“Buildbox is not an engine and we don’t compete with game engines.”Jonathan Zweig, CEO, Buildbox
Buildbox CEO Jonathan Zweig took to Twitter Tuesday to defend changes to the company’s pricing structure and, apparently, reject Buildbox’s own brand messaging in a series of Tweets that raised many unanswered questions. Here are the changes, Zweig’s comments, and a theory about what might be coming next.
Update 5/23/21: Per Buildbox CEO, Jonathan Zweig’s invitation, check out our 5 open questions for Buildbox.
Update 7/21/21: CodeWritePlay interviewed Buildbox CEO, Jonathan Zweig, and SVP Design, Doug Manson, for the GameDev Breakdown podcast. A full interview write-up is coming soon.
“Default” means 70% to Buildbox after $5 threshold
In a whirlwind of celebratory announcements on the Buildbox blog, Zweig mentions that all users will soon have the option to use Buildbox for free as part of the company’s new pricing tiers. Indeed, the tiers for what they now call Buildbox Classic and Buildbox 3 both include a free option. It stands out that where other tiers list a revenue share percentage and a share threshold dollar amount, the free tier lists “Default” in both fields. Since this has literally no meaning, users can hunt down a “rev share” details link in the collapsed FAQs.
On this third separate page, Buildbox acknowledges the “Default” revenue share is 70% to Buildbox, 30% to the user. For the higher tiers, lower percentages are collected after higher thresholds are reached–that’s 30% after $50 for Plus users, 10% after $2,500 for Pro. In the free tier, users owe 70% of revenue above just a $5 threshold.
Per the same policy page, revenue sharing obligations cover not just integrated ad revenue, but also premium sales, subscription fees, in-app purchases, and other “independent revenue” apparently as determined by Buildbox/AppOnboard.
An engine identity crisis
To make matters infinitely more confusing, CEO Jonathan Zweig set out to correct what he seemed to perceive as misconceptions about the very nature of Buildbox in threads started by famed asset creator, @KenneyNL.
Perhaps most surprising, Zweig stated several times that Buildbox is “not an engine.”
So, what is it? “Buildbox is software that provides a service: allowing [creators] to make games without writing code.”
Thanks Kenney! Love the feedback! Remember Buildbox is not an engine and we don't compete with game engines. Buildbox is software that provides a service : allowing our creators to make games without writing code. Apples and oranges to compare Buildbox to any game engine 🙂— JZ Buildbox.com ⚾️ (@bruinengineer) May 18, 2021
Twitter users were quick to point out that Buildbox uses the word “engine” just about everywhere. Zweig directed that attention to the word “codeless” before “game development engine,” but most major game engines have a visual development solution in the present day just as Buildbox has its own scripting functionality for advanced users. This seems a thinly-veiled attempt to get out of a price comparison in which Buildbox appears to stick it to indies hard.
In Zweig’s reasoning, by which Buildbox is not a game engine and can’t be compared to other “game makers” (his term) that are engines, he repeatedly brought up Roblox and YouTube.
Roblox, which most certainly does call itself an engine, does indeed charge 70% of revenue for in-game purchases. This is true, and it’s plenty controversial. As for YouTube, so far no one has been able to point me toward a program matching what Zweig is talking about. If someone does, I’ll still need to hear why YouTube to Buildbox is a better comparison than Buildbox to Unity or Buildbox to Unreal, other than that Unity and Unreal charge indies nothing at all until they earn a great deal of money.
It’s worth noting that Zweig also made several comparisons to Apple, presumably by way of a 30% revenue cut (70% to the creator) at the Plus tier. This is largely invalid, as Apple began offering a 15% revenue cut to nearly all developers in December of 2020. Google soon followed suit.
Zweig addressed several questions in a blog post Tuesday night, promising more information and news in the coming days. While there was never going to be any explaining this away, the day seemed like a case study in how to make a bad situation worse. While it’s entirely possible that this is just how it’s going to be, it’s also possible Buildbox put out much worse terms than they intend to settle on as a negotiation tactic with the community. It will become clear if, after a day of backlash or two, Buildbox revisits the issue having “taken everyone very seriously” and announces a reduction to 50% after $50 at the free tier or some similar concession.
Regardless, game developers might be wise to pick up and relocate. Both the new pricing arrangements and Buildbox’s method of presentation are of real concern here. Nearly every serious game engine (which clearly Buildbox is, or certainly contains) now has tools for no-code development. Any company that poses as the only path to game development without code is painting a misleading picture. Readers are advised to watch for this and call it out where they see it.