Featured image of post The Enshittification of Game Dev

The Enshittification of Game Dev

Whew. It’s been a week. Unity announced their new pricing model and, boy, the internet was not happy about it.

If you haven’t been paying attention, the long and the short of it is that Unity has decided to change the terms of their license agreement such that the more “successful” a game is, the more the developer will owe Unity. The (biggest, but far from only) trouble is that the size of that debt is determined by “installs”, which is apparently being used as a proxy for sales. I’ll write about what I think of metric proxies at some point, but suffice it to say that this is a particularly problematic proxy. Especially in the age of F2P games.

I’ve been waiting for them to do something like this ever since their IPO and they hired that guy from EA just a few years later. If I’m being really honest, I’m mostly surprised it took this long for the other shoe to drop. It struck me though that Unity is entering the final phase of Cory Doctorow’s enshittification process. Unity really is following the script to a T.

You can see the arc of Unity’s history in detail on Wikipedia, but to summarize:

  • Unity is created in 2005 with the goal of “democratizing” game development. They did a lot in furtherence of this goal, and made themselves valuable to a whole lot of users. And it worked, Unity because the de-facto first choice among hobbyist game developers. This is phase one of enshittification. The value and surplus went to the developers, getting them locked in.
  • Somewhere around 2012 Unity achieves a level of critical mass where it is regarded as a top game engine, especially for mobile platforms. So many people had learned how to use Unity that even the largest studios start working with it because of the ease of acquiring talent and the very healthy ecosystem of add-ons and assets. It’s somewhere around here where phase two of enshittification really got going. More and more features were locked up behind Pro licenses, transitioning the value from the individual developers to the studios they worked for. This continued for some time, as Unity focused more and more effort around supporting the larger studios with features only they needed. Here’s the surplus going to the studios, getting them locked in.
  • This week we saw indisputable evidence that phase three is in full swing. Here’s where the value starts shifting to the shareholders. With this new agreement Unity will start taking a much bigger cut of the value that developers create using their tools. Here’s a great collection of responses from a variety of prominent indie studios to get a deeper sense for how this is being received.

It’s such a perfect example of the enshittification cycle you’d think they did it on purpose. This article points out that their growth has been tanking which has whacked their stock valuation. This is likely what pushed them to try to grab more revenue. Late stage capitalism rearing it’s ugly head yet again. Another great thing is getting destroyed because investors demand infinite growth so they can get their infinite payouts. Speaking of payouts and maybe doing it all on purpose, it seems like our aforementioned CEO unloaded a bunch of stock right before this announcement. Almost as if he knew this move was going to turn the company into the titular PoS, but decided to do it anyway.

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