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Navigating Unity’s Pricing Shift And The Future of Gaming: Q&A With Aethir’s Paul Thind

The chief revenue officer shares his thoughts on the impact of AI in gaming and how developers can foster stronger communities

Paul Thind, chief revenue officer at Aethir

The gaming industry is evolving rapidly. With the rise of mobile gaming, cloud gaming and VR/AR, there are more opportunities than ever before for game developers. However, these new opportunities also come with new challenges, with cost of development being one of the biggest challenges facing game developers today. 

Unity, one of the most popular game engines, recently announced a new pricing structure that includes a subscription fee, putting a financial strain on many game developers, especially those who are working on indie games. 

Paul Thind, chief revenue officer at Aethir spoke to us about the current state of the gaming industry, the challenges posed by Unity’s pricing structure, and how Aethir’s solutions are empowering game developers to create the next generation of games.

For audiences who haven’t heard about Aethir, can you tell us about your company?

Paul Thind: Aethir is a decentralised cloud infrastructure (DCI) solution that makes complex, latency-dependent cloud environments accessible, secure and scalable. Addressing the latency issue in current cloud technology, Aethir offers an alternative that solves the cost and latency challenges associated with delivering heavy GPU computational loads. 

How do you do this?

Our decentralised cloud infrastructure isn’t bound by traditional resource ownership. Instead, our network thrives on a low capital expansion model that becomes cheaper as it grows. With a focus on the two most cloud-intensive industries – gaming and AI – Aethir aims to create a network that allows for low capital expenditure and high efficiency. 

The AI and gaming landscapes are evolving exponentially, demanding cloud resources at an unprecedented rate and scale. However, the challenge of satisfying this global appetite isn’t just about capacity. The cloud, like traditional infrastructure, serves diverse, evolving needs but is slow and costly to adapt.

AI applications such as ChatGPT have strained cloud infrastructure with rapid user growth, hinting at bigger challenges ahead. The gaming industry has a similar issue of scale. Billions of gamers interact with the cloud every day and, like the AI sector, their cloud requirements are shifting. 

AI applications such as ChatGPT have strained cloud infrastructure with rapid user growth, hinting at bigger challenges ahead

Paul Thind

The future of online experiences has always been real-time as we’ve seen with DVDs evolving into Netflix and HDDs evolving into online file storage. Similarly, today’s text-based applications such as ChatGPT will evolve into voice and video AI but the challenge is scalability.

Likewise, game developers and publishers are looking to the cloud to unlock access to the 2.8 billion gamers stuck on low-end devices. It isn’t a matter of ‘if’ these gamers come online, it’s simply a matter of ‘when’. Where today’s cloud infrastructure makes scaling latency-sensitive applications like AI digital avatars, or cloud-gaming instances, cost-prohibitive – Aethir solves. 

Game developers and publishers are looking to the cloud to unlock access to the 2.8 billion gamers stuck on low-end devices. It isn’t a matter of ‘if’ these gamers come online, it’s simply a matter of ‘when’

Paul Thind

How are you solving the challenges of cross-platform with your decentralised cloud infrastructure?

We aim to make our technology available to all to create a minimal latency world. In order to achieve this goal, our technology comprises unified infrastructure, streamlined game deployment, cloud rendering and streaming, SDK and tools as well as market testing and engagement.

Our decentralised cloud infrastructure (DCI) provides a seamless environment for developers to create, deploy and scale cross-platform gaming experiences without the typical constraints and costs associated with traditional development processes.

What are your thoughts on Unity’s recent pay-per-install pricing announcement?

First, let’s start with what Unity’s pay-per-install pricing was about. From January 1st 2024 onwards, Unity said they would apply new fees to games that surpass certain revenue and install thresholds. For Unity Personal and Unity Plus users, those thresholds would be $200,000 in annual revenue and 200,000 in lifetime instals. Unity Pro and Unity Enterprise accounts would have higher limits — $1 million in revenue and 1 million lifetime instals.

The cost per install also would vary based on the type of Unity subscription:

  • Unity Personal: $0.20 per install
  • Unity Enterprise: $0.01 per install after 2 million instals 
  • Unity would also introduce reduced rates for emerging markets and discontinue its Unity Plus subscription tier

Post the announcement, there was huge uproar from the development community with respect to these costs. This was primarily due to them fearing repercussions for Game Pass, demos, charity bundles, and the possibility of ‘install-bombing’ from frustrated gamers repeatedly uninstalling and reinstalling games.

Unity did make clarifications to address these concerns that included the fact that only the initial installation would result in a fee, while re-installs would not trigger additional charges. Game demos would be exempt from fees unless they were bundled with the full game, while developers could inform Unity if the game was part of a charity bundle, and fees would be waived. Studios with titles on Game Pass and other subscriptions would have the fee charged to the distributor, not the developer.

