What’s a “Pro” Feature?

We’ve all been exposed to market segmentation. You own, by any chance, a PC? Then you probably know that there are two kinds of Windows XP, a Home Edition one and a Professional Edition. Or that there are several kinds of Vista’s, or several kinds of Windows 7.

That’s market segmentation.

I can hear the Apple fan boys chuckle. Don’t worry, Apple has something similar in its stores: several kinds of iPods, and each of this kind coming in various storage space flavors. To a good extent, that’s market segmentation as well.

“So what is it to you?”, you might wonder. Well, Unity does market segmentation, but in a not-so-fortunate way, looking more and more like a “bait-and-switch” move instead. Let me explain some more:

Why was price segmentation introduced in the first place

Let’s say you are making a kardware product, called “Muffin Maker”. It does what it says, it makes muffins. Yes, these kind of muffins:

So, you just finished fixing the latest design issues, the prototype of the Muffin Maker looks great and you are now ready to roll out the product on the market. And you put a price tag on it, say 150 USD.

For a while, you get some sales. A small number of people buy it, and give you generally good feedback: “I like how the ‘berries container’ makes sure that the berries don’t get squashed while making blueberry muffins”, says Mrs. Jones. “My kids love chocholate muffins, so that’s all that I bake for them. Initially I felt that MM was a bit pricey, but now I think it was a good investment”, says Mrs. White.

“Aha!”, you scream in your office, “they belive that the product is a bit pricey. They are not willing to fork out that much money”. And you think, and you think, and you come up with a brilliant idea: “Let’s remove the berry container in half of our MMs, then sell them as Muffin Maker LE, for a 25 USD discount”. You still make money, since the costs of production are about 120USD for a full featured Muffin Maker, and 115 for one of those LE. But now, all Mrs. White alike will find it (the LE version) affordable.

That’s price segmentation. It is done to make your core product (the Muffin Makers are basically the same) available to several categories of markets. It is done primarily to get more $$.

What should be an “Unity Pro only” feature?

In case of Unity, here how things are currently standing:

  • we have Unity.
    For free, as in 0 USD to download and use it. If your company makes over 10 000 USD, you must buy a Pro license. The free version has several features disabled.
  • we have Unity Pro.
    It costs some money, but is pretty much “no strings attached”, and has all features there.

Now this might feel like a price segmenting, so let’s do a comparison between our Muffin Maker product and Unity:

No.like Muffin Makerunlike Muffin Maker1.we have two versions of the productthe ‘LE’ version of Unity has a 0 USD price tag, while Muffin Maker LE still costs some money.2.we have some featurest stripped from the LE versions of both Unity and Muffin MakerThe changes made to Unity are not all related to the end product3.Both Muffin Maker LLC. and the Unity team are in it to make some money.

Now, difference no. 1 and the resemblence no. 3 are key causes for the mismatch in the features presented in Unity vs. Unity Pro (difference no. 2).

The difference between the Muffin Maker LE and the Muffin Maker (the regular one) was how many types of muffins you could make. The LE version couldn’t make proper blue berries muffins. Or any kind of berries-based muffins.

To some extent, this is what Unity does. It has a pro version, and a ‘standard’, free version. The free one doesn’t have ‘Render to texture’, so you can’t have movies ingame. Or environmental mapping. But then, the Unity team made this decision regarding the free version of unity:

What it means is that automated builds are out of the question for the free version of Unity (there is a legit workaround for that, by the way). The equivalent for that would be like having no temperature sensor on the Muffin Maker LE, and have Mrs. White check the muffins each 5 minutes. Now, assuming Mrs. White knows about this limitation. Will she buy the LE version, or will she buy the regular one?

This is dangerous. This is why I’m saying that the marketing behind Unity looks more like a bait and switch. While it will drive some people to buy the Pro version, it will also drive others away. And they’ll leave saying “Unity is really bad in terms of usability for the developer”. Oops!

And then what do you do with the others that stick around the free version? If they are good enough, they’ll find workarounds for some of these limitations, like using AutoIt to automate their builds. When these developers become THAT good, will they really need a profiler and a BuildPlayer function? Won’t they become part of the lost sales for Unity Pro by simply sticking with the free version?

Ok, so what should NOT be an “Unity Pro only” feature?

Well, first of all, Unity needs to aim for the long term benefits of having developers using the game engine. Flood the job market with people that are efficient in using the Unity engine and all the employers will feel the pressure (from their own, freshly hired people) to use your engine. And trust me, big companies will pay for the Pro version.

And having a flood of Unity developers can be done only by leaving ALL the development tools in the free version. This means leave the profiler in the free version. Have a debugger added in the free version. And leave the BuildPlayer accessible for all, since automated builds are an important part in development. I know this, we used automated builds for an AvP2 mod and it felt GREAT.

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