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  • 07/18/18 12:45 AM

    Hard sell and coercive tactics from Unity

    News

    jbadams

     

     

    Unity® software is one of the most popular options for beginning and established indie developers.  With a great feature set and range of target platforms it’s a very attractive choice.  The popularity of Unity® software is in no small part thanks to a very liberal free license tier which allows developers grossing less than $100k annual revenue to use the fully featured engine at no cost.

    While it’s reasonable to expect that Unity Technologies would try to attract developers on the free tier to upgrade to a Unity Plus or Unity Pro license, it would seem some developers have been the subject of dishonest hard sale tactics and even some coercion.
    We’ve spoken to several developers, and it seems there is a pattern to these aggressive sales tactics beginning with a message like the following:


    An email claiming to have seen the developer's project on LinkedIn and offering a Unity license upgrade.

    Nothing is particularly amiss here.  The message is polite, not overly pushy, and simply invites discussion of an upgrade.  Unfortunately, however, it seems this “cold call” style message is a little dishonest.  Several of the developers we have spoken to have received this message despite no mention of their project on LinkedIn, and at least two are not even registered on the platform.

    The above message has then been followed up with a message suggesting developers are in violation of Unity® software licensing terms due to a higher revenue than the allowed $100k.

    A message from Unity suggests the developer is in violation of Unity licensing terms with annual gross revenue over $100k, suggests upgrading "to avoid impact your development work"

    Now, these aren’t big-name developers with highly successful projects receiving the messages.  Some trivial investigation of the developers’ social accounts or websites would reveal they have not earned anywhere close to the limit.


    One developer Tweeted:

    Quote

    Okay @unity3d, I know you really want to sell me a subscription, but this is a new low.  I haven’t even made 100k in my entire life let alone the last year.


    Mike Berg of We Heart Games (who kindly provided the above images) had the following to say:

    Quote

    After a string of aggressive — and even deceptive — emails from various folks at Unity, I got one yesterday filled with veiled threats, and accusations that I might be breaking the EULA by earning more than $100k per year.

    This kind of open hostility toward hobbyist game developers is such a bad sales tactic, I don’t even know where to begin. People using the free license are exactly the people you should be treating with encouragement and respect. These are your future stars. The aggressive tactics by the sales team are so off-putting, that I no longer have any interest in doing business with Unity, and will now have a hard time recommending them to other game developers.

    I understand that having an income limit in your EULA is something that needs to be enforced, but it would have taken someone 10 minutes of looking at my company’s online presence to see that I’m not making money making games.  I have nothing on either App Store, nothing on Steam, and four tiny free games on itch that aren’t even finished. A company should have some strict guidelines about what makes a customer suspect of breaking the EULA, before they get an email like the one I received yesterday. 

    There are many good people at Unity. Unfortunately, this approach makes the entire company look bad.

    At the time of writing, Unity Technologies has not responded to our request for comments, but have been in contact with some of the affected developers.  Mike Berg has kindly shared part of his exchange, which you can view in full on Twitter, and we have included part of here:
     

    Unity representative explains that an error has occurred with automated sales emails that were intended to be customised, and with an automated system intended to identify possible EULA violations.  The level of automation will be scaled back in future and all emails will be manually reviewed before sending.

    Hopefully, the follow up from Unity Technologies and reduction of automated processes prevents similar incidents from happening in future, though in at least some cases it seems it’s too late to win back customers who have received the messages and are now considering alternative options.

     

    The Unity logo and Unity product names are the property of Unity Technologies.
     

    Edited by jbadams



      Report Story


    User Feedback


    It looks to me like an unfortunate incident with a couple of automated systems which may not have been ideally thought out or fully tested before deployment.  The resulting messages are very unpleasant for developers -- especially as they seem very dishonest and accusatory due to the mishap -- but unfortunately these sort of things sometimes happen.

    Hopefully, the changes prevent anything from happening again - manual review of all future messages seems like a good approach that should help to reduce similar mistakes.

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    Probably just a bot that looks for a game mentioned X times in forums. Then when it believes the user is "popular" it sends the message.

    It is a side effect of Unity using the honor system. It is difficult for them to know who is making how much money and who is breaking the terms.

     

    However in the end this is just a minor inconvenience, when compared to lengthy submission and approval system some other engines use, this is nothing.

    Even Unreal's system, where you submit a form when publishing feels slow and painful. It hurts me on a personal level to admit that even Unreal has faults.

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    Agreed. Would definitely be off putting to receive, but having seen the explanation I certainly wouldn't be making sweeping changes to my tech choices because of this. :)

    Hopefully they're proactive in contacting everyone who received the messages and not just those who made a fuss.