It’s clear that going forward, these changes may create issues for developers such as increased costs, market saturation and a decrease in innovation. However, Unity’s justification centres on the fact that each game also instals Unity Runtime. Moreover, Unity states that this fee model allows creators to keep ongoing financial gains from player engagement, unlike a revenue-sharing model. 

In my opinion, Unity at some point had to begin thinking about this.  It seems like it was very poorly messaged and executed, which resulted in the adjustment and slight retraction.  It will be important to see how these changes play out in the coming year. 

What are some of the challenges that this new pricing model poses to developers?

For indie developers already tight on budget with razor-thin margins, these new costs could be a significant burden. Especially since Unity Personal users – arguably those with the least financial wiggle room – are the ones charged the highest fees.

High fees could also discourage smaller developers from being experimental or innovative, fearing the cost of failure or the need to hit high install numbers to break even.

And lastly, with a heightened barrier to entry, the marketplace might become more saturated with ‘safe bets’ and less welcoming to fresh and innovative ideas.

All that said, there could be an opportunity for DCI to prevent these downsides and create a win-win situation for Unity and the developers. 

How can Aethir’s solutions help developers overcome the challenges posed by Unity’s pay-per-install pricing announcement?

Our solution is able to overcome the challenges posed by Unity’s new announcement by lowering costs, since DCI utilises idle resources from network participants rather than relying on centralised data centres, thereby reducing costs significantly.

Developers won’t have to share revenue or pay install-based fees to third-party companies like Unity, giving them more financial freedom, while the decentralised model allows developers to scale their game’s backend needs without a huge upfront investment, offering a lower entry point for smaller developers.

As decentralised networks are, by definition, global, developers have the benefit of a worldwide network, potentially offering better latency and user experience. Finally, gamers could theoretically play or stream multiple games which would add to the discoverability aspect of new titles.

As decentralised networks are, by definition, global, developers have the benefit of a worldwide network, potentially offering better latency and user experience.

Paul Thind

Let’s talk about developer communities. How important would you say the development community is to game engine companies?

The development community is paramount to game engine companies, serving as the backbone for innovation, growth and the overall success of our products. Their creativity, feedback and dedication play a pivotal role in shaping the direction of our game engines. Recognising this, fostering a strong and collaborative relationship with the development community is not just beneficial but crucial.

To support and engage with the development community effectively, game engine companies should adopt several key strategies:

  • Open Communication Channels: Establish transparent and open lines of communication through forums, social media, and dedicated feedback channels. Actively listen to developers, address their concerns, and provide timely responses.
  • Documentation and Resources: Offer comprehensive documentation, tutorials, and educational resources to empower developers and facilitate the learning curve. This ensures that developers can maximize the potential of the game engine.
  • Community Events and Workshops: Organise events, workshops and webinars to bring developers together, share knowledge, and provide hands-on experiences. This not only builds a sense of community but also allows for direct interaction with the development team.
  • Incorporate User Feedback: Actively seek and integrate user feedback into the development process. Regularly update the game engine based on community input, addressing bugs, adding features, and refining performance based on user experiences.
  • Developer Grants and Support Programs: Establish programs to provide financial and technical support to promising projects within the community. This not only encourages innovation but also strengthens ties with talented developers.
  • Community Spotlights: Showcase exceptional projects and success stories from the community, whether through official showcases, social media, or in-game features. Recognizing and celebrating the achievements of developers fosters a positive and supportive environment.
  • Beta Testing and Early Access: Involve the community in beta testing and early access programs. This not only allows developers to experience new features firsthand but also provides valuable insights for refining and optimising the game engine.
  • Collaborative Development Initiatives: Encourage collaboration among developers by facilitating the creation of shared resources, plugins, and extensions. This collaborative spirit enhances the overall ecosystem and benefits all users.
  • Regular Updates and Roadmaps: Provide a clear roadmap for the future development of the game engine. Regularly update the community on progress, upcoming features, and long-term goals to instil confidence and maintain interest.

By prioritising these strategies, game engines can not only meet the needs of their development community, but also create a dynamic and thriving ecosystem that propels the entire industry forward.

What responsibilities do game engine companies have to their development community?

Game engine companies like Epic Games or Unity Technologies play a pivotal role in the gaming and broader software industry by developing, providing, and maintaining game engines which are becoming increasingly influential in various social and economic arenas.

However, the responsibilities of game engine companies towards their development community can be quite extensive. They typically need to ensure that their engines are robust, reliable, and updated with the latest technological advancements. Additionally, providing comprehensive documentation, educational resources, active community forums for troubleshooting and discussion, and responsive customer support are also part of their responsibilities towards fostering a supportive development environment.

