected by the parent company’s renewed pricing policy.

So what exactly is this new policy that has become such a problem? Unity announced it will charge a small fee from the developers for every install of their game. Some inside changes preceded this decision that are controversial. Before clarifications, people took it that every install would count, whether it be new it re-installs, which can lead to outrageous charges. However, Unity made some clarifications that only new install counts and the fee is applicable after a certain milestone.

As we can see, the fee of $0.20 per install starts when a game reaches $200,000 in revenue in the past 12 months and 200,000 lifetime installs. According to Unity, “This means a low (or no) fee for creators who have not found scale success yet and a modest one-time fee for those who have.” However, is it truly so? All the developers around the world seem to think otherwise as this has sparked a worldwide outrage.

Looking at this, a lot of their arguments are certainly valid. First off, we’re not sure how Unity will keep track of this first install-only thing. Multiple factors need to be taken into consideration. What about installs that take place as a result of piracy? Would those installs be charged too? We have no concrete answer to this yet. Similarly, what about the titles present in subscription services?

Services like Game Pass and PS Plus are excellent exposure platforms for certain games. New ideas, especially indie games can benefit immensely from being on the service, as people are more eager to try them when there are no extra charges involved. So, consider a game gaining popularity on the service. This will lead to a high number of installs and developers would be struck with insane charges.

Game Pass is a blessing for Indie games, but it seems Unity's about to negate that
Game Pass is a blessing for Indie games, but it seems Unity’s about to negate that

Because of this new policy, developers are raising their concerns and uniting against these changes. Unity is constantly trying to clarify the policy changes, but a lot of the arguments are pretty solid and this is a step that can surely hit developers pretty hard. It can be a slow-acting poison for many games, in the way that charges will start piling up as the game becomes more popular.

Indie Games Would Suffer The Most From The New Policy

You can gauge the seriousness of the problem by how every developer is raising their voice regarding this decision. For games that are still early in development, they are even switching to a different option to avoid the uncertain charges piling up later. And that’s where my point comes in; Indie developers are going through the most harm because of this decision. Can they afford to scrap development and start again?

Consider an Indie project that is substantially far in development, what happens to it? They can’t start developing from scratch again, and they can’t launch a project with a high degree of risk. This dilemma can hurt present Indie development and even discourage potential developers. Also, what about the games that are already using the engine? Once the costs start piling up on them, will the small teams that created a passion project be able to keep up with the charges?

Another thing to note is Unity claims the charges will only apply once the game gains some recognition. So what should Indie developers do in this case, pray their game never crosses that limit? Consider yourself as a game developer who released a small project with all your passion. If the game ends up succeeding, I’m sure nothing would be more delightful. But then, you’re suddenly hit with an uncertain amount of charges that make it difficult to generate any profit. What would you feel?

I’m sure that would be a dreadful feeling, one that can discourage any new developer from venturing into the domain. And we need Indie games now more than ever. Recently, remakes and remasters have become extremely frequent regardless of their need, and new ingenious ideas are the need of the hour. Indie games are an excellent source of this now, since in old times, only corporate giants could afford the insane development costs.

The increasing development and normalization of technology led to these basic features becoming cheap enough that a small team or even a single individual can work on a project of their dreams. This led to the birth of many creative ideas and revolutionary concepts for us to enjoy. However, with these increased costs whose magnitude is uncertain, Indie development can take a serious hit and we can’t afford to lose these valuable ideas.

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Najam Ul Hassan is a News Reporter on eXputer who enjoys investing hours in his favorite video game titles. When he’s not playing games, he’s practicing Journalism. He began his career on eXputer after combining his limitless love of video games and all things geek with his considerable writing experience. He has been cited numerous times by several noteworthy publications and sites such as Game Rant, Yahoo, PlayStation LifeStyle, VGC, VG247, TheGamer, among others. Experience: 2+ Years || Education: Masters in Mass Media Communication || Written 300+ News Stories.

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