The Unity term fee spells disaster for students and teachers

Late Monday evening, everything was going according to plan in week 12 (of 12) of my game design course. I currently (and typically) teach two Game Design Fundamentals sections quarterly online at Berklee College of Music, where students interested in game development learn about the history and current landscape of games, study a range of design principles, and train their own ideas into a fully developed game design document.

We hold weekly talks, often with sessions on a specific game, highlighting the player experience goals, design, production and aesthetic considerations that went into the game. We also do a lot of demos with accessible game engines and lots of tutorial content. Since Unity is the engine I’ve used to create almost all of my own (small) games since 2009-2010, the engine usually plays a big role and occupies an important place in the list of recommended resources I give to students each quarter leave.

This list includes specific Unity Learning courses that I have taken myself and found particularly helpful, Unity tools that I personally use and love (like Yarn Spinner, which is currently based on Unity but has Godot and Unreal Versions are in progress) and my favorite tutorials for creating small games or features from different genres. I have been collecting these resources for years and encourage my students to try them all so that they have actionable next steps when they complete the lesson.

That’s not to say that Unity is the only tool I usually highlight (I do a lot of live sessions with people like Bitsy, Narrat, etc.), but it offers a lot of features. Since Tuesday’s announcement, I’ve been frantically trimming this list, trying to figure out what I’m going to say to my students before our short time is up (and tearing my hair out of my head to revise next quarter’s curriculum, that starts next week). .

Bitsy logo of a pixel art cat

Given the many vulnerabilities and wild potential pitfalls that the developers brought up this week, I don’t feel like I can in good conscience recommend the engine to my students. In most cases, these are brand new developers creating their first interactive works (many are already accomplished sound designers, composers and musicians), and I don’t want to send them down a doomed path, especially because the best thing about Unity is: its community – appears to be on the verge of drying up. The developers are angry for good reason, and you can expect more people to move on to the greener pastures of Unreal and Godot. Of course, I need to transfer my own skills to a new engine so that I can effectively teach my students and accompany them in their first steps.

I don’t want this blog to sound like I think the debacle is about me. Yes, I’m angry that I spent so many years learning the “wrong” engine (and have a mostly finished game and a bunch of prototypes sitting in my Unity hub waiting to be finished by January 1st or maybe never to be touched). again), but of course I’m much more annoyed by medium-sized indies who have been working on a project for years, who are in danger of losing a lot of money due to an unfair metric, or a lot of money AND time and progress because they are developing need to restart engine.

I’m sorry that every team now has to make brutally difficult decisions about what to do, especially in a bleak pitching market and a time of general turmoil throughout the industry. I’m very worried that these factors are contributing to the possibility of an “indie winter” that developer Johnneman Nordhagen pointed to in a cohost post this week.

If anything, my current students are lucky at this point – they won’t sink years of their lives into something that screws them over. At least not in this very particular case. For developing students and everyone else…apparently, as we’re increasingly seeing, enshittingification can lead to almost anything.

All I can reasonably hope for at the moment is that the new resources I’m putting together – including smaller tools like those listed on Natalie Lawhead’s blog this week – can provide my students with more fertile ground for their own design practice start. And that I don’t choose “wrong” again.

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