How does Aethir offer an alternative to the traditional game engine business model?

Aethir’s unique value proposition revolves around making it easier for developers to create games while also making gaming better for players. It removes the need for high-end hardware, provides very low delay in-game response, and helps game makers reach players worldwide. For example, when developers build a game, Aethir helps get it ready for players to test before it’s officially launched. They do this by putting the test game on their system, which makes it easier for developers to work on and improve the game without the usual hurdles.

In simple terms, Aethir works on lowering the hurdles for developers and improving gaming for players across many types of devices. Through its cloud-based system, it makes games easy to access and enjoy on different devices, which is a win for both game makers and players.

Through its cloud-based system, it makes games easy to access and enjoy on different devices, which is a win for both game makers and players.

Paul Thind

Tell us your thoughts on AI and why you think scalability is so important?

AI solutions often deal with large datasets and complex algorithms. As the workload increases, scalability ensures that the system can handle growing data volumes and computational demands. Scalability enables the deployment of AI solutions across various domains, industries, and applications. A scalable system can adapt to different requirements and use cases.

Scalable AI solutions are more likely to have a significant impact in real-world scenarios. They can be applied to a wide range of problems, from small-scale tasks to large-scale, complex challenges. Scalability often leads to improved efficiency and cost-effectiveness. It allows organisations to optimise resources, making it feasible to deploy AI solutions in a cost-efficient manner.

Scalable systems are more flexible and adaptable to changes in data volume, user demand, or business requirements. This adaptability is crucial for AI solutions to stay relevant over time.

What are some of the challenges of scaling these AI solutions?

Handling large datasets and complex models requires substantial computational resources. Ensuring access to powerful hardware, such as GPUs or TPUs, can be a challenge. As the amount of data grows, managing and processing it becomes a significant challenge. Scalable solutions must incorporate efficient data storage, retrieval, and processing mechanisms.

Some AI algorithms, especially deep learning models, can be computationally intensive. Scaling these algorithms requires careful consideration of parallelisation, distributed computing, and optimisation techniques. Integrating AI solutions with existing systems and workflows can be complex. Scalability needs to be addressed in a way that aligns with the organization’s infrastructure and processes.

Training large models on vast datasets is time-consuming and resource-intensive.

Paul Thind

Training large models on vast datasets is time-consuming and resource-intensive. Scalability challenges include developing distributed training frameworks and techniques to accelerate the training process. Deploying models at scale and handling inference requests from a large number of users or devices is a challenge. Efficient model deployment and serving strategies need to be implemented.

As systems scale, maintaining optimal performance becomes challenging. Load balancing, monitoring, and optimisation are crucial to ensure consistent and efficient performance across various scales. Also, as AI solutions scale, the risks associated with security and privacy breaches increase. Implementing robust security measures and ensuring compliance with data privacy regulations are essential.

Building and maintaining scalable AI solutions require skilled professionals. There is a shortage of talent with expertise in both AI and scalable system design.

Addressing these challenges involves a combination of technological innovation, careful system design, and collaboration among researchers, engineers, and industry experts. As AI continues to evolve, overcoming these challenges will be essential for unlocking the full potential of scalable AI solutions.

So what role do you see AI infrastructure playing in the future of gaming?

AI technologies can create more immersive and dynamic gaming experiences. AI-driven NPCs (non-player characters) can exhibit more realistic behaviours, adapting to player actions and providing a more engaging and challenging environment. Similarly, AI can be employed to create intelligent opponents in multiplayer games, ensuring that even in the absence of human players, the gaming experience remains challenging and enjoyable.

AI algorithms can be used to generate game content dynamically, such as levels, maps, and quests. This allows for endless variations in game scenarios, keeping players engaged and offering unique experiences. AI can also analyse player behaviour, preferences and skill levels to tailor gaming experiences. This personalisation can include recommending games, adjusting difficulty levels and creating customised in-game content.

AI-powered technologies enable voice and gesture recognition, providing new ways for players to interact with games. This enhances the overall gaming experience and makes it more accessible.

AI can contribute to dynamic storytelling by adapting narratives based on player choices. This results in more interactive and branching storylines that respond to individual player decisions.

Functionally, AI algorithms can be used to detect and prevent cheating in online games. By analysing player behaviour and identifying anomalies, AI helps maintain fair play and a positive gaming environment.

And decentralised infrastructure?

Decentralised technologies, particularly blockchain and non-fungible tokens (NFTs), can be used to create unique in-game assets and items. This gives players true ownership of digital assets and enables new economic models within games.

Blockchain-based platforms can offer decentralised alternatives to traditional gaming platforms. These platforms can facilitate peer-to-peer transactions, reduce fees, and provide a more open and transparent ecosystem for developers and players.

