Unity: My journey and my take

It’s an exaggeration to say my experience with the Unity engine is synonymous with my journey in game development, but not by much. I started using the engine in 2016 and the majority of my games since have been made with it, including my first (and only) commercial game (which was also my first and only VR game), my now-abandoned once-dream project, a ton of jam entries and what I consider my core series games.

Like many other developers, I reacted with shock and dismay to the sudden announcement that Unity was totally changing their pricing model. Now, I don’t make money off my Unity games, and for the most part it doesn’t affect me. There are a lot of major concerns with the changes from people that do, though. Reaction has been universally negative and for good reason. I won’t try to paraphrase everything here, but here are my own thoughts, in no particular order:

  • How are they going to be tracking install count? Does this mean every Unity game is going to ship with spyware? I don’t care about analytics. This isn’t something I want to be involved in, and I know that this is a deal-breaker for a small but significant chunk of my potential audience.
  • I’m sad to see Plus go. If I made a little more money or sold a game or two, I’d probably subscribe to it. It was pricey for a hobbyist, but not outrageous, similar in price to Visual Studio or Creative Cloud. But Pro is way, way outside my price range.
  • I was never in it for the money, but now I’m actually afraid of success. What if I have a sudden hit that propels me above the thresholds, and suddenly I have to worry about a bunch of stuff I never had to deal with before?
  • This change doesn’t affect me. What if the next change does?

While the specific announcement is sudden and unexpected, I’ve had the general feeling that Unity was going downhill and would eventually do something egregious for a while, and I know I’m not the only one.

I won’t go over every technical issue, odd roadmap, and questionable business decision in detail, but I will say that as a small-I indie developer I’ve felt neglected by Unity for a long time. There were recently some hope spots, but I’ve felt increasingly that Unity has been chasing other markets and sometimes that they don’t care about their eponymous engine at all.

Even before the announcement, thinking about the future of Unity filled me with dread and anxiety. It hasn’t been “what cool thing are they going to bring next” since the 2010s, always either “what if they remove a feature I need” or “what if they make it unusable for the little guy”. It’s been a low-key stressor that’s pulled away some of the joy of creating for years. The rug pull I’ve always feared the most is the removal of the free tier.

I don’t think that’s going to happen, even now, but given what I’ve seen from Unity in the past few days that’s more because of the competition than any desire on Unity’s part to keep it. But I can’t rule it out.

In other words, I don’t have any trust in Unity. I don’t have any faith in Unity. I think, even if they roll back their recent decision, they’ve lost that trust from a lot of developers and I don’t know if there’s any way to get it back. There’s no confidence that they won’t try this or something worse again.

I hadn’t realized this, but it’s also known that Unity as a company has been in the red for a while now, which raises another question of how long Unity will be around at all. I do wonder, too, how much that is driving their recent decision.

What I really want is an assurance, in actions and words, that Unity is here, is going to be here, and is here for me. What I have is a sword dangling above my head.

This is the part where I wish I could say I was switching engines as many others are.

Unfortunately, that isn’t really an option for me. I’ve spent years investing into Unity, both learning its ins and outs and building out a common framework to power all my games. My process is heavily reliant on building on what was built before. Yes, you could say I’m coasting on past momentum. Switching engines means relearning everything and building out a new framework.

Will it be easier than the first time around? Sure, but I don’t think it’ll be easier enough relative to how much I’m willing and able to put in now versus how much I did then. I’m in a different place in my life now, I’ve been moving away from game dev in general, and I don’t have the time, energy, or desire to do it all over again.

That’s not to say I’m continuing business as usual.

The long and short of it is that I’m shortening my roadmap and focusing my plans. I’ve shifted my thinking to it’s a matter of when, not if, I can no longer rely on Unity. I’ve had an attitude of not really being on a timeline, having a lot of ideas I’ll get to when I get to, but that doesn’t feel safe or sane anymore.

