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Wwise Licensing and Pricing Philosophy

Game Audio

-Just how does all this stuff work??-

It’s been whispered, in the dark recesses of studios around the world, that the pricing model for Wwise is a little… complex. That’s not TOTALLY wrong, but it’s a little more straightforward than many assume, due to a lot of bad info, a lot of old info, and a general fear of asking questions that exist out there. So I wanted to write this blog up to try and pull the veil back, and explain how things work with licensing of Wwise across the wide array of project types, studio sizes, industries and more.

The Basics

First things first - no two studios are alike, no two projects have identical circumstances. That means that building a licensing model that is ultra simple, meets the needs of the smallest studios to the biggest AAA teams, and is ‘liked’ by everyone (protip: nobody LIKES paying ANYTHING for tech) is a really big challenge. Add in an ecosystem of 3rd party tech, and the level of complexity grows and grows.

Early on, Audiokinetic adopted a model of per-project, per-platform licensing. This worked well for a long time. Teams with the means and budget paid more, teams with smaller budgets paid less. From day 1, we never wanted to limit the features of Wwise just because a team had less money. We always wanted to make sure that all teams could use the full, powerful featureset of Wwise, because a small budget but aurally ambitious game might need MORE features than a higher budget, but sonically simpler title.

To this day, we’ve kept that promise. Even in the days of our old ‘Limited Commercial License’ (aka Starter License), the featureset was never limited. Only the amount of assets a team could use, the reasoning being that if they were putting the effort and resources into audio, and considered it important enough to invest in, they could afford the lowest-priced license we had.

Of course, with our newer Indie License, that restriction is now gone (more on that a bit later).

So first, let’s discuss the project registration process.

Project Registration

Everything with Wwise, in an ‘official’ capacity, starts with a project registration. Simply put, you create an account on our website, click ‘Get Started’, then ‘Register My Project’. 

Screen Shot 2023-04-12 at 11.46.30

Follow the steps. The steps and even the legal License Agreement are the same for academic research, non-commercial games, indie-budget titles and Triple-I / Triple-A titles. Tell us a little bit about the game, the development timeline, the platforms and the budget, then after we approve you’re good to go.

BIG GIANT NOTE - No matter what path your project registration uses, be sure to actually USE the license key we provide. You can either visit the project page and copy the license key to your clipboard, then paste it into your Wwise License Manager, or you can link your Wwise project to your license key via the Launcher (with the little key icon next to your project). This is super-important, as you’d be amazed how many teams have a super-useful evaluation key sitting on their project page, and think that they still have an asset limit since they never actually USED IT. 

Also, once your project is registered, you can start inviting people to join. This includes anyone you think should be there. Programmers, Sound Designers, Composers, Audio Programmers, Producers, even Exec Producers and other business contacts on your end. The more information we have about who’s doing what on your project, the better we can work with you. Far too often, we have projects with a single user in our system, then that user leaves and the rest of the team has no idea how to update their license key, for example.

Evaluations

The key thing to understand about our evaluation program is that it’s very open, and we provide no-charge evaluations for as long as is reasonable for your development timeline.

If you are building a commercial game (or a prototype with commercial intent), the most important information is that timeline. Primarily, what we call the Pre-Production End-Date. This is a bit of an esoteric term, since all studios use different definitions. But think of this as the ‘end of prototyping’ or ‘greenlight’ date. This is when you have a budget, you ‘know what your game is’, and perhaps even have a publisher. Sometimes, teams build their vertical slice to go and pitch to publishers, and that’s great - we don’t require that you purchase a license until you get that publisher that allows you to keep the development going. And we’ll keep your evaluation going for as long as you need.

That’s not to say that evaluations can go on forever, though. If the thinking is ‘well, we’d rather not pay now, can we purchase a license at launch instead?’, that’s not how our license model works. We believe that the flexibility we offer in our evaluations is incredibly fair, but we’re still a business after all.

As I mentioned just above, if you’re building a prototype that ultimately will have a commercial intent, a regular commercial evaluation is the correct path. This way, if your planned budget is in our Pro or Premium tier, we can provide you with some direct support during your evaluation, in order to maximize the quality of your audio systems. 

Once you hit that magic milestone, then we’ll discuss the cost of the licensing, though you can get a very good guideline on our website here: https://www.audiokinetic.com/pricing/for-games/ 

Non-Commercial Licenses

But let’s say that you’re really doing non-commercial work. This could be ‘maintenance of our internal game engine’, or ‘my Master’s thesis work’, or even ‘we’re building an experience that is for a public good, and that we won’t make any money from’. Those are great candidates for a pure non-commercial license.

These are completely free. On any platform you need. With any premium plug-in you need. With as many assets as you can muster. No limitations, outside of having zero commercial intent (no ad sponsoring, no marketing tie-in with a corporate benefactor, etc.)

Register your project, and we’ll provide you with a non-commercial key to take you through launch and beyond, if needed.

For any borderline cases, absolutely feel free to ask us about it, but go in with the expectation that if there is commerciality, there could also be… paymentality as well (how did that not get flagged by spellcheck??) 

Indie Licensing

If you’re a small studio making a commercial game, don’t fret either! Our Indie tier is designed for you. If your project development budget is under $250K USD, Wwise is free. This will have some ‘checks and balances’, though. So upon approval, we’ll provide you with a key that lasts until your Greenlight/Pre-Production milestone, then check to make sure that the planned budget hasn’t grown. Then, we’ll extend things to just before your launch, and check in again. Finally, after you launch, we’ll check in every 6-12 months to make sure that the project budget hasn’t continued to grow past the Indie tier limit.

