May 212013

Anytime I criticize Unity3D, I am quick to point out that it cost me 4,500 USD just to install it. For a poor indie developer, that’s a lot of money, especially considering that all of the tools used to make Monster Loves You! were absolutely, 100% free*.  Going from a free environment to one where the barrier to entry is nearly $5K is a bit of a shock.

Still, people get confused – isn’t Unity free?

Well, for most people, yes – yes it is. But Unity has one little gotcha in their licensing terms:

  • If you are an incorporated entity (I am),
  • and you have a “turnover” of over $100,000 in the last fiscal year (I did),
  • Then you must pay $1,500 for Unity plus $1,500 each for Android and iOS (which I need for my cross-platform games),
  • And everyone working on the project must pay this (you may not mix paid and free versions in your org, for any plugin or license).

This brings my total to $4,500, but some of my developer friends have paid over $10,000 per seat because of their specific unity requirements. I hear the console plugins are hella-expensive.

Just today Unity announced that the basic versions of their mobile plugins has gone free-of-charge, which is awesome and enough to get most people started, but the basic editions are missing critical features that most developers will want to take advantage of – then the price jumps back up to $1,500 per platform.

It’s hard to bitch out-loud about this though, because the “$100K turnover” thing implies that I am rich and I should be able to afford it. As soon as I start complaining about this, people start making accusations about why my money-losing business should be a charity or some such. But it’s more complex than that. Here’s the thing: a turnover, specifically, is not profit.  As a quick example, Unity doesn’t care if you spend $40K hosting a unity-themed charity game-jam and recoup $40K in ticket prices and sponsorships. Though you are not doing this for profit and just trying to give back to the community, that counts as 40% of your “turnover” right there.

Turnover is a terrible metric for who should get the “indie edition.”

Here at Radial Games, I do a lot of giving back to the community. I get reimbursed (not paid) to travel to schools and speak for students; I put on game jams and pay for them out-of-pocket, with sponsors and ticket sales making up the cost.  Last year I ran a local meetup group that met more than twice per month.  Sure, I have a few games making a few dollars here or there, but the events I throw for the community dominate my turnover.

Yes, Radial Games’ bank account received $100,000 in gross income last year.

Right now Radial Games’ bank account has $0 in it.

And I, personally, did not make minimum wage. Legally speaking, if Andy Moore was to take Radial Games to court for abusive employment practices, it would be in some serious financial hot water. I’m not counting “my own personal salary was $100K/yr and now radial is broke;” Radial doesn’t have the money to even pay me enough to live (I take on personal contract work to fill the gaps).

I’m not rich. I’m not “lucky” to be “making” so  much money.  Radial Games is, at this point, more of a facilitator for other people’s success, and I’m very proud of this fact despite the hardships it brings me. I’m confident I’ll be making a modest profit for the first time in this fiscal year, but Unity only cares about last year.

Yes, I can probably restructure my company and make a non-profit division that can use the free edition [edit: The Unity EULA specifies your entire breadth of organizations, so this isn't an out]. Maybe I can sign up for the free edition personally, and not get Radial Games involved in this. Maybe I can just download the free copy and just secretly not tell anyone about it. There are workarounds to this problem, but I like to keep myself on legal solid ground. If I wrote Unity privately, I could probably work something out with them, which goes against my whole ideal of not raising the ladder behind me. And besides, this isn’t my problem, this is Unity’s problem.

So here’s what Unity can do.

Switch away from the “$100K turnover” rule. Make Unity3D cost $4,500 per seat, where each seat owner takes home $100K. Make the rule count for Corporate profit before payroll. Switch it up so that struggling indie developers like myself can use your free product, and not be punished for throwing UNITY THEMED GAME JAMS. 

Hell, drop the requirement if you aren’t doing a commercial release! Right now I’m just poking at the thing, yet I still have to pay the full $4,500.

Don’t make blanket rules and assumptions about how turnover means success.

As a quick side-note, it’s sorta ridiculous that if you DON’T Incorporate and just personally make $100K turnover, you don’t need to upgrade from the free edition. Heh.

*: FlashDevelop + AIR SDK gets you a free compile for PC, Linux, Blackberry, HTML5, Flash, and Android from Windows. I had to buy a copy of OSX to upload iOS builds and compile for OSX targets.  Contractors  may have used tools such as Photoshop for art in Monster Loves You, but this was not paid for by Radial Games.