That being said, I still don’t want to push myself too hard. This is still a hobby that I don’t want to take over my life.

I have plans for three, maybe four games at this point, and a semi-firm roadmap on when I want to do each one. Shattered 3 in 2024. The next Outsiders and Outliers game (Big Team Heavies) in 2025. SE7ENGOKU somewhere in between. That’s pretty much it. Not quite. But pretty much.

Shattered 4 is sort of still on the board, as time and technology allow. It would be in the 2026-2027 timeframe, and I honestly feel that’s too far into the future to predict at this point. I do have an alternate plan to close out the series if I can’t or don’t want to build it along the lines of the previous games.

The Crystal Tower (Takagi) won’t receive yearly updates anymore, and if we’re being honest, I probably won’t come back to it again. There are a few other games I was tentatively planning to do updates and/or ports of, but those aren’t going to happen either.

I always have more ideas than I have time for, and I’ve accepted for a while that there are just some that I won’t realistically get to. There are some that I figured I might get to eventually, but those are now at least somewhat less likely.

CommonCore is shrinking in scope again. There are a lot of features that I’ve wanted to do, that I feel are useful for some hypothetical future game, but since I’m only expecting to do a few more projects with it, I’m only going to implement the absolute bare minimum of what I need. I’m not planning to use it past those projects, and I don’t think anyone else is going to pick it up at this point. The last version will likely be Goodsprings (7.x) or Haestrom (8.x), although I don’t know if I’m going to shake up how versioning is done.

Finally, I’m not sure how this is going to affect jam participation. I’ve been doing fewer jams in general, and I’m definitely going to be focusing on those existing projects. On the other hand, maybe something really interesting will come up, and maybe it’ll be an opportunity for one last hurrah on this stack or a chance to try out a new one.

I’ve said in a few places that if Unity ever goes away or gets enshittified to the point of unusability, I’m not going to get back on the horse, I’m just going to hang up my spurs. Not too long ago I would have been infuriated if that happened, maybe even inconsolable. I know I would have seen it as years of work wasted if not years of life down the drain. But I’ve been shifting to seeing it a bit differently. I’m approaching a decade with Unity, five years of CommonCore, dozens of games including some of my favourite things I’ve ever made.

To (mis)quote Dr Seuss, don’t be sad that it’s over, be happy that it happened.

I’m weirdly okay with this whole thing. Not Unity doing its thing- that sucks- but the end of my planned game dev projects. It’s oddly relieving. I’m really hoping to at least be able to finish the projects I have in front of me. But after that?

Once we hit that end, whether that’s because I’ve finished what I set out to finish or because the rug was pulled out from under me, I don’t know what’s that’s going to mean. Maybe that will mean starting over with Godot, smaller and slower this time. Maybe that means nothing but shitposts made in RPG Maker. Maybe that means getting out of game dev entirely. I don’t know.

I’m weirdly okay with that, too.

I’d like to end this by thanking everyone who’s come along with me on this game dev journey. It feels like there’s an end in sight now, and though maybe it’s not the end of all things, it’s definitely a chapter coming to a close. I’d like to thank everyone who played my games and everyone in my life who tolerated my hobby bordering on obsession. I’d like to thank the people who ran the jams and communities and events I participated in, and all the contributors and participants who made those what they were. I’d like to thank the gaming giants who inspired me. I’d like to thank the asset makers and library vendors and repositories and websites and tutorials and everything that laid the groundwork to make this all possible.

And yes, I’d like to thank the folks at Unity, too. Not the executives who made and continue to make awful decisions, but everyone else, especially but not just the technical staff, who brought Unity from a little indie engine to the flexible, powerful tool it is today. I cannot imagine how conflicted you must feel today, but always remember that there were good times and you did make great things.

I wish I didn’t have to write this post. I wish I could have written something fun and exciting. But the recent developments have sent shockwaves through the industry that affect me as well. No matter how they shake out, things are never going to be the same.