Unity, the company behind the multiplatform game engine of the same name, announced it has entered into an agreement to merge with IronSource (opens in new tab). “If you don’t know ironSource,” Unity’s statement reads, “they bring a proven record of helping creators focus on what creators do best – bringing great apps and user experiences to life – while enabling business expansion in the app economy.”
IronSource is also well-known for another reason. It developed InstallCore, a wrapper for bundling software installations. If you’ve searched for a popular program and seen a link to a third-party site with a URL that ended in something like “downloadb.net” or “hdownload.net” it may well have been InstallCore. If you made the mistake of downloading it, you’d be offered the kind of extras with generic names like RegClean Pro and DriverSupport an unsophisticated user might click OK on, which is how you end up with a PC full of toolbars and junk that’s as slow as your parents’ is. InstallCore was obnoxious enough Windows Defender will stop it running (opens in new tab), and Malwarebytes (opens in new tab) too.
As documented by Microsoft’s chief economist for web experience, strategy, and policy Ben Edelman (opens in new tab), InstallCore was also behind a fake installer for a Windows version of Snapchat, a program that’s only ever been available on mobile. It would instead install Android emulator BlueStacks, as well as the usual injection of adware.
Game developers who use Unity are less than thrilled about the merger. Andreia Gaita (opens in new tab), who runs game porting studio Spoiled Cat, tweeted that, “A game engine is the thing that you use to build and distribute games to devices. The vendors of those devices, like Apple, need to trust that the engine is not bundling bad things along with the game. Merging with a company that specializes in bundling malware is… WTF”. Or as Maddy Thorson (opens in new tab) of Celeste fame succinctly put it, “Man, fuck Unity”.
In 2015 IronSource merged with Supersonic (opens in new tab), developer of an in-app purchase platform, and pivoted from InstallCore to in-game ads. At the start of 2022, it acquired Tapjoy (opens in new tab), another specialist in mobile advertising and monetizing apps. This is the area Unity’s looking to expand its stake in (opens in new tab), as it plans on “harnessing the company’s tools, platform, technology, and talent to form an end-to-end platform that enables creators to more easily create, publish, run, monetize, and grow live games and [real-time 3D] content seamlessly.”
Unity already has Unity Ads, “our monetization solution for mobile games that enables game developers to monetize their entire player base”, but obviously there are benefits to combining that with IronSource: “Unity and ironSource’s complementary data and product capabilities will give creators access to better funding for user acquisition (UA) and monetization to successfully scale their games and accelerate their economic performance.”
The Wall Street Journal (opens in new tab) reports Unity has agreed to pay $4.4 billion for IronSource. It’s the latest in a string of partnerships and acquisitions for Unity that include buying VFX studio Weta Digital for $1.6 billion. And yet, just two weeks ago, it laid off hundreds of employees to, as a Unity spokesperson told us, “realign some of our resources”.