Once again - we strive to be super fair and as generous as we can be with these, but as a business we have to have checks in place (you’d be surprised at how many larger games tried to start as Indie-tier titles).

One quick note, and I mentioned this earlier. If you’re building a game where you HOPE to have a bigger budget (let’s say you’re building a game vertical slice for $100K or so, but then hope to pitch to get a $3M budget to build the actual game, register the project as a Premium tier. This way, you’ll have support during your evaluation period. If you register as an Indie, we can’t provide engineering-level support resources for all of our free users, so you’ll be imposing a limit on yourself.

The Paid Tiers

The paid tiers are largely similar to what they were before. First, the Pro tier covers all games with budgets from $250K USD to $2M USD. Again, rates are on https://www.audiokinetic.com/pricing/for-games/, with all of the prices for the support packages, premium plug-ins, and post-launch content licensing. 

The Premium tier is our highest ‘mandatory’ tier (as in, if your budget is in this range, you can’t use a lower tier). This is for games with budgets over $2M USD. With this, however, you receive a year of unlimited support from our engineers included with the license.

The Platinum license isn’t so much a tier, as it is a bundle of sorts. This provides you with unlimited support for the duration of your development plus 6 months post-launch, and also allows for use of all Audiokinetic-developed premium plug-ins at no additional charge (just ask and we’ll add them to your license key).

Audiokinetic's Wwise Pricing Philosophy

Now, here’s the really important thing to remember. While our licensing is definitely tiered (Indie/Pro/Premium), which implies steps, some of those steps are big. Sometimes TOO big. We will always work with you to find a pricing model that works for you. Most of the time, the list price is the right price. For example, if you’re building a $7M game for Windows, the single-platform license at Premium tier is a very good value. But if you’re building a 6-platform PC/console game for $2.5M USD, the list pricing is no longer a great value.

Licensing is a bit of an ‘art’ this way, in that we have rules (the tiers), but we can be a little creative where needed to really sculpt something that makes you happy. We try to make sure that if you’re targeting a single deployment platform, Wwise should never represent much more than 1% of your development budget. That means that for a borderline Indie/Pro game on Windows, we’ll already likely have a good amount of flexibility ready for you. While these aren’t hard and fast rules, we try to make sure 2 platforms is around 1.25% of the budget, 3-4 platforms are 1.5%, maybe 1.7%, and 5-6 platforms don’t go much higher than 2% of your budget. Once you get outside of that (really, you’re building for 8 platforms? Dag!), there are some alternate models that might make more sense.

So the takeaway here is that if you’re looking at the pricing page, and you’re thinking ‘I think this might be too expensive for us’, throw that idea right in the trash where it belongs and reach out to us. We’ll find a way to make the pricing and model work, I’m sure of it.

Alternate Models

For games where the traditional ‘up-front’ model of ‘pay for your licenses as the platforms go into production’ doesn’t work, we have some alternatives.

First up is our older royalty-based model. This can be used for ANY title, and amounts to a 1% gross revenue royalty. So you get to pay nothing all of the way up to launch, and then start paying once your game starts selling. We also have a floor on this, so if your game doesn’t generate more than $10,000 in revenue (so a $100 royalty), we won’t send you a bill.

The second alternate model is our newer GaaS model. As the name implies, this is only really valid for games that use a service-based model (subscription titles, F2P titles, ad-supported titles, etc.). With this model, you also get to go all of the way through development without paying, and upon launch, you start reporting revenue in a simplified fashion. Basically, you report monthly on what ‘tier’ your revenue reached for that month, and every quarter we send you an invoice. This amounts to a very capped royalty, as even if you’re making $100M/month (congratulations!!!), you would be paying the same as if you were making 1/10th that amount. Details on this can be found here: https://www.audiokinetic.com/pricing/for-games/?#gaas_license

This is a great option for a startup team looking to release a F2P game on mobile and consoles, but who probably has a better use for their pre-launch funding than buying licenses up front. Lowers your risk, and if you’re successful, we’re all successful!

For non-gaming (or non-traditional ‘play at home or on the user’s device’ games), things become a bit more bespoke. If you’re building a Location-based experience, non-gaming app, VR Arcade title, or similar, just contact us and we can discuss what model makes the most sense for you.

Wrapping It Up

So to summarize the above:

  • Open project registration (just tell us the details, click through the License Agreement, and we’ll provide you a key)
  • Non-fixed evaluation terms (the eval lasts as long as makes sense, rather than a fixed time period)
  • No feature differences between tiers
  • Free licensing for lower-budget Indies
  • Tiered pricing for larger-budget titles, with flexibility where needed
  • Alternate models where appropriate

Never hesitate to reach out by email to licensing@audiokinetic.com, or to me directly at @AKMikeD on Twitter. Those are probably the two best ways to contact us.

Mike Drummelsmith

Head of Licensing

Audiokinetic

Mike Drummelsmith

Head of Licensing

Audiokinetic

Mike heads up the Global Licensing team at Audiokinetic, has been with AK since 2013 and in the games industry for over 20 years. Always pushing for Wwise to be more accessible to small and indie teams.

 @AKMikeD

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