Extra Crunch offers members the opportunity to tune into conference calls led and moderated by the TechCrunch writers you read every day. This week, TechCrunch Editor-in-Chief, Matthew Panzarino, offered his analysis on the major announcements that came out of Apple’s keynote event this past Monday.
Behind a series of new subscription and media products, Apple has set the stage for one of the largest transformations in the company’s history. Matthew touches on all of Apple’s major product initiatives including Apple’s new credit card, its push into original content, its subscription gaming platform, and its subscription news service, which features Extra Crunch as one of the debut publications.
“I don’t think many of the things that Apple announced here, on an individual basis, are earth-shattering. I think it shapes up to be a really solid, nice offering for people with some distinct advantages but at the same time it’s not breaking huge molds here. I think the same thing applies across all of the offerings that they put out there.
I just felt that together, it’s solid but not scintillating and we need to see how they develop, how they launch, and then what they do with these platforms…
…Seems relatively straightforward. However, some of the stuff people have glossed over is very intriguing.”
Matthew goes into more detail on why he didn’t view the announcements as individually earth-shattering, and why he sees compelling opportunities for Apple to position its offerings as a symbiotic ecosystem. He also goes under the hood to discuss some of Apple’s overlooked competitive advantages in media and to paint a picture of how Apple’s new product lines might evolve in the long-term.
For access to the full transcription and the call audio, and for the opportunity to participate in future conference calls, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free.
China’s Tencent reported disappointing profits in the fourth quarter on the back of surging costs …
If there’s one thing Unity Create President and General Manager Marc Whitten wants to make clear, it’s that he appreciates your feedback.
“It’s been a very feedback-giving week for Unity,” Whitten told Ars, possibly the biggest understatement he made during an interview accompanying the new, scaled-back fee structure plans the company announced today. “There was a lot more [feedback than we expected] for sure… I think that feedback has made us better, even though it has sometimes been difficult.”
But Whitten was also quick to find the bright side of the tsunami of backlash that came Unity’s way in the week since the company announced its (now outdated) plans for per-install fees of up to $0.20 on all Unity games starting in 2024. That’s because that anger reflected “the extraordinary passion that our community has for their craft, their livelihoods, and their tools, including Unity,” Whitten said. “When Unity disappoints them, in a way where they’re overly surprised or whatever, they give very, very critical feedback. I don’t love hearing every single one of those pieces of feedback—sometimes they can be pretty pointed—but I love that that passion exists.”
“They let us know when we disappoint them,” he added. “That’s not always easy to hear, but it’s really, really great feedback, and it makes us better.”
Stable terms should be “a feature of Unity”
The impetus behind last week’s initial fee announcement, Whitten told Ars, was for the company to eventually move to a “shared success model” that is necessary to make the engine maker “sustainable.” But in pushing out that “transformational business model shift,” Whitten said the company didn’t fully appreciate how much that change would impact the stability of current and former Unity projects.
“To have it affect games that people already had out or that they were currently working on and getting ready to ship was too much,” he said. “They had planned under a set of assertions and conditions that they were thinking about, and then it was changing underneath them. That part was just really important feedback for us to take on board as we thought about this.”
“To have it affect games that people already had out or that they were currently working on and getting ready to ship was too much…”
By way of defense, Whitten stressed that the Unity team felt they had created a fee structure that “the vast majority of our users wouldn’t pay any part of. In our head, we’re thinking, ‘We’ll put this in [and] when people are renewing later, it’s going to come up… and it’s going to happen [in] 2024, [and] it’s a small percentage of games…’ But I think what we heard is (1) everybody assumes they might also become very successful and (2) it felt like a very big change that no one anticipated.”
Now, Whitten says he sees unchanging, stable licensing terms as “a feature of Unity,” just like any other core engine component used to make a game. “You should always be able to—as you get a version and understand the current version of the terms that exist—use those and know that you can rely on them as you start a project,” he said. “It’s another way of saying, ‘I need a stable basis for this engine as I make my bet [on an engine].'”
That might be a hard promise for some people to accept, given that Unity made a similar pledge in 2019 that didn’t stop last week’s attempted semi-retroactive change. But Whitten said he hopes actions like restoring a GitHub Terms of Service tracker will be key to proving Unity really means it this time.
“I’m not putting a letter out saying that [these ToS stability promises are] the case and then changing it,” he said. “I’m very personally convicted about it. I’ll tell you the company is convicted about it. If I put my name on a letter, I believe every word that was in that letter, and I will tell you, so does the company.”
Unity has made major changes to the per-install Runtime Fee program it announced last week and made apologies for a policy that united large swathes of the game development community in anger.
In a new blog post, Unity now says that projects made on current and earlier versions of Unity will not be subject to the new runtime fee structure. Only projects that upgrade to a new “Long Term Support” (LTS) version of Unity starting in 2024 and beyond will have to pay the charges, the company says.
This change should eliminate at least some of the legal confusion over projects started under one set of terms being moved to a new set unilaterally. Unity has also restored a GitHub page that was set up in 2019 to help developers track Terms of Service changes and reinstated its commitment that “you can stay on the terms applicable for the version of Unity editor you are using – as long as you keep using that version.”
“I am sorry,” Unity executive and industry veteran Marc Whitten said in the blog post. “We should have spoken with more of you and we should have incorporated more of your feedback before announcing our new Runtime Fee policy. Our goal with this policy is to ensure we can continue to support you today and tomorrow, and keep deeply investing in our game engine. You are what makes Unity great, and we know we need to listen, and work hard to earn your trust. We have heard your concerns, and we are making changes in the policy we announced to address them.”
