Unity’s Runtime Backstabbing of 2023
On Sept 22nd 2023, Unity tweeted an announcement changing their new new runtime fee plan to something better. Developers and gamers alike rejoiced. On that same day, however, Unity made another tweet. One that was met with much more cynical and judging eyes. This one:
I am in many gamedev discord servers, both public and private, and this tweet was shared a lot in all of them. In one of them it was a shared a total of 5 times, each time by a different person, each time reigniting the same discussion, over a period of 48 hours. People really liked sharing it, and you can see that by the fact that it has over a million views.
The unanimous reaction by all indiedevs who saw it was a mix of befuddlement and mockery. They could not believe that Unity would make such a statement and that they would think people would fall for such an obvious lie. This tweet was taken as further evidence of Unity’s evil intent and I’m sure that it steeled many developers’ resolve in their decision to switch engines. You can see all this in the replies and quote tweets:
What did I think of the tweet? I thought that yea, it was entirely plausible and very likely what actually happened. Because, you know, it’s just the kind of thing that happens at big companies. And they even bolded it, which means that they’re not just saying it casually. They understand that people will think they’re trying to lie again, they understand that even if people take it as the truth it makes them look incompetent, and they decided to say it anyway. In my eyes, this increases the likelihood that it is the truth.
The truth often looks like this. It has a weird shape, when you look at it from one angle it’s one thing, when you look at it from another angle it’s another, and yet they’re somehow both the same thing at the same time. It’s multifaceted and it doesn’t fit anywhere and it doesn’t serve anyone.
Who does the truth that the repository was removed because of low views serve? It doesn’t serve the indie developers, it doesn’t serve the mobile developers pressuring Unity, and it surely doesn’t serve Unity themselves. They gain nothing from saying that the GitHub repository was removed as an accident, because they still changed the TOS itself and that wasn’t an accident. There’s literally nothing about saying this that makes them look good, it either makes them further look evil, or it makes them look incompetent, or both. When things look like this, and no one wins by something being said, and yet it’s said anyway, I’ve found that that’s often the truth.
All indie developers disagreed. So whenever I disagree with a lot of people like this, I want to understand why. You know, I’m not some permanent contrarian who always disagrees with the group. I was agreeing with indiedevs for the past 10 days as the event unfolded, as they finally saw the truth that Unity sucks, as I did all these years. During those 10 days I even felt, dare I say, a sense of belonging to the amorphous group of indie developers (never felt before). “Maybe these people aren’t so bad after all”, I thought.
Yes, the public statements that indiedevs decided to do sucked. Completely wrong tone, language and negotiation strategy for most of them. You know, if you’re interacting with someone and out of nowhere they decide to punch you in the face, and then they look at you with eyes to kill (for the autists in the room: they’re going to punch you again), you don’t say “uhhhh, if you don’t stop punching me I’ll leave!”. You either punch back or run. Yet the majority of statements by indiedevs were variations of “if you don’t revert these changes we’ll leave!”, which is clearly the wrong approach.
If I had to rank all the public statements, all of them would get last place simultaneously, except for one. Crema Games’ announcement was the only one written correctly and with some thought put into it:
They were not caught offguard, they were paying attention, they saw the signs, and they acted accordingly. This allowed them to make an announcement from a position of strength instead of one of weakness, from a position of someone making credible statements, instead of just weak pleading. If you are not in this position you shouldn’t be trying to engage in any negotiation, you should be either punching back or running.
They also used the right tone. They didn’t say some dumb shit like “Stop it. Wtf?” or “QUIT BEING STINKY UNITY”. They simply described their situation, described what happened, and then said “yes, Unity, there’s nothing you can do to bring us back, but here’s what you should do for all these other people”. This is graceful and beautiful. This is the correct use of a position of strength. This is also the correct way to act in a position of weakness, should you decide to leave. Leaving while honestly (and not condescendently) telling the other party what they should do to improve for their next interactions is the right way. It’s honestly what every indie developer should have done instead of pleading.
So yes, the public statements were bad. The rush to Godot was also bad. Godot shows many of the same signs, and some even worse, that Unity does. The fact that it is open-source is not a defense against failure at all, and in fact makes many problems (such as API instability) worse in the long run.
