Unity says strange emails sent to developers were caused by 'human error'

In the past few weeks, more than a few game developers who use the Unity game engine have received strange and intrusive emails from the company. The emails range from inappropriate-message-from-your-ex creepy to more concerning reports of potential EULA violations, and they were sent in such a small time frame that some developers began to worry Unity had changed its privacy and user policies without telling anyone.

Yesterday, one developer from Dr. Spacezoo creator Smash/Riot tweeted an email that a coworker received after they left Unity idling overnight. Addressed to "REPLACE_THIS," the email says Unity "noticed that you have been inactive on the editor for a while" and asks if "there's something I can do to get you back to developing." The broken auto-generated subject line is a little odd but understandable, but why send such a personal email to someone who just went AFK for a bit? In a statement posted this morning, Unity explained what happened: 

"This email was part of a new effort to help developers succeed with Unity. The original aim was to check in with people who have not signed into their Unity account for some time, with a view to suggesting new learning materials that could help. Instead it went out to the wrong group of people, and to make matters worse, our wording was confusing. We looked into the details of what happened and want to reassure you that the Unity Editor being left on overnight was not related to receiving the email." 

But privacy concerns are only part of it. Earlier this month, freelance developer Mike Berg of studio weheartgames received an email from Unity about his use of the Personal Edition of the engine, which is free to creators who generate less than $100,000 in revenue annually. 

"I'm reaching out as unfortunately I noticed in our system that We Heart Games Inc. is only utilizing the Personal Edition (PE) license tier within your organization which I'm afraid may be against our Terms of Service," the email, which Berg shared on Twitter, reads. "We have flagged your account as potentially being in violation of our EULA as we believe We Heart Games Inc.'s total finances exceeded $100k in the last 12 months. The last thing we want is to impact your development work in any way—so I'd like to help you get all members of your organization upgraded to Unity Plus or Unity Pro in order to be compliant." 

I reached out to Berg on Twitter, and he said that while his access to Unity wasn't affected by this hiccup, the fact that this email happened at all is a problem. 

"A huge percentage of Unity’s Personal License users have got to be hobbyist gamedevs," Berg said. "These are the people that they should be encouraging and helping to succeed. Successful free users turn into successful paid users. Instead they pester you with emails from so-called 'Success Advisors' who appear to be concerned with one thing: selling Pro licenses... aka their own success, not yours." 

Berg wasn't the only one who received emails like this. Independent developer Kai Clavier received the exact same email, and many other developers sounded off in response to Berg's tweet. Nathan Mishler of Studio Cypher said he received a phone call from Unity about potential EULA violations, explained that it was a mistake, and got his account un-flagged, only for his business partner to receive the same email the very next day. A member of Greece studio KickBack said they received an email alleging that KickBack "had extra people working for us that were using personal licenses and that we should buy extra Pro licenses." 

A Unity representative responded to Mishler's claim on Twitter, affirming that "a few of us are discussing it internally to see what the situation is" and that the intent was never "to threaten or harass anyone." 

Berg also received a response from Unity, which he shared on Twitter. Unity sales manager Calvin Chau explained that "we have been testing a new sales engagement platform" and that those tests had gone a bit awry. 

"The templated emails that went out were intended to be personalized prior to sending but obviously there had been a breakdown in the process flow," Chau said, "prompting all emails to be sent out automatically. The second part of the problem—cultivating to somewhat of a perfect storm—was that the email you had received was intended for folks that we had legitimate reason to believe were in violation of our Terms of Service. Unfortunately, a clerical error in our backend system had bucketed you along with a small subset of other fellow developers incorrectly into this cohort." 

I reached out to Unity for more information on the inactivity and EULA emails. Global head of communications Amanda Taggart confirmed that "these errant EULA violations emails won't affect anyone's access to Unity" and explained that they and the inactivity emails "were unrelated and both a result of human error." Here's the full statement from Unity: 

The EULA email was sent in error to a small number of developers due to a mixup on our side. In general, the intention of our EULA email is to open a dialogue with developers who we think might be using the wrong version of Unity and violating the EULA. Unity offers three tiers: Pro, Plus, and Personal. The primary differentiator is the developer’s annual revenue. We’ve set up these products this way so that anyone can get started free of charge via Personal. Plus is for developers generating more than $100K in annual gross revenue and Pro for developers generating more than $200K in annual gross revenue. 

We believe this is a great way to ensure the widest access to Unity while allowing Unity to continue to invest in making new tools and technology for all developers. Recently, a small batch of EULA emails were sent in error to developers using Personal and Plus.

The inactivity email was also sent to the wrong individuals and with an error in the header that read 'REPLACE_THIS'. This was a new type of support we are testing to further help developers. Our intention was to offer developers help as we want more developers to succeed in launching games. We wanted to let them know that we have real people available to help them if needed. This email went out to a small group of developers. Most responded with words of thanks for reaching out and offering help, but a few found it confusing and/or suspicious. We thank everyone for their feedback on this. We have already started making changes based on both the negative and positive feedback.

We are always trying out new ways to enable success and solve hard problems for Unity developers. This innovative spirit and desire to help is a central part of our culture. This means we are always trying out new ideas, new solutions, and new ways of communicating with the ever changing and diverse needs of Unity developers. Sometimes we won’t get it right. And when that happens we’ll take responsibility for that and fix it. 

Taggart also said developers can opt out of receiving such emails at any time, adding that "while poorly executed, this email was intended to offer help to developers in achieving their goals."