“Free” is once again free
Under the newly announced plan, runtime fees will not apply to any projects made on the Unity Personal tier, which will remain completely free. In addition, Unity Personal projects will now be able to stay on that free tier until the developer behind them makes $200,000 in annual revenue, an increase from the previous $100,000 revenue cap. And Personal tier projects will no longer be required to put a “Made with Unity” splash screen at the start of play.
In addition, Unity now says the new runtime fees will only be incurred for projects that have reached $1 million in revenue in the last 12 months and 1 million “initial engagements” in their lifetime. Fees will also be capped at 2.5 percent of revenue, preventing situations where projects with huge install numbers but small amounts of revenue per install could theoretically go bankrupt via the accumulation of small fees.
Both “engagement” and project revenue numbers will be self-reported monthly “from data you already have available,” Unity says, a move that should help allay some privacy concerns over Unity’s previous vaguely reported methods of tracking installs.
The new “per initial engagement” runtime fees now top out at $0.15 (for Unity Pro customers with less than 100,000 initial engagements per month) and go down to $0.01 (for Unity Enterprise subscribers with over 1 million monthly initial engagements).
Don’t call them “installs”
The change from “installs” in last week’s announcement to “initial engagements” this week is intended to replace a term “the community found to be unclear,” according to a Unity FAQ. As a statistic, the initial engagement number is meant to track “a distinct end user [who] successfully and legitimately acquires, downloads, or engages with a game powered by the Unity Runtime, for the first time in a distribution channel.”
This definition means that multiple installs by a single user (on a single or multiple devices) should not count multiple times toward the total. Public displays of a game (in a museum, for instance) will only count once as well, and pirated copies should not count at all. A single user purchasing a game from two different app stores would count as two “initial engagements,” however, and games distributed via subscription and streaming services or WebGL applications will need to pay per user.
Unity acknowledges this might be a hard statistic for developers to precisely track and expects developers to estimate based on “readily available data” like units sold and first-time user downloads. For those who can’t make an accurate estimate, Unity recommends using the alternative 2.5 percent revenue share cap.
All is forgiven?
Initial reactions to the new policy from some of Unity’s critics have been cautiously positive so far. “You know what, on first glance, I think this works?” indie developer and consultant Rami Ismail wrote on social media after days of taking Unity to task publicly. “No retroactivity left, LTS [version] stability, no black-box data, yeah? I think that works for every use-case.”
“Unity did well here,” 3D Realms co-founder and current indie developer George Broussard added. “Sort of nailed it. This is more of a walk back than anyone could have expected.”
“Unity fixed all the major issues (except trust), so it’s a possibility to use again in the future,” indie developer Radiangames wrote. “Uninstalling Godot and Unreal and getting back to work on Instruments.”
Others were less forgiving. “Unity’s updated policy can be classified as the textbook definition of, ‘We didn’t actually hear you, and we don’t care what you wanted,'” Cerulean and Drunk Robot Games engineer RedVonix wrote on social media. “We’ll never ship a Unity game of our own again…” they added.
The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority has given its provisional approval to recently proposed modifications to Microsoft’s proposed Activision purchase. While the approval is not final, the announcement suggests that Microsoft will soon clear the final regulatory hurdle in its proposed $68.7 billion acquisition, which was first announced over 20 months ago.
The CMA initially blocked the Activision acquisition back in April, saying that the purchase would “substantially lessen competition” in the nascent cloud gaming market. But after the US Federal Trade Commission’s attempt at a merger-blocking injunction lost in court in April, Microsoft and the CMA went back to the drawing board to negotiate a settlement.
That led to Microsoft’s August announcement that it would sell those Activision streaming rights to Ubisoft. The CMA now says it “has provisionally concluded” that this sale “should address these [previously identified] issues.”
“In contrast to the original deal, Microsoft will no longer control cloud gaming rights for Activision’s content, so would not be in a position to limit access to Activision’s key content to its own cloud gaming service or to withhold those games from rivals,” the CMA writes. “Unlike the remedies the CMA previously rejected, Ubisoft will be free to offer Activision’s games both directly to consumers and to all cloud gaming service providers however it chooses, including for buy-to-play or multigame subscription services, or any new model for providing content that might emerge as the market develops.”
The CMA’s statement still identifies “limited residual concerns” that some parts of Microsoft’s proposed deal could be “circumvented, terminated, or not enforced,” but the statement adds that Microsoft has made proposals to ensure that the terms are “enforceable by the CMA.”
While the FTC has appealed its recent court loss, an appeals court refused to block the merger while that appeal is pending. That means CMA approval would clear the way for the proposed merger to finally close before a recently extended contractual deadline of October 18.
“We are encouraged by this positive development in the CMA’s review process,” Microsoft Vice Chair and President Brad Smith said in a statement. “We presented solutions that we believe fully address the CMA’s remaining concerns related to cloud game streaming, and we will continue to work toward earning approval to close prior to the October 18 deadline.”
“The CMA’s preliminary approval is great news for our future with Microsoft,” Activision Blizzard said in a statement. “We’re pleased the CMA has responded positively to the solutions Microsoft has proposed, and we look forward to working with Microsoft toward completing the regulatory review process.”
The CMA will gather additional feedback through October 6, after which a final decision could come quickly.