Decentralised infrastructure enhances the security of player accounts and in-game assets, so blockchain’s tamper-resistant nature and cryptographic security features contribute to a more secure and fraud-resistant gaming environment.

Decentralised technologies can facilitate cross-platform compatibility and interoperability, allowing players to use their assets across different games and platforms seamlessly.

Decentralised finance (DeFi) principles can be applied to gaming, enabling player-driven economies where in-game assets have real-world value. This opens up opportunities for players to earn and trade assets across different games.

Decentralised governance models can empower gaming communities to have a say in the development and evolution of the games they love. Token-based governance systems allow players to vote on updates, features, and changes.

Decentralised infrastructure reduces the level of control held by a single entity over the gaming ecosystem. This can lead to more democratic and open systems that prioritize the interests of the gaming community.

Combining AI and decentralised infrastructure in gaming has the potential to revolutionise the industry, offering novel experiences, fostering player engagement, and creating more inclusive and player-centric ecosystems. As technology continues to advance, the synergy between AI and decentralised technologies is likely to shape the future landscape of gaming in exciting ways

Combining AI and decentralised infrastructure in gaming has the potential to revolutionise the industry, offering novel experiences, fostering player engagement, and creating more inclusive and player-centric ecosystems. 

Paul Thind

How do you think Aethir’s approach could impact the game industry as a whole?

In the gaming industry, developers often make either visual or gameplay trade-offs to ensure their games are accessible across different devices, but Aethir changes this. Our DCI provides virtual containers for games to be easily plugged into, rendering gameplay directly in the cloud and sending it to players’ devices in real-time.

For the first time ever, high fidelity 3D games can be played across devices regardless of hardware. Aethir eliminates the need for costly hardware upgrades, making gaming accessible to all. Aethir also integrates with blockchain support, ensuring a smooth real-time service for both traditional games and metaverses, promising a new era in gaming experiences.

We’re revolutionising the cloud infrastructure landscape for gaming and AI companies, addressing the growing demands of these industries. The challenges of scaling AI and gaming applications are evident, with billions of users seeking low latency and high-speed experiences.

Traditional cloud providers struggle to keep up with these demands due to high costs and latency issues. Enter Aethir’s DCI – a game-changer in the industry. Our approach reduces capital expenditure, ensuring efficiency and cost-effectiveness. By decentralising the network, Aethir eliminates resource ownership and supply chain constraints, leading to significantly lower service costs.

Users can enjoy lag-free gaming experiences on basic smartphones, thanks to a global node network that becomes more efficient as it expands. This is in stark contrast to traditional providers facing scalability bottlenecks.  In a world where the future is driven by cryptocurrency and AI, Aethir offers the ideal solution for tomorrow’s gaming and AI industries, ensuring accessibility and scalability on a global scale.

What challenges do you see ahead?

As we continue to build a decentralised cloud infrastructure for gaming and AI companies, we believe there are a few challenges that need to be addressed in the gaming industry.

One of the significant barriers to broader adoption of cloud gaming is latency. Players want real-time responsiveness, and any lag can severely hamper the gaming experience. As gaming titles become more complex and the number of gamers grows, there’s a pressing need for infrastructure that can scale rapidly without compromising performance.

Traditional cloud gaming platforms can be expensive to maintain and scale. Decentralisation promises to distribute these costs and make high-end gaming accessible to a wider audience. Many high-end games require sophisticated hardware setups. The vision of cloud gaming is to make games accessible regardless of a player’s hardware, but this requires robust and efficient cloud infrastructure.

Not all regions have access to high-quality cloud gaming due to data centre locations and network limitations. Decentralised networks aim to democratise this access.

AI, VR, AR, and other emerging technologies are reshaping the gaming experience. Integrating these seamlessly requires advanced and adaptable infrastructure.

Paul has been at the forefront of the gaming, Web3 and entertainment revolutions over the past three decades. As the chief revenue officer (CRO) of Aethir, he plays a pivotal role in driving strategic growth and fostering key partnerships. His prior tenure as CEO of Triggerspot, a global games consultancy, saw collaborations with industry stalwarts such as Zynga, Disney and 20th Century Fox.

Paul’s innovative approach to the gaming landscape is further evidenced by his pioneering efforts in introducing the Free to Play business model in the US, notably with Sulake’s Habbo Hotel. Beyond Aethir, Paul’s held multiple advisory roles in the Web3 domain, contributing to brand partnerships in The Sandbox and closing deals exceeding $1B in mobile ad tech, gaming and entertainment.

Written By

Isa Muhammad is a writer and video game journalist covering many aspects of entertainment media including the film industry. He's steadily writing his way to the sharp end of journalism and enjoys staying informed. If he's not reading, playing video games or catching up on his favourite TV series, then he's probably writing about them.

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