“But, you know, these are small details. At the end of the day they’re finally seeing the truth. Maybe they aren’t so hopeless and I was just being a doomer about the Indiedev Question for no reason”, I thought. But then the GitHub TOS tweet and the reaction to it brought me back to reality. The relentless mocking of it everywhere really rubbed me the wrong way. So one question remained: why did everyone reach the wrong conclusion about this tweet?
I thought about this and I quickly reached the conclusion that it must have been because most people simply didn’t know that the GitHub TOS removal happened at least 423 days before September 12th 2023, the day of the new runtime fee announcement. How could this have happened? How could people who just witnessed this entire saga over the past 10 days not know basic facts about it? And this wasn’t just any fact, this was one of the most important facts.
For the first 2 days or so, this event was mostly contained to gamedev circles. It wasn’t until the indiedev statements started coming out that the event really blew up in visibility and reached the general gamer population. And those statements started coming out in large part because of the GitHub TOS removal and the discovery of the TOS change. One such statement that pointed all this out was MegaCrit’s, which was one of the first to be released:
And this was a big deal, after all it was MegaCrit’s first public announcement ever, and as they said, that was how badly Unity fucked up. And they fucked up so badly that they went “so far as to remove their TOS from Github”. Very, very bad. And MegaCrit’s next tweet helpfully links to a reddit thread showing more context on the case of the missing TOS GitHub repo:
And what is in this thread exactly? Let’s see:
OK, “Unity silently removed their GitHub repo to track license changes”. Wow, they really did this. What else does the thread say:
Alright, that’s a bunch of words that I’m not gonna read (what’s the #1 lesson you learn as a game developer? It’s that people don’t read anything, yes?). There’s a bunch of links at the bottom, it’s probably true. What do the comments say:
Yea, YEA, they do need to be sued in the oblivion. What the fuck were they thinking? What does the second comment say?
Yea, the OP is totally right, the trust is completely lost. These companies are so evil. This is all because of the IPO. This is why I keep saying that the problem is capitalism.
And so this person, let’s call him the average indie developer, when faced with Unity’s GitHub TOS tweet a few days from when he saw this thread, will react as he did, with befuddlement and mockery. In his mind, Unity just shadily removed their TOS from GitHub like a week ago, why would ANYONE fall for their clear lies and attempts at misleading? Their tweet is just further evidence that they are, in fact, evil.
To confirm my intuition on this, I waited two months and then ran a poll. Two months because I wanted to wait enough time that the dust had settled, but not too long that people would forget their experience following the event. These are the results of said poll:
55% of people thought that Unity removed their TOS from GitHub at some point near the runtime fee announcement, while 45% of people knew the right answer that it was way before that. Personally, I thought it would be around 1/3rd of people who knew the truth while 2/3rds didn’t. I could make the argument that because the poll was run on my followers, the percentage of those who knew the truth among the general indiedev population is lower than 45%, after all my followers are naturally more attuned to the truth, as they, at one point, had the good sense of following me. But I’m not gonna make that argument, 55% is not that far from 66%, so this result still pretty cleanly confirms my intuition.
But maybe you’re someone who knew the truth all along, and you still didn’t think that Unity’s explanation for the TOS removal was credible at all. In that case… When you look at the reddit thread, and you really read it, the author is taking three different events and drawing a causal intentional line between them. The three events are: GitHub TOS removal at around June 2022 -> TOS change in April 3rd 2023 -> runtime fee change in September 12th 2023. The OP said: “They’ve purposefully removed the repo that shows license changes, removed the clause that means you could avoid future license changes, then changed the license to add additional fees retroactively, with no way to opt-out.”
It is very likely that the line between TOS change and runtime fee change is valid, both because they happened closer to each other, but also because one depends on the other. For the runtime fee changes to happen, the terms of service needed to be changed; there’s a clear causal link there, so assigning intentionality between these two events is correct.
But the GitHub TOS removal? That’s much more dubious. It is both further away from September 12th, but the GitHub repository is not some kind of sacred blocker that needs to be removed otherwise the CEO can’t move forward with his plan, right? It doesn’t have any magical property. It’s just a GitHub repository, it’s not the only place people can see the TOS. To think that the CEO planned this out 1 year in advance, and his first line of attack was the GitHub repo otherwise his entire plan would have crumbled, it’s just not a very reasonable train of thought.
