Unity engine: Among Us and Slay the Spire makers join criticism

What do hit indie games Among Us, Cuphead and Cult of the Lamb all have in common?

They’re all made with the Unity engine – a development tool that’s popular with smaller studios.

Or, at least, it was, until its owner announced plans to introduce a new pricing strategy.

Now those behind some beloved sleeper hits are threatening to ditch the tech and warning of possible delays to new releases.

An engine is a set of tools handling elements like animation and audio that provides the foundation or framework for a game.

It’s possible to make one from scratch, but complicated, so companies often use ready-made versions to save time.

Unity, alongside Epic’s Unreal Engine, is one of the most commonly used examples.

Furious response

Earlier this week the company said it wanted to charge its customers a fee every time someone installed a game based on the engine.

It said the charge would only kick in once a game hit a certain number of downloads, but could be as much as $0.20 (£0.16 GBP) at the top level.

This generated a quick, angry response across the games industry.

Garry Newman, creator of popular Garry’s Mod and founder of Facepunch Studios, said the move had left people “furious”.

“That would be like Adobe charging all users of Photoshop per image view,” he said.

Developers also accused the company of violating their trust, and raised questions about how the charge would be applied.

In particular, developers worried about being charged for installations of pirate copies, and potential effect that being promoted on a subscription service like Microsoft Game Pass could have.

Unity was forced to issue a statement clarifying some of the conditions of its new fees and insisted the “majority of developers” wouldn’t be affected, but that was also heavily criticised.

A screenshot from Slay the Spire showing the player character clad in armour and wielding a long, thin sword in front of a medieval castle with its drawbridge down. Three identical enemies - a blue orb with two pyramidal shapes attached are opposite, In the lower screen a card reading "Thunderclap: Deal 4 damage and apply 1 Vulnerable to All enemies" is visible
Image caption,Slay the Spire developer Megacrit posted its first-ever public statement to criticise Unity

Some notable independent developers warned that they would stop using Unity if it stuck to its plan, with a knock-on effect on their current projects.

Innersloth, the maker of Among Us, said it would have to “delay content and features our players actually want” to bring the game to a new engine.

In its first-ever public statement, Slay the Spire maker Mega Crit said it had spent the past two years working on a new game in Unity.

Despite putting an “immense amount of time and effort” into that title, they said they would move to a new engine if the changes weren’t abandoned.

Aggro Crab, maker of quirky hit Going Under, said dropping Unity would also mean losing the “wealth of expertise” it had gained from using the platform.

And Massive Monster, creator of Cult of the Lamb, said the change would mean “significant delays” to future releases.

It signed off its statement by urging Unity to “quit being stinky”

The saga – and the anger it’s generated from the industry and gamers – looks set to continue.

On Thursday, Unity was forced to closed two of its offices after receiving “credible” death threats, according to Bloomberg reporter and Triple Click podcast host Jason Schreier.

And, according to a report by website Mobile Gamer, the company is offering to waive the fee if developers sign up to its advertising programme.

The Unity engine was also used to make mega-hits Pokemon Go and Genshin Impact, but it’s less clear if those titles will be affected.

Pokemon Go maker Niantic told BBC Newsbeat it wasn’t able to comment on the situation at the moment.

We’ve also contacted Microsoft to ask if Game Pass downloads will be affected, and Valve, owners of the Steam game store.

Source: BBC