The future of 3D just took a huge hit: Unity‘s new per-install pricing

    Let’s deep dive into Unity‘s new pricing and what it means for enterprise and non-game 3D creators

    Unity - one of the largest providers of 3D and Game engine middleware on the planet - just announced a new pricing model, which is a gut punch for 3D creators everywhere and makes their motto of „enabling creators and democratizing access to tools“ more than a little bit hypocritical.

    Let’s look at the new model and what it means, especially for non-gaming 3D creators out there: agencies, enterprise users and freelancers working on non-gaming or serious gaming content.

    The changes in numbers

    Starting January 2024 Unity will adopt a per-install-based pricing. Any unique installation of what they are now calling the „Unity Runtime“ (as opposed to the Unity Editor) will cost you - on top of what you will continue to pay for your monthly license to use Unity at all.

    The new per-install fee clearly targeted at large scale games with a multi-million user strong audience - but what about enterprise 3D users?

    For a company using Unity Pro this means that as soon as you hit 1,000,000 installs across all your apps* you will pay 15,000€ for the next 100,000. if your growth rate does not exceed 500,000 new installs per month you will stay at this price, meaning every 100,000 new installs will cost you 15,000€.

    If you’re on the enterprise plan the price is 7,500€ per every 100,000 new installs. Same tiers apply.

    So in theory, going from 1 million users to two million users will cost you 150,000€ (or 75,000€ for enterprise) in additional, new and totally unexpected license fees.

    *by the time of publishing this article this fact has been clarified to mean on a per-project basis

    It's so much worse than a revenue share

    This fee, mind you, goes for any installation wether you make money form it or not, even if it's just a device running your automated testing suite.

    The revenue share Unreal Engine is asking for seems rather harmless compared to what Unity is trying to pull here. Already, reporting your revenue to any third party is no fun if it's just to have that third party determine how much money you are obligated to pay them based on the numbers you report. Having to report "number of installations" seems so much worse, if only because its so much less straight forward.

    And of course, Unity has failed to make clear how these installations are going to be tracked. This has A) huge privacy implications, especially when working with or for enterprise companies and B) does not specify how un-installations are going to be handled.

    Here are some of the questions users are asking:

    Is there a central server somewhere?
    Is there an activation process for each device? Is an internet connection required?
    What counts towards one of these pesky installations?
    It is also not clear what Unity will count as a singular installation.
    Will resetting your device re-trigger a new installation?
    Will uninstalling and reinstalling re-trigger an installation?
    And if so, how are they tracking that?

    This is a valid question. Because on Apple it is pretty much impossible to track an installation on a per-device basis.

    So at the end of the day you will end up paying for installations, but you also might end up paying for double, triple and maybe many times more for installations on the same device.

    This becomes especially frustrating if you think about running automated tests for your 3D application. Because then the number of test devices is basically limitless. So if you think about running an app on a hundred unique devices, which are reset after each run, and there's a thousand test runs easy for a medium-sized project you might already end up with 100,000 installations.

    What does it mean for serious-gaming/visualization/AR/VR?

    For any non-gaming or serious gaming or enterprise-use application built with Unity 3D to hit 1 Million installations would be a massive achievement and is very unlikely. Let's face it: enterprise apps have much smaller target audiences.

    While it is true that reaching 1 million installations for non-gaming or serious gaming applications built with Unity 3D may be a significant accomplishment, it is not impossible. And in case it happens, try telling your enterprise customer they now owe you and additional 15,000€ license fees (which you are not earning a single penny on) to go to 1.1 million installations.

    So, what should you do?

    If you're running a digital agency and using Unity as a tool, here are 3 things you should do now:

    1) Take stock of your usage numbers from your analytics tool of choice. If you don't have one integrated in your apps yet – take this as a wake up call and integrate one. Try to gage which of your apps, if any, are affected in January of 2024 or will be within the 12-24 months after that.

    2) Run the numbers. Seriously, it's just a simple excel sheet. Do it. Once you have the numbers you know how big of an issue you are facing. Only 1 out of 50 people will face an issue at all. And if your non-gaming or serious 3D app is about a 1M-device install base it's first and foremost a reason to celebrate and nothing else.

    3) Talk to your Unity sales rep. Unfortunaltey the quality of account mangement has gone way down over the past couple of years. Chances are your account manager has changed every few months over the past couple of years. However, if you are persistent and quickly ask for your case to be escalated you will quickly end up with someone capable to talk to.

    This is what you should do. Here's what you should not do:

    • Don't start porting your app to a different 3D engine or tech stack. We are so not there yet.
    • Don't let your nerdy coders, who wanted to work with something more hardcore than Unity from the get-go, tell you that NOW is the time to finally move to Unreal Engine or build your own 3D engine. We will so never ever be there!
    • Approach your customers about this. This is not a done deal. My best guess is the folks at Unity just threw this out there to test the waters. Whatever their final model will be it will be much more harmless than this.

    Where do we go from here?

    In summary the new pricing shows that even after more than a decade and a half in business Unity has not made up their minds about wether they are a game company or a 3D company.

    I expect there will be a huge and very loud backlash from game creators and the games industry on this. On the enterprise side I expect a more silent development: non-gaming companies will just stop onboarding or even start actively switching away from Unity. After all we are talking about the equivalent of Microsoft charging for people who read your Word documents. Enterprises will neither have the understanding nor the patience for that kind of monetization approach.

    Other than that, let's wait and see what happens. This is a developing story, I am sure of it.

    In the meantime, if you are looking for an alternative solution that does not make you dependent from big tech companies like Unity, feel free to reach out to us and learn more about our no-code 3D platform.

    Rodrigo Angstrom

    Rodrigo ist bei Vuframe im Produkt Management tätig.