This kind of train of thought reminds me of the ways schizophrenics think about things. And so when I first saw this thread, I mostly accepted it, but with the asterisk of schizophrenia looming over it. I’ll grant that for those who did not take the “Advanced Defense Against the Schizo Arts” class, they had no real reason to doubt the claims of this thread on September 13th-14th, when it was posted and became popular. But once September 22nd came around, and Unity posted their controversial tweet regarding this, I think any reasonable person should have come to the same conclusion that I did.
Ultimately I think the reason why that tweet was so unanimously mocked was because, out of the 1/3rd who knew the truth, they probably thought something along the lines of “yea, it’s plausible that the GitHub repo removal was an accident, it still doesn’t change everything else and Unity deserves all the shit they’re getting”, right? And then they stayed silent about it because, why bother even coming close to defending Unity after all this?
And that’s largely what I think as well. You may take me for some kind of defender of Unity after all these words doing seemingly just that, but I really don’t care about Unity. Unity still sucks and I’ll never use Unity. So why does any of this matter?
This matters because the truth matters. Being able to see the truth, as it happens, live, matters. Having the presence of spirit to call it out, and to be unaffected by the fact that everyone thinks differently than you, matters. Indie developers are largely unable to see the truth, which is why they were fooled by Unity for so long in the first place. I don’t use Unity and I was able to see the signs in 2018:
I reiterated those signs again in 2022:
And those signs keep repeating themselves even now:
The inability to see the truth prevents people from making the right choices. Now everyone rushes to Godot, despite similar or worse problems. I can’t see the future, so I don’t know what will happen to Godot. But I know that the promise of a “general game engine” is a lie. And it’s a lie because engines need to be made by people with experience. The current cohort of indie developers (starting, say, 2010) has simply not had enough experience that is varied enough to support the idea of a general game engine.
Maybe 20 years from now, when some of the developers from this cohort are approaching or at around age 50, and they’ve released dozens of successful games on Steam, and these games span all sorts of genres of the most varied kinds, and these developers are tired of seeing all these engines fail, maybe these developers will decide that they’ll use their experience to make the final game engine.
And I would view this attempt much more favorably than any attempt that currently exists, simply because it’d be coming from people with lived and varied experience in the market. They have released enough successful games in enough genres that they can actually back up their claims with something solid and that everyone can see.
It is worthy of note to me that on September 12th, when Unity made their announcement, Steam was also celebrating its 20th anniversary:
A few weeks after that I kept seeing tweets from this guy about his experiences with Valve’s level editor, and to summarize it, his experience was great, and everyone loved seeing how the editor worked and how much better it was than anything else that exists:
This is what doing something well looks like, right? These tools are made by people actively using them to make games. And not just any games, successful games. My condition of acceptance for someone’s engine used to be that they had to release games with their engine, but I’ve recently hardened this condition to require that the games also be successful on the market. This is because making a good general game engine is harder than making a good individual game, and so if you can’t consistently make good individual games you just don’t have the skills to make a good engine.
This is obvious with this Valve example. Making good tools takes creativity, an aesthetic sense/good taste, and high technical skill. These are all the abilities you also need to make successful games, and in general game engine developers tend to lack the first two. When you get the rare combination of people who have all three, they can move mountains and create solutions that are inspired and delightful. You read the API, or you use the tool, and you go “this person knows what they’re doing, I want to follow them and use whatever else they make”.
That feeling of seeing and using a well-built and inspired tool is unmistakable. Unfortunately, I just don’t feel it towards any of the current tools trying to pass as general game engines. To me, anyone trying to sell the idea of a general game engine now is a liar. But they’re mostly lying to themselves. The main problem with lying is not that other people are misled, or that if you’re found out you’ll look bad, it’s that because you are what you practice becoming, if all you practice doing is lying, eventually you will lose the ability to tell the truth at all.
The state of the indie developer is one of permanent blindness and permanent lies. I’m someone who likes learning new skills, so I’m part of a few different groups of people in real life and online. At some point this year it became clear to me, out of all groups I’m part of, the indie developers are by far the least impressive as people.
