News and Updates from Phoenix Aura
Idle Space Navy Devnote XXIX
Hey, Some Good Unity News!
This update is mostly about the Unity runtime fee saga I discussed in Devnote XXVIII, so if you want the small bit of update on ISN itself, skim past this.
Today, Unity released an open letter regarding the blowback from their runtime fee policy, and changes they’ve made. While I’m not sure the trust that has been lost throughout the game development community can be restored through a single open letter, the changes they are enacting are a significant step in the right direction, especially for new and aspiring developers such as myself here at Phoenix Aura.
For one thing, Unity has eliminated the retroactivity of the runtime fee changes – they’re not even going to apply them until the next version launches sometime in 2024. Games that have already shipped and projects being worked on aren’t affected, unless one chooses to upgrade them to this next version. This is a massive step, and one that should have been taken from the off for various reasons I won’t go into – check on the Internet for more details.
Of bigger news for Phoenix Aura is the set of changes to the runtime fee itself. Games built on Unity Personal (which include Idle Space Navy) will remain able to do so until the company attains $200,000 of revenue from the games, at which point an upgrade to Unity Pro would still make sense (and was always planned for Aura in the future). Additionally, games built on Unity Personal are not subject to the runtime fee, and even once the Pro upgrade happens, the threshold for the runtime fee has been raised to $1 million in revenue over the prior 12 months (much higher than the original $200,000 for Unity Personal, though in line with the prior count for Unity Pro). The fee has also been changed to a two-option structure – either the fee can be calculated based on the number of new people engaging that you self-report (as opposed to “installs” calculated by Unity’s internal metrics) each month, or it can be a flat 2.5% of revenue – and Unity currently pledges to always bill the lesser amount.
I’m of the mind that people should support the software that allows them to do great work. Unity has been an easy, streamlined experience for me to use over the past three years of off-and-on personal projects, as well as for the past ten months of Idle Space Navy‘s development. I would have been proud to support Unity on my own terms even without this new fee structure, and I’m happy that the community’s concerns have been taken into account. So long as this path continues, I see no reason why Phoenix Aura games will need to change to another engine (though the possibility that a game may be developed in Unreal at some time in the future was always planned for).
I’m also of the mind that, despite the issues of Unity’s upper level management, the Unity Engine itself is still one of the best ways for people to become involved in not just game development, but any kind of programming, thanks to the community, the depth of tutorials, the wealth of assets, and the availability of other resources. Unity’s new version will include the option to remove the “Made with Unity” splash screen even for free apps made with Unity Personal – and I have decided that this is not an option we will be taking.
Some may wonder if I’m writing this to shill for a corporation who screwed up. On the contrary, I am deeply disappointed in the actions undertaken by Unity management regarding the initial rollout of the runtime fee. I just still believe in the promise of the Unity Engine and its ability to democratize game development and gaming in general. I believe this will win out in the end.
Now, onto the ISN portion of this devnote!
A few days ago, I rolled out ISN 0.07.4 to fix a persnickety bug with the boost manager. Somewhere along the line, my object reference to the Boost list got eaten, as did the way to generate boost icons during the game. Probably happened due to a computer crash or me forgetting to save somewhere along the line. Either way, if someone received a boost, they wouldn’t know it, and then when they’d tried to start the game, it would try to make the icon – and couldn’t find the list, so it would crash, and look like one’s save had been eaten. This has now been fixed.
Development on ISN 0.08.0 continues apace, with most of the changes to existing systems completed. Shipyard and Lab upgrades as well as the new researchable ship the Frigate remain to do, and then I’ll be starting on the Artifact System itself. I believe we’re on target for an early-mid October release, soon after the Steam launch of ISN 0.07.4!
Idle Space Navy Devnote XXVIII
The Trouble with Unity, and the Future of ISN
So, we have a little bit of a problem… who am I kidding? It’s a big problem. Within the last couple days, Unity has decided to announce a hastily-implemented runtime fee – one which basically means developers who reach any measure of success have to pay as much as 20 cents per install of their game.
Aside from the many issues with how this will be tracked, from pirated copies to “install bombing” to reinstalls or new devices, let’s just take a look at the raw numbers for Idle Space Navy.