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    Thank your for sharing this news. I'm currently a hobbyist developer and have been learning and using Unity for a couple years. The reason I chose it was because of its user-friendly licensing, especially as a newbie to game development. I am working full-time overseas as a government contractor and don't have a lot of free-time. However I plan on retiring in another year and start making games full-time to supplement my pension. As noted in your article, I doubt seriously that I will make over the $100K limit. Maybe after a few years hopefully I will. If so, I would definitely upgrade to ensure compliance and additional benefits. As Scouting Ninja said, I am willing to give Unity the benefit of the doubt. It does seem that Unity's marketing department may not have fully vetted the system prior to implementation. As a hobbyist planning on "upgrading" my work, I would hope Unity does fix the problem and from their response they seem to have done so. I don't have plans to change my game engine even though I could easier than say an established small indie studio. But I like Unity, I like the support available, and I like how it works for me.

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    It's a very solid technology choice with a good ecosystem around it. I think there are certainly some other very strong contenders (Unreal, Game Maker for certain games, Godot is becoming more established and viable, numerous smaller engines), but unless you have unusual requirements or prefer doing your own low level work I certainly don't think you can go wrong with Unity as a small developer.

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    It seems they're now reaching out proactively with the following message:

    Quote

    Hello

    I wanted to reach out personally to sincerely apologize for an email you received yesterday that mentioned we had flagged you for violating our Terms of Service. This email is not characteristic of who we are at Unity, and it should never have been sent.  

    You are a valued member of our development community. We pride ourselves in supporting that community and the last thing we’d want to do is to alienate ourselves from that.

    As the head of my team – I take full responsibility for this situation, and want you to know that I’m sorry for any frustration or anger that this may have caused you and other fellow developers. At Unity - we value our community of developers above all else, and I hope we can repair whatever damage has been done here.

    Please let me know if there’s anything I can do on our end to make this right. Again, my deepest apologies for this and I will personally ensure you will not be reached out to again regarding this matter.

    Thank you for building on Unity.

    All the best,

    Hopefully the matter is properly resolved and won't be repeated. :)

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    5 hours ago, jbadams said:

    As the head of my team – I take full responsibility for this situation, and want you to know that I’m sorry for any frustration or anger that this may have caused you and other fellow developers. At Unity - we value our community of developers above all else, and I hope we can repair whatever damage has been done here.

    Please let me know if there’s anything I can do on our end to make this right.

    Resign.

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    Damn you Unity!  How dare you make a mistake.  I'm learning to use your world-class, professional tool for FREE, with FREE support from from your FREE tutorials, and FREE help from your massive community.  How dare you insult me!

    Freeloaders unite!  Grab the pitchforks and torches.  We're off to Copenhagen for real justice.

    I love the over-the-top moral outrage from people using a free product. One error and the choice dependents punish and snipe their patrons.  Yawn.

    These are the same people who complain the beach is too sunny and the sand too plentiful...

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    47 minutes ago, Gary T said:

    One error and the choice dependents punish and snipe their patrons.  Yawn.

    If it was just one error, one problem it would have gone unnoticed.

    I think the reason this is news, is because it is not the first time Unity upset a part of its user base this year, then there is the teething problems of Unity 2018. All this followed by the "Unity good enough for bad games" viasco from years ago that just keep snowballing.

    Every mistake Unity makses just keeps pushing developers away. It's getting to the point where developers are looking for excuses to abandon Unity.

     

    57 minutes ago, Gary T said:

    world-class, professional tool for FREE, with FREE support from from your FREE tutorials, and FREE help from your massive community.

    It's the free massive community that has the problem with what the engines does. This community is responsible for the free Tutorials and support because Unity only provides direct support to premium users.

    So the only thing Unity provides is the free tools, the rest is driven and dependent of its users. It's this that scares developers, when ever Unity does something like this, because if Unity users find reason to leave it will also weaken Unity as an engine.

     

    Unity has a lot of competition, so it is important for the engine to minimize mistakes like this. That is probably why they addressed it publicly.

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    Interestingly, since publishing this piece I've had a few other developers reach out to me with stories of sales tactics they consider to be overly pushy or occasionally dishonest.

    One told me a story from sometime last year where the sales team reached out saying they'd seen his website and thought his game looked awesome, but they suspected he may be earning above the Plus license revenue limit... but just like the LinkedIn accounts in this case, he didn't actually have a website showing the game. Others have similar stories.

     

    In some cases it's people interacting to ordinary sales tactics, but it seems there's a bit of history of mistakes or lies in some of the information.

     

    I'd love to hear from anyone else effected! :)

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