Indie developers never say anything interesting. I can’t remember the last time I saw an interesting non-technical insight from an indie developer on twitter. They’re always talking about their lives, what they played, what they had to eat, what they’re going to do today. They don’t care about anything that actually matters. I’m in multiple indiedev discords and I watch these people, and I watch them interact with one another, and it’s always the same thing, very boring and uninteresting. You would think people who want to make art would be interesting, but no. Completely empty brain, zero insight production, zero creativity, no ability to see the truth, no ability to argue, few interests outside of gaming, just overall nothing, a complete void of thinking.
How could these people make good games when they don’t even know that GitHub’s TOS removal happened at least 423 days from September 12th? The failure to properly assess the reality of the TOS removal is a microcosm of the general lack of ability to tell the truth. And indie developers simply can’t tell the truth, and therefore they can’t make good games.
They say that inside every black pill there is a white pill. You could say that one white pill here is the fact that 45% of developers knew the truth. That’s not an ideal number but it’s a pretty good one. But… if this was the case, and the mocking response to Unity’s tweet was unanimous, it means that 45% of developers decided to not say anything about it. I said something about it in multiple servers I’m in, but I don’t count because I like arguing with people and showing them that they’re wrong. But other than me I saw no one else doing it… so this can’t be a white pill.
I think ultimately the only white pill here would be that I’m just wrong about everything. Maybe people mocked the tweet for some obvious, common reason that escapes me and completely invalidates my entire argument. Maybe my thoughts have been so warped by some evil force, or even worse, by my own self, and they’re so far removed from reality, that everything in this post is just worthless rambling. It wouldn’t surprise me if that turned out to be the case. Sometimes I kind of feel like I’m going insane.
People have said many things about me, many awful things, many very, very bad things. I see most of it. My ability to generate hate orbiters honestly is legendary, I’ve got private discord servers dedicated to hate orbiting me that go years back, it’s a hobby and a lifestyle movement. I know it’s its own weird, toxic form of love, but unfortunately… none of it really ever gets to me.
Recently an indie developer said something that I thought was insightful. It was in fact the first insightful thing I’d heard from them, I think, ever, and after reading it the only thing I could think about was that I wished that they could generate those kinds of thoughts about other, more important and interesting topics, more often:
I’ve thought about it but idk either why adn in particular gets under my skin so much, I’m generally chill and usually just find relentless schizo sophistry clogging up chats amusing and even fun to dip into on my own once in a while, somehow adn just managed to consistently turn off all the mirror neurons in my brain one by one, sounds melodramatic but might genuinely be the one person in the world I feel zero shared humanity with, actual vampire
It’s a good verbalization of the intuition that some people have about me. This is not an uncommon reaction to my existence. Something about me feels alien to people.
… A few nights ago I had a dream. I was walking among a crowd of people on a busy street. This crowd wasn’t bothering me and there was enough space for everyone to move freely. But I was walking around the same place somehow, and I would see this floating thing, maybe 10 meters up in the air; it was a shifting and morphing black sphere of sorts, but its shape was very undefined and ambiguous, and it was just floating there. I would look at it and it wouldn’t really sink in what I was looking at, and I would keep walking. Then I would walk by it again, and again, and again.
Eventually when I looked at it I realized that I was looking at something really weird, and I pointed at it and shouted “what the fuck is that?”. A few people nearby looked at me and then looked at it. I looked at them, they also seemed to realize with me how weird it was. And then we just kept looking.
It wobbled and vibrated, and some portions of it would crystallize into spikes which would eventually melt back into themselves. It swelled and waned, and some portions of it would separate and hover irregularly, eventually merging back again. It shifted and morphed, and it was hard to tell where it started and where it ended, like it was somehow melded together with reality itself.
We couldn’t stop looking at it, it was mesmerizingly unique, and completely out of place. I kept thinking about how it was possible that I had looked at it multiple times before without noticing it was there, and how odd that was. I didn’t look back at the crowd again, and I wondered if more people were looking at it now or if it was still just the initial small group of people around me. And we kept looking at it as it shimmered and hummed. And we looked at it, and looked, and looked. And then I woke up.