Game engine creator Unity has upset a lot of gamers and game developers with its latest move. And it could have far-reaching implications in the gaming world, including potentially crippling a number of the best VR headsets — especially the upcoming Apple Vision Pro.
On September 12, Unity announced that it would begin charging a “Runtime Fee” which is essentially a fee charged to game developers using the Unity engine every time a game is installed. This install fee would be applied to all games that made $200,000 or more from January 1, 2023, to December 31, 2023, and that have at least 200,000 installs over their lifetime.
These install fees are particularly bad news for virtual reality. Many of the best VR games use Unity, including my personal favorite Superhot VR, and this move could force VR developers to switch to new engines, delist popular VR games, or even get out of VR gaming altogether. Especially since these fees could ultimately apply to pirated game copies and review copies, on top of copies sold.
But no VR headset may be more impacted by this change than the Apple Vision Pro. That’s because Apple is relying on a tool called PolySpatial to develop and port games to the new headset. When PolySpatial was announced, we said it could “instantly give Apple a massive library.” And on paper, it certainly seemed that way. PolySpatial would allow developers to either create or port over both immersive 3D games and windowed 2D games in visionOS. For developers that wanted to get onto the new VR headset as soon as possible, PolySpatial should have been a gift.
Now, PolySpatial could be an anchor weighing down Apple’s first VR headset rather than a proverbial life raft ensuring the new headset comes with a vast library of VR games. Using PolySpatial could incur these same install fees for games not initially developed in the Unity engine, and even if it isn't, developers are fleeing from Unity in droves and are unlikely to come back — even if it means they miss out on Apple’s first headset.
Unity’s decision angers VR developers alongside the rest of the gaming community
Unity's announcement sparked a major outcry, particularly on Twitter (X). VR game developers are already chiming in, with Ryan Engle from GOLF+, a game that at one point came included with the Meta Quest 2, was one of several VR developers to voice their displeasure and outrage at Unity’s new fees (h/t UploadVR).
But outside of VR gaming, Unity is also often used by indie game developers and mobile game developers. These are not major developers charging $60-$70 per copy of a game — many games affected are significantly lower in price if not outright free.
Buy Cult of the Lamb now, cause we're deleting it on Jan 1st. 😘 https://t.co/nSWg9DP0shSeptember 12, 2023
Our friends at GamesRadar interviewed 10 game developers following the announcement and they were unanimous in their disdain for the move, citing concerns over the financial risks it raises. Cult of the Lamb developer Massive Monster has even gone as far as announcing that its popular indie game will be delisted on January 1st to avoid incurring install fees.
For its part, Unity has said in a tweet that “more than 90% of our customers will not be affected by this change.” But even if that is true, the damage might already be done. And if that’s the case, it might cripple VR gaming.
Hopefully, cooler heads ultimately prevail and Unity will walk back its decision soon. The company has already been forced to close offices after receiving credible death threats, which is obviously a gross overreaction despite the fact that Unity's install fees could put some studios in financial danger.