The Problem with Unity

Sep 23, 2023
Unity Technologies is suffering from an incurable illness that it brought upon itself. Let me explain…
Unity Technologies is suffering from an incurable illness that it brought upon itself. Let me explain…

John Riccitiello

Unity’s current CEO John Riccitiello has always been a proponent of the shadiest and most repulsive forms of monetisation.
“When you are six hours into playing Battlefield and you run out of ammo in your clip and we ask you for a dollar to reload you’re really not very price-sensitive at that point”
He goes on to explain how he’s already spent $5000 that year on micro-transactions and how this is a great model and “represents a substantially better future for the industry.”
You can listen to the full clip here:
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Let me ask you this: Better model for who?
Do you think Battlefield players will enjoy being milked for money while they’re in the middle of an exciting battle? Riccitiello suggest we demand payment under time-pressure whenever our players are in a vulnerable state. I think the correct term for that is “abuse”. You have a long night gaming and wake up the next morning with a hole in your pocket - what a great experience for everyone involved.
I don’t even think it’s a good model for developers, because players will not stick with those kinds of games. I enjoy being “monetized” about as much as I enjoy being inappropriately touched. There is a big difference between designing a fun game and designing a game to be addictive, often times with the help of psychologists. (Rewards for coming back daily, gambling-like unlocks, etc.) This is not how I want to spend my time.
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Riccitiello was CEO of EA when it introduced loot boxes to FIFA in 2008 and last year in 2022 he called developers who don’t make games with monetization in mind “f****** idiots”.


And Riccitiello was working hard on realising his perverse vision of games that focus mainly on monetization. That interview happened while Unity was working out the final details of a $4.4 billion merger with IronSource, a company that focuses on developing technologies for app monetization. Their core product used to be InstallCore a program that allowed those using it for distribution to include monetization, either through advertisements or through installing additional (unwanted) software on the end-user’s computer. And they even went so far as to make those additional installs invisible to the end-user and their anti-virus software. 🤮
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That’s the company that Unity merged with. That’s the poison Unity 💉 injected into its own veins. Now Unity has an additional 1000 employees that do nothing but think about shady ways to 🤑 monetize everything and everyone. They’re in their offices, they’re on the board, they’re prominent amongst shareholders. (IronSource CEO Tomer Bar-Zeev and two others joined the Unity board of directors, IronSource shareholders came out of the merger owning 26.5% of the new Unity.)
There’s no recovering from that. It was only a matter of time before the effects of this would start to show.
Rob Beschizza from BoingBoing put it like this:
Unity isn't a game engine. It's a malware-pushing advertising network which merged with a game engine as a delivery channel and now wears its corpse as its skin.
He has a point.

Board of Directors

Have a look at Unity’s board of directors (have a tearful stifled laugh as you scroll past their values) - there’s Riccitiello, IronSource people, the Co-CEO of Outbrain (an advertising company that’s making money with chumboxes), the former vice-president of AWS, a whole lot of VC people. Oh and Mary Schmidt Campbel, who actually seems cool. And David Helgason is still here, but all he does these days is talk about what a great guy Riccitiello actually is once you get to know him. So all in all: it’s a whole lot of people who only care about money. Who’s left to speak for us, the game developers?
Look, they misspelled “Money”!Look, they misspelled “Money”!
Look, they misspelled “Money”!

How did we get here?

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Unity did not have to give away the base version of its software for free. I was very happy to pay for Unity Indie and later for Unity Pro. But once they had something that resembled the shape of a promising product, investors started waving money in their direction and in turn they demanded a say in what Unity was doing.
First they switched to a subscription model. Subscriptions are no good for indie developers. The best way to go for indies is to eat the upfront cost of your software and hardware, then run on minimal expenses for however long it takes to finish your game. But I digress…
Venture Capital Investors don’t give money to normal businesses with reasonable expenses. No, they give you money to attempt a moon-shot. They’re looking to eventually cash out for a 100x or 1000x return. To get there they need growth, and lots of it. Usually the plan is for you to take the VC money and work at a loss until you’ve killed all the competition, then secure your monopoly and start cashing in. In Unity’s case the idea was to give most of the tools away for free, get everyone to use them - and once they do - start milking the users. (Subscription fees from the top developers, subscription fees for services, Unity-tax on app store purchases, income from devs using their advertising services, etc., etc.)
Unity is no longer interested in game development or game developers. If game development was their focus, they would be working on making solid tools and keeping game developers happy. But over the last few years they have amply demonstrated that that’s not a priority at all anymore. The Unity Editor and its user base are nothing more to them than the growth medium that they can stick their precious advertising services and monetization strategies into.
I’m so sad it has come to this. 😢 Honestly, I feel like open source is the only way forward for indie game developers. So join me on a journey to find a new home… Which open source engine should I try first?

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