From the beginning, my mission at Phoenix Aura has always been to provide the most content for the least cost possible, while still giving people the option to support my content and get something in return. That’s why Idle Space Navy (and almost all of my future games) are going to be free to play, but have some form of in-app purchase. In the case of Idle Space Navy, the cheapest option (3 Neutron Stars, or 30 instant Neutronium followed by a small reward of Neutronium daily) was going to be 99 cents. One can figure that many people, if they even do buy any Neutron Stars, will pick up the cheapest tier on rare occasions. I do plan to offer larger packages, but the higher the cost, the lower the uptake.
Unity’s share comes out irrespective of any revenue shares taken by the digital stores (say, Steam, in the case of ISN). Granted, it doesn’t start until the game is making $200,000 a year and has a total of 200,000 installs (but, remember, installs are tracked by Unity themselves using an as yet unknown, untested, and untrusted system), but if ISN reaches that point, here’s what it looks like.
That 99 cents from the purchase of 3 Neutron Stars? Steam immediately takes 30 cents off the top (30% revenue share), immediately making it 69 cents. Taxes will come into play as well, undoubtedly seizing another 10 cents or better. Now we’re down to 59 cents – enough to cover just three install fees from Unity. I can guarantee you that there will be far more than three installs of ISN for every one person who makes a 99 cent purchase.
This gets even worse if we factor in that one person can install ISN multiple times (every new device counts as a new install, per Unity), and since ISN is free to play, it can be installed on as many devices as a person wants. It’s easily possible – if not likely or even certain – that the 20 cent per install fee will annihilate any if not all residual revenue from ISN.
“Go to Pro or Enterprise! It increases the thresholds and decreases the costs!” This is a fair argument to make, but that only delays the problem and doesn’t mitigate it. There’s also, at this point, nothing stopping Unity from making another change and reducing the thresholds or increasing the fee.
So, what’s next? As I see it, there are three main options.
- Do nothing. Continue to develop ISN on Unity and monitor the situation, being aware of the fact that there may come a point where – if ISN is successful – Unity’s install fee could reduce or even reverse any sort of revenue I may gain from ISN.
- A subset of 1, stay on Unity Personal as long as possible, but upgrade to Pro or Enterprise right before ISN would reach any of the thresholds required. Now, under the old Unity terms, I would have had to upgrade to Unity Plus/Pro/Enterprise eventually, but I’d have preferred to make that choice under the old terms (where revenue was the only concern) rather than have to evade a potentially devastating per-install fee.
- Change game engines. I’ve been giving Godot a long, hard look. ISN could be ported to Godot (or any of the other C#-supporting engines) with a minimum of change, but that would force me to delay releasing a new version of ISN until the port was done. Another possibility is releasing ISN 0.08.0 on Unity, but then taking the time to port the game to Godot or some other engine before working on the 0.09 sequence.
None of these options are reassuring in the slightest. The only one that’s “easy” is option 1, but if I’m not careful, I could be devastated financially when the Unity install fee comes in (particularly if I refuse to go to a more exploitative, profit focused model – which I absolutely refuse to do). I’d be curious to hear the thoughts of the community, so please reach out to me on Discord if you have any advice (or support – contributions are always welcomed) to offer.
Idle Space Navy Devnote XXVII
Kicking Off 0.08
After quite a chunk of time without a new release for various reasons, it’s finally time to get started on the development of ISN 0.08.0 – the most significant upgrade to Idle Space Navy so far. While the 0.07 sequence made some significant changes to the game, 0.08.0 will introduce the second major reset tier – the Artifact System – as well as a multitude of new items, the completion of the art overhaul, and more. Here’s a more in-depth look at what’s coming:
- The Artifact System is the core of the second prestige tier for Idle Space Navy. Once you reach the highest levels of the game, you’ll start receiving Potential Artifact Fragments from high tier missions, as well as receiving a small number as level-up bonuses. Upon prestiging, these Artifact Fragments will be collected and granted to you to distribute to the alien powers of the Galaxy in order to receive additional bonuses, access to additional items and upgrades, and higher levels in existing upgrades.
- The first galactic power introduced in the Artifact System will be the Terran Union. So far, the Union has been your primary benefactor, and their upgrades specialize in boosting your ships’ raw damage, providing you with new Kinetic weapons, and new standard ships. Terran ships and items have no unique bonuses, but are the easiest to access and purchase.
- Neutron Stars replace Neutronium as the premium currency. Neutron Stars grant 10 Neutronium each upon receipt, but also grant a small proportion of Neutronium daily along with your Daily Rewards.