  16 Responses to “Unity’s License Fees”

Comments (16)
  1. Or, alternately, you can create subsidiaries. Radial Games, a subsidiary of Radial makes income through your gaming business. Radial Jams, a subsidiary of Radial Games, is a nonprofit that raises funds and spends them on game jams. When Radial Games needs a Unity license, only the income of Radial Games need be considered. If Radial Games funds Radial Jams, it’s a tax deduction for Radial Games.

    • I totally can do this, yes! But it seems kinda rediculous that I would change my corporate structure, involve my accountant and my lawyers, to accomodate a silly little Unity license “gotcha” that I can get around by just secretly downloading the free file. Heh.

      I’ve added a paragraph to address this in the original post too (just before the bold line near the end).

  2. To poke around, can’t you just license it as yourself Andy Moore, instead of the company Radial Games? If you do decide to ship a game, then the company buys a license.

    Not sure if that’s allowed or not…seems like it should be.

    • It seems a bit like cheating the system, you know? I mean, I definitely COULD do that, but it seems like Unity might get mad if they found out, right?

      Unless their license terms are just worded poorly. I hope they change them.

  3. Despite the costs would you still recommend Unity to game developers?

  4. Wow yeah, that’s pretty selfish of Unity to lower their prices across the board for the majority of people, instead of structuring their licensing around your loss-making business. You could, I don’t know, price in your costs?

    You said: “Make Unity3D cost $4,500 per seat, where each seat owner takes home $100K”. So you propose that EA Games only needs paid licenses for employees who have a salary over $100k? Not sure that would work out well for Unity.

    • My point is that “Turnover” is a really bad metric for determining who gets free software.

      Considering I just want to dick around with it right now and not release anything commercial; why would I pay $5K for that? That’ll hurt Unity in the long run. They should change it to commercial-only, for example; then it’s win-win for everyone – they get more copies out in the world, more people hooked, and when they DO go commercial they’ll upgrade to the appropriate licensing.

      Right now that’s impossible.

      And please, be careful about claiming my company isn’t making enough money when I’m trying to “do right” by the community and giving back wherever I can (not that I’m tooting my own philanthropic horn here, honestly not considering this bragging!). I’m not sure it’s appropriate to run a charity event and bake into the price an extra $5K to pay for my own personal gamedev stuff. I know I wouldn’t buy a ticket to that jam. (There’s a difference between a non-profit and a failing company, I guess is what I’m saying)

  5. I’m glad you bring that up because yes I too have a company.. i’ve got a game i’d like to make with unity by way of playmaker.. its a game that deserves to be in 3d, but i’ve always found the pro licensing concerning even before this article.. its a big leap.. and i’ve not been fortunate to strike it big on any of my prior games so paying $4500 to reach my respective platforms

    it really shouldn’t be so stacked.. if i want to make iOS only.. why pay $3000.. i don’t care about pc.. or web.. or if android only..

    however i think what is going to really happen here is indie licenses will be used by guys in our situations and unity will just have a legal upper hand but unlikely to do any litigation unless they find some reason. I don’t think they will be auditing anyone..

    that said i agree with you and tend to favor just doing things right / legal.. although i imagine that Construct 2 could come after me for buying a personal license and not a business one.. but i guess them’s the chances you take sometimes as an indie..

    • Yeah, living the indie life means “buying” the “appropriate” license for all of your software, with heavy use of air quotes. There’s definite ways to solve these problems, and all the easiest solutions are – as usual – the illegal ones. Sigh.

  6. example 1

    Andy Moore is hosting the Unofficial Unity Learners workshop at (address). Admission is $10 per person.

    Andy Moore is the person profiting from ticket sales, not Radical Games. Because Andy Moore made over $100,000, he now has to have a Pro license but his company does not because they are separate.

    example 2
    in legal terms, Annual Gross Revenue is the total income for the year of an entity. Lets Say the games Annual Gross Revenue is value A. Radical games makes a joint contract on a game project with Muddy Games Studios. Each company gets a 50% cut of the games sales. Radial Games Annual Gross Revenue isn’t A. Its only half of A. Even if Radical Games got a check from say steam for $100,000. Radical Games only owns half of that check and Muddy Games Studios owns the other half. in fact. if you sold the game on steam, the game would make $400,000 before you were required to purchase pro licenses. Steam gets 50% before Radical Games. This means the projects income is half of what you’re selling it for. and Radical Games Gross Revenue is half of half of the games income.

    this is a hassle to put in legal terms in court if Unity pressed charges, but you are within the legal agreement unity is using.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.