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.