Unity is going down the drain

Sep 15, 2023
Now we know what the new Unity is all about. And it’s not us. 😞
Just like many other people out there, I’m angry. I’m angry because I care so much.

Unity was a great little engine…

It started out in a flat in flat Denmark, with a great mission: bring affordable tooling to aspiring indie game devs! Back in 2008 I was looking at all the game engine options out there and when I stumbled upon Unity I knew that this was something that I could make a game with by myself. I bought a Mac, bought an Indie License of Unity 2.5, quit my job at a AAA studio and started making my own games!
My home-office desk sometime in 2010. There I was, happily making my own games in Unity. Sigh.My home-office desk sometime in 2010. There I was, happily making my own games in Unity. Sigh.
My home-office desk sometime in 2010. There I was, happily making my own games in Unity. Sigh.
Life was great, it was a little community of like-minded people, full of good energy and interesting ideas.
And then Unity started taking on Venture Capital money, grew their team to insane proportions, got strong-armed into replacing their likable CEO with John Riccitiello, the indifferent sleepwaker who had just made a name for himself as slave-driver CEO of EA (look up “EA Spouse” for a refresher). Then they merged with somewhat shady app monetization company IronSource. And it’s been downhill from there. Downhill for us, for the Unity devs, and even for the stock price.
It came just as we all suspected at the time: Riccitiello didn’t give a shit about indie game developers, nor did he care about democratization, nor did he give a shit about about Unity (the tool). So while we watched our favourite game engine dissolve into a pile of half-broken and disconnected pieces, he started up a lot of services, built an ad network and generally focused on all sorts of things that we neither wanted nor needed.
In Riccitiello’s mind game development is all about making money through whatever means necessary. He admires the ones that “massively embrace how to figure out what makes a successful product”. You need to acquire users through Unity Ads, then track their every move through Unity’s Analytics and LiveOps dashboards, then monetize the shit out of your users through IAP and ads. And everyone who doesn’t see it that way is a “f****** idiot” (quote Riccitiello)
John Riccitiello in his happy place (presumably)John Riccitiello in his happy place (presumably)
John Riccitiello in his happy place (presumably)
Here’s the full quote:
[Pocket Gamer:] Implementing monetisation earlier in the process and conversation is certainly an angle that has seen pushback from some developers. Riccitiello: Ferrari and some of the other high-end car manufacturers still use clay and carving knives. It’s a very small portion of the gaming industry that works that way, and some of these people are my favourite people in the world to fight with – they’re the most beautiful and pure, brilliant people. They’re also some of the biggest fucking idiots. I’ve been in the gaming industry longer than most anybody – getting to the grey hair and all that. It used to be the case that developers would throw their game over the wall to the publicist and sales force with literally no interaction beforehand. That model is baked into the philosophy of a lot of artforms and medium, and it’s one I am deeply respectful of; I know their dedication and care. But this industry divides people between those who still hold to that philosophy and those who massively embrace how to figure out what makes a successful product. And I don’t know a successful artist anywhere that doesn’t care about what their player thinks. This is where this cycle of feedback comes back, and they can choose to ignore it. But to choose to not know it at all is not a great call. I’ve seen great games fail because they tuned their compulsion loop to two minutes when it should have been an hour. Sometimes, you wouldn’t even notice the product difference between a massive success and tremendous fail, but for this tuning and what it does to the attrition rate. There isn’t a developer on the planet that wouldn’t want that knowledge.
So now that you’ve re-read the segment where Riccitiello insults people who have not allowed greed to overtake their principles, does it not seems to you that he tries to make it sound like this is the logical next step in the evolution of game developers? The master-race of game developers only cares about monetization, huh?
Riccitiello’s vision of a smart game developer (presumably)Riccitiello’s vision of a smart game developer (presumably)
Riccitiello’s vision of a smart game developer (presumably)
In my humble opinion this is an extremely misguided direction. I believe that we should focus on making good games with interesting mechanics and great stories. That is what indie games are all about!
Never in the history of gaming has a game been made better by implementing new monetization strategies.
I don’t want to spend my life with games that manipulate me into addiction so they can forever coerce me into spending money on meaningless fluff. No, I see games as a way to enrich our lives and to open up our minds. But maybe that’s just me. And maybe that means that Unity is no longer the game engine for me. 😞
Games are an art-form that enriches our lives and opens up our minds.Games are an art-form that enriches our lives and opens up our minds.
Games are an art-form that enriches our lives and opens up our minds.
Let’s have a little rant…

What do we actually need from a game engine?

I appreciate the extensible visual editor, the 3D engine and the ability to build for different platforms. I need a UI system, animation system, particle system and networking. Do you need 3000+ employees to do this? Could you maybe spare 50 of those to actually make those bits good?
UI system: Is anyone having a good time using UGUI? Try anchoring elements to each other in non-trivial ways or just try to get the pixel size of an element… Compare that experience to NGUI, which does all of this with ease - and it’s written by a single guy (in fact Unity hired that same guy to work on UGUI, but he eventually quit)
Animation System: Mecanim - talk to some Animators coming from AAA studios - they have strong opinions on its shortcomings… And if you want to scratch your head a lot in bewilderment - check out the underlying Playables API.
Do I need their broken mess of a Networking system? Definitely not. (How many attempts have they had at making a decent networking system? I’ve stopped counting… Remember that stretch of time when they deprecated the old networking system, but the new one wasn’t ready yet? 🤦‍♂️)
I assume the new input system was specifically designed to keep new users away?
Render Pipelines: URP, HDRP, Standard Renderer, oh get a grip. How much more confusing can we make this for new developers?
Who else has been looking forward to DOTS for many, many, many years?
Audio System: every serious project uses FMOD or Wise
Oh! Have you tried making a new project for the Quest 2 recently? Step one: ignore the VR template. 🤦‍♀️ Why have a template system and then not make any usable templates?
What features have they added since Unity 5 that I really wanted?
How many of their new services do I actually need?
Ads, user tracking, etc. - Don’t want it. I want to make good games, not annoy my users or invade their privacy.
Cloud Build? Sounds great in theory, but even after several years it does not support IL2CPP builds for Windows - you know the one target that you’re supposed to use when you make a Windows build. You’ve got to be kidding me…

Unity is about to drive away its core user base

My point is this: a decent CEO would have all of this under control. The focus would be on the tools and they’d be freaking solid. Sure, have a few people on the team who chase every fad and try all the things, but make sure your actual product is good.
Unity is a publicly listed company and as such it’s all about generating value for the shareholders. And what the shareholders have to realise is that Unity is about to lose their core user base.
This week’s announcement is another short-sighted step in the wrong direction and a gross violation of the trust of loyal users like me. Hey, surprise additional fee for everyone who’s moderately successful! And it’s done in such a stupid way - per install. So if you have a game with staying power you have another bill coming every time your user-base upgrades their phones and reinstalls your game? You’re going to pay for every pirated copy, for every review-copy, for every free copy you hand out? For every update you release? Every sale to someone with multiple devices or family sharing costs you twice, three-times, four-times as much? Oh the stupidity! 🤦 And did I mention that somehow the gambling industry(!) is excluded from having to pay fees? 🤯
And yes, you also need to continue to pay your subscription fee, except we’re cancelling the cheaper option, sorry.
Well, if you still had any doubts - this shows us what the new Unity is all about. And it’s not us.
We’ve had enough. #FireRiccitiello

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