Unity today rolled out its release plans for Unity 5, revealing a tweak to the development platform's business model in the process. Like its predecessors, Unity 5 will be available as a Personal version for free, or in a Professional version available for a $75 monthly subscription plan or as a $1,500 perpetual license.
The big difference is in the nature of the features locked behind a paywall. In Unity 4, developers had to pay for 3D texture support or optimized visual effects like depth of field or motion blur. In Unity 5, all the features of the engine and editor will be available to Personal and Professional users alike. However, those who spring for the Professional version will get access to a number of other features, like cloud-powered features from Unity Cloud Build, a team license tool for managing dozens of people working on the same project, Unity's own analytics utility (currently in beta), and game performance crash reporting (currently in preview).
"we're not nickel-and-diming people and we're not charging a royalty...which I think is akin to looking for whales"
"If you're a seven-figure developer, you can afford $75 a month," Unity CEO John Riccitiello told GamesIndustry.biz. "But if you're not, if you're just getting started or just choose for artistic reasons to give your games away for free, or if you're a hobbyist screwing around or a student, this is free. You get the full power of Unity 5 for free. There's no royalties, no fucking around. It's simple. That's really what we're announcing."
The mention of royalties is a thinly veiled reference to Epic's announcement yesterday that Unreal Engine 4 has dropped its subscription fee entirely, and is now free for developers as long as they consent to a 5 percent royalty on all revenues. When asked if the trend of development platforms growing massive user bases with free versions and relying on a relatively small number of developers for revenue had parallels to the free-to-play trend, Riccitiello balked at the comparison.
"That's actually what our tiny competitor is doing, but not us," Riccitiello said. "Personally, I like free-to-play games, and I've occasionally been a whale on different things. I readily admit to having spent well north of $3,000 on Clash [of Clans] for example, which is a point of pride or embarrassment depending on who I'm talking to, but damn it's a good game."
The point, Riccitiello said, is that the underpinning nature of free-to-play games like Clash of Clans is that they rely on whales who may spend $5,000 or $10,000 a month to pay for all those who don't spend a dime.
"With Unity, it's capped," Riccitiello said. "It's $75 a month or $1,500 for a perpetual license; we're not nickel-and-diming people and we're not charging them a royalty. When we say it's free, it's free. When we say $75 a month, it's $75 a month. Yeah, you can buy other stuff from us. [Unity 5 still offers supplemental subscriptions like Android Pro and iOS Pro.] We're not a one-trick pony, but we're not charging a royalty, which I think is akin to looking for whales. For example, if Candy Crush had a 5 percent royalty, the licensing fee for that would be billions over time, maybe $50 million in a given year. You have to pay $75 a month a lot of times to get to $50 million.
"it's an increasing challenge for developers because with all of these platforms out there, if they don't build content for as many as their games are appropriate on, they leave money on the table"
"I do think you could argue that royalties are quite a bit like free-to-play," he continued. "They sort of hook you and then try to exploit that relationship. That's not what we're trying to do. If you were to walk around Unity, you'll find this point about transparency, clarity... democracy is like every other paragraph of every other conversation. It's a deeply embedded value. We thought for a while about things like royalties, [but] we just didn't think it was right. We thought about the nickel-and-dime model of free-to-play, not to implement it, just to see whether it had any implications for us, but we didn't think so."
Another big selling point of Unity 5 is its support for 21 different platforms. While some developers have bemoaned platform fragmentation as a problem in the industry, Riccitiello sees it a little differently.
"I think you could call it a benefit or a problem or a feature or an irritation, depending on who you are," Riccitiello said. "If you're Windows Phone, you don't think of the third mobile ecosystem as a problem; it's a growing ecosystem they're trying to build... I think it's a challenge for developers to develop code for all of those specs, and it's an increasing challenge for developers because with all of these platforms out there, if they don't build content for as many as their games are appropriate on, they leave money on the table."
As a consumer, Riccitiello enjoys having a multitude of devices on which to game. He doesn't see platform fragmentation as a problem for the players so much, but he does acknowledge it as a challenge for the developer, and one Unity can help solve.
"It's something it took me a while as a boardmember to get, and now as a CEO it's something I do and embody on my own," Riccitiello said. "The underpinning philosophy of Unity is democracy, this idea that we solve hard problems so developers don't have to, married to the idea of wanting to put the most powerful developer tools in the hands of the indie developer even if they can't afford them."