- Neutron Stars will be able to be purchased. The exact cost and purchasing method is still being established, whether it is directly in game or via the website. Per Steam’s requirements, Steam Wallet will be an eligible means of payment.
- Payment will not be required to receive Neutron Stars. Neutron Stars will be granted regularly through Daily Rewards, but if you want to support development and receive a boost, purchasing extra Neutron Stars is available. We appreciate any support you provide!
- There will be new options for using Neutronium. Neutronium can be used to purchase random Temporary Modules or Boosts on top of making permanent upgrades, should you desire an additional few items or are seeking a potential rare module.
- There will be additional tiers of Temporary Boosts introduced in 0.08.0, as well as additional basic Temporary Modules to match the types provided by Temporary Boosts.
- Daily Rewards will be enhanced, providing not only Neutron Stars (replacing Neutronium), but also random items and resources, such as free Boosts or Modules. The reward calendar will be extended from 7 days to 20.
- The Frigate will be introduced as a researchable ship.
- The Destroyer will be the first Artifact System unlocked ship as part of the Terran Union tree.
- Upgraded versions of the basic Kinetic weapons will be introduced as part of the Artifact System.
- New Laser-type weapons will be introduced as researchable weapons.
- Laser-type weapons will have extremely high projectile speed and quick firing rates, but will have lower damage relative to Kinetic- or Explosive-type weapons to start.
- New Shipyard and Lab upgrades will be introduced, both available as standard and unlocked through Artifact research.
- Several additional UI features are planned, including reorganized information in the Calibrator, additional information hovers, and more.
- Additional Tutorial System information and mechanics will inform people of the best times to make their first Ship or Weapon purchases.
- A new enemy type, the Sector Boss, is going to be introduced in version 0.08.0.
- Sector Bosses will have significant health, and may have other unique bonuses such as increased reinforcement or other capabilities.
- The Statistics System is going to be introduced, in order to give people information about how their game has progressed.
With all this included, the development of 0.08.0 is going to be significant – and the release target for this version is October 2023 for a few reasons. First, I want to make sure that ISN 0.08.0 is ready to roll out with as few bugs as possible. Second, the new Artifact System will require a bit of testing to determine just where the threshold for unlocking it will be. Third, Steam prefers that updates to games during the review period be minimal, so the release of a major overhaul like 0.08 needs to be delayed until after the Steam release of 0.07.3, which is currently slated for late September.
Speaking of, the Store Page construction for ISN on Steam is nearly done – I just need to finish a few areas and then upload the builds of ISN 0.07.3 for review and testing by Steam, and then we’ll have a definite release date!
Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to setting to work on 0.08.0, and I hope everyone enjoys it when it comes out even despite the long wait (2 months or more between 0.07.3 and 0.08.0)!
September 2023 Studio Update #1
Hey, Look, A New Website!
While I’ve been working on the Steam release of Idle Space Navy as well as getting ready to start development on version 0.08 of the same thing, I decided to go ahead and make a new version of the Phoenix Aura website. Why? Simple. The first version of the website was thrown together in about 15 minutes and I just never really wanted to update it. It used a website builder by the name of BoldGrid which, to me, was very hard to work with and very hard to get to do what I wanted to do.
Fortunately, I’ve discovered a new site builder by the name of Elementor, and that’s allowed me to create a website version that is not only easier to make changes and add features to, but also allows me to make much better designed update posts much more quickly. As such, the primary location for update posts will be here, though links will also be posted in the Phoenix Aura Discord server and updates will also be pushed out to Patreon.
What’s the future of the website? Well, for one, we’ll have new pages coming for projects as they are developed. Right now, the only project with its own page is Idle Space Navy, but as new series and games are produced, they’ll receive web pages of their own so you can learn more about them and have quick access to the specific projects you want to see. There may also be a game or two that gets deployed to the website itself…
Anyway, enough about the website, here’s what else is going on.
Development on Idle Space Navy 0.08 is going to start this week, with the Kicking Off 0.08 devnote coming out in the next three days. Steam prefers that we don’t have major updates before the release, and 0.08 is going to be a significant update, so the current release target is early October. I know this is a long time to go without a release, but there will be other things going on both in game development and new recording and stream projects.
The Steam release is currently slated for 25 September 2023, but that release date is still subject to change depending on how long it takes Steam to review the game once it is up. I’m still learning how to publish things to Steam, so it may take a couple of attempts before I get it right and we get a valid upload of ISN 0.07.3 to Steam for review.