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Unity's gambling criticism was silly, dev backpedalling doubly so

Jackie Chan
Popular meme showing Jackie Chan holding in head in amazement
Jackie Chan

You may have heard that game development engine Unity caught some flak after the dev announced features aimed at the gambling industry, and it seems that the only thing more ridiculous than the criticism was them actually pulling the tweet.

"We recently delivered our first release of the year, Unity 2019.1, which includes `300 features, many of which are especially helpful for developers in the gambling industry", the tweet said.

What followed was so much outrage that the company thought best to delete the post, which made it blow up even more, as this sort of backpedalling tends to do.

In Unity's defence, they replaced it with a nearly identical tweet, basically just rephrasing the initial one. However, they also ended up changing the blog post, so as to drop the mentions of the gambling industry, which was just another show of weakness by the dev.

Not all of the criticism was ridiculous, mind you. Insomniac Games' character artist Xavier Coelho-Kostolny wrote a post that's well worth the read, even though it readily confuses offering engine features with developing loot boxes.

So let's just take a closer look at Unity's transgression here. First and foremost - this is a game engine.

Unity didn't make a magical and mandatory loot box code, so as to deviously infect the industry with them. They provide the means to make games.

It's updated with new features, many of which have been, are and will continue to be useful to gambling game makers. Poker is a game too, and making a poker machine follows similar procedures as any other game in Unity.

Nevertheless, some are calling for Unity to pull these features in their entirety and this is not just ridiculous - it's downright idiotic. I mean, how much of the engine's basic functionality would have to be sacrificed over a misaligned ethical compass here?

Snapshot GamesPicture of a residential area in a haven for Snapshot Games' upcoming Phoenix PointPhoenix Point, made in Unity

Before anyone confuses this piece for a defence of the gambling industry or a gambling-friendly sponsored post, here's something about yours truly.

I despise gambling, in every shape and form. I do not partake in it, not even as a joke, and I think the world would be a better place without it.

This includes loot boxes, obviously, even though I've never bought one, nor am I overly inclined to.

That being said, Unity doesn't make loot boxes. They don't put microtransactions into your favourite games.

They don't design the exploitative schemes that prey on the weak. Developers of your favourite games do, for reasons that deserve an essay of their own.

Unity doesn't flog cosmetics to keep a studio afloat - they sell a product. The gambling industry is a customer. Are we criticising a product for catering to its customers? Seriously?

Team CherryHollow Knight: Silksong
Hollow Knight: Silksong, made in Unity

Mixing up making loot boxes and providing the tools to do so is not only wrong, it's a dangerous logical fallacy that shifts responsibility for exploitative practices to people who make an honest living.

If that's ethics, then how about this - Microsoft, developer of the most widely used operating system in the world, has recently come under fire of their own employees, after signing a military contract for HoloLens 2. 

They didn't sign up to make weapons, the workers said, and it's hard to argue with them. Nevertheless, you didn't see many people removing Windows on that account, did you? No, you didn't.

UnityLogo of the game development engine UnityUnity

Another overlooked fact is that many developers started their careers in the gambling industry, before making their way to the gaming segment we all know and love.

Whether you like it or not, it is part of the equation, so the real world is clearly not as black and white as some would have you think.

So what exactly did Unity's team do wrong? Well, you could say that their honesty did them in, but providing patch notes on new features can't really be done differently.

cc0Roulette table, cc0Roulette table

Ultimately, getting offended at the mention of the gambling industry in patch notes is such hypocritical attempt at criticism of the world, that it deserves to be called hypocriticsm.

Unity is responsible for many an open-world, but when it comes to the real world - they didn't make it. They just live in it and happen to provide tools for others.

So how about this crazy idea - the next time you get angry over the fact the world's not to your liking, sit down and think hard who makes the final call to stuff your favourite game chock full of loot boxes. Because it ain't Unity, and that's a guarantee.