In late June, Unity quietly updated its licensing policy requirements for developers working on “closed platforms” like Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, and Google Stadia.
Unity developers starting new projects will now need either a Unity Pro license or a Preferred Platform License Key to develop for these platforms.
The news was delivered internally to Unity game developers on the Unity GameCore forum, and went into effect on June 30th.
A Unity spokesperson confirmed to Gamasutra that the change took place, explaining that “developing for consoles is a complex undertaking for any studio and Unity has always recommended Unity Pro for development on these platforms.”
The spokesperson also stressed that the change is for new developers working on new platform-approved projects that update to the 2021.2 tech stream. If your game is currently in development on an older version of Unity, you don’t need Unity Pro at this time.
A handful of developers reached out to Gamasutra with concerns about this change because while Sony and Nintendo both make Preferred Platform License Keys available to developers, Microsoft does not. Previously if a developer had XDX (the Xbox Development SDK) on their computer, it apparently unlocked all Unity features for use on Xbox.
June’s policy change renders that moot, and means a new developer working on an approved game for Xbox will need to pay for a Unity Pro license, which currently costs $1,800 per year per seat.
Unity previously required developers to use Unity Pro (or Enterprise) if their funding or revenue was greater than $200K in the last 12 months. For smaller developers with less than $200K in revenue or funding, Unity Plus and Unity Personal were options for development.
A spokesperson for Microsoft told Gamasutra that it the company is aware of the changes, but didn’t indicate if the company would be creating its own Preferred Platform License Key program for developers. “We will continue to work with our development partners and engine providers, including Unity, to determine how to best support creators on Xbox,” the spokesperson said.
They added that Microsoft is “deeply committed to independent developers and with our prioritization of the community accelerating, ensuring they have a clear path to success on Xbox and Windows.”
Unity’s changes here aren’t exactly sweeping, since many developers working on the platform already pay for Unity Pro or have access to Preferred Platform License Keys. Some developers Gamasutra spoke with didn’t even notice the change took place, or expressed indifference about how it would affect their future projects.
Those who are most impacted are developers whose projects aren’t approved yet who are interested in shipping their game on Xbox or any other platform that doesn’t provide the partnered license keys, and who don’t quite have the cash for Unity Pro.
Developers reaching out to Gamasutra also expressed concern over the decision to announce this change by way of an internal forum that requires you to sign a non-disclosure agreement to access—new developers most impacted by the policy change might not know about the shift in economics for publishing on these specific platforms.
It’s concern worth highlighting. Hopefully Microsoft is in the process of restoring the same level of access for Unity developers that was previously available with XDX.
Updated to include an expanded quote from Microsoft's spokesperson.
Update 08/06 - 16:00BST: A Unity spokesperson has clarified the company's decision to make Unity Pro a requirement when publishing on consoles, and said the choice was made so Unity could "continue providing the best-in-class tools."
In a statement posted on the Unity3D subreddit (in response to this very article), the engine maker said Unity Pro offers "the best solution" to supporting developers with platform-specific build modules, features, and learning resources. It also reiterated that those developers working on already-approved won't need to purchase Unity Pro to finish up.
"We are making these changes in order to continue providing the best-in-class tools and supporting our Unity Creators need to successfully develop on these platforms, and for us to continue investing in new technology, features, and services that provide value and benefit all Unity Creators. Targeting a console platform is a major undertaking, and Unity Pro is the best solution to support developers with platform-specific build modules, features, learning resources and support to help power success," said the company.
"In the past, closed platform partners like Sony (for PlayStation), Nintendo (for Switch), Microsoft (for Xbox), and Google (for Stadia) have all provided a preferred platform license key for approved games and developers on their respective platforms. Today, this is still true for Sony, Nintendo, and Google. If you are working on an already-approved project for Xbox (prior to June 30, 2021), you will not have to purchase Unity Pro to finish and publish your project to the platform."