A couple of days ago I was watching the documentary “Terms and Conditions May Apply” on Netflix, and though we do NOT give out the personal information of our customers to any third party, it reminded me of the “less fun” part of my job – paperwork… contracts, Terms and Conditions, EULA; documents that may seem shocking and “evil” to some people, while their sole purpose is to protect each party involved. To provide transparency to customers, to provide guidance what to do in case any kind of problem occurs, and to protect us, the companies, product developers, service providers etc… from unrighteous accusations of issues caused by circumstances that are totally unrelated to us and we have no control over.
If you are an aspiring artist who’s planning to turn your most loved hobby into a profession and launch your own business (freelance, GP or any other kind of small business), you have to be prepared to deal with this. As I say, you have to develop another personality, another way of thinking that is armed and prepared to protect you, your art, your intellectual property rights, your products etc… and as you grow in experience, you’ll have to learn when to switch off your artist side and activate the financial and legal departments in you. You’re no longer just an artist who makes stunning artwork for fun.
No, I don’t want to scare anyone away and yes, I love my job – even the paperwork, as I’m getting better and better at it, thanks to the advice of our legal advisors and more experienced, well-established artist-entrepreneurs. I have a lot of respect towards those people who choose to do what they love, try to make a living of it, and taking all the risks that come in the way. This is just one of those frequent moments when I feel the urge to share my opinion and to clarify things, although I’m not obligated to do so (plus since I’m rendering, I have some time to kill :D).
As a 3D environment artist, small business owner and 3D content developer, I’ve met several people with several ways of thinking. Though most of them were positive about me and what I do, I have been called greedy, egoistic, proud, thoughtless; a little b*tch who sees $$$ signs in every corner and who doesn’t give a damn about little people (I’m not referring to height). Quick question: when did I become “big”? I haven’t really noticed that… Those who know me know that these are false accusations; I don’t make millions, I don’t want to get rich in no time, and if there’s anyone who provides customer support to someone at 2 a.m. on a Sunday, which falls really far from our operating hours, it’s me. But – despite the fact that I’m not obligated to stay up and help out a customer – sometimes I do it, because it may be urgent, or simply because it’s better to get things done ASAP and make the customer happy, instead of leaving problems for the next day. But I’ve been accused anyway…even after helping those out who treated me with disrespect.
At a point I had to acknowledge that there is a group of people who see everything in a negative way and form a negative opinion about you and your business, no matter what you do. I don’t blame them and I’m not mad at them, since I can’t expect anyone to judge those things correctly that they don’t have direct experience in. Below I would address some issues that have become “hot topics” among customers; issues that have been misjudged and misinterpreted. Starting with the well-known term “Limited Warranty”.
1. Why is the warranty on digital products limited?
It’s not just digital products. 99% of any kind of product has limited warranty, which means that – for a certain period of time – the warranty covers fixing, replacing or updating the product in case the problem is caused by something that is reasonably under the full control of the company/manufacturer. If you buy a 23-inch full HD monitor and it turns out that it has a broken pixel, you return it, and you either get a new one or get your money back. But, if you get a BSOD, get mad and break your monitor in pieces, you lose the warranty. The manufacturer is not liable for you getting mad and breaking their product. Warranty on software and digital, downloadable products are way harder to keep in control. Malfunctions can be caused by countless system-related issues on the user’s end as well; issues the companies or product developers have no control over. The best thing to do when a problem occurs is to get in contact with the product developer and work together in solving the problem before demanding your money back for something that falls out of the full control of the developer. Speaking of refunds….
2. Strongly restricted refund policies on digital products
Theory: Product developers want to make quick money without taking responsibility for their mistakes. (I’m not making this up; I’ve actually heard this from some people.)
Fact: Digital products are not something you can return to the store. Though more and more software can be remotely deactivated when a malfunction cannot be fixed or when the user breaks the EULA, developers of digital products like 3D content have no control over what stays on the user’s computer or what gets deleted, unless they can afford hiring a highly skilled programmer who makes them be able to deactivate their content. They also can’t see how their product actually performs. That’s why the warranty covers refund only if it can be proven that the malfunction is caused by insufficient product development, and has nothing to do with the end user’s specific conditions or any factor that is unrelated to the company and the development of the product. Imagine if you own an appliance store, and a customer calls for a refund because the monitor he bought is broken. But he would keep the monitor anyway. Would you issue a refund?
3. Why are we not responsible for the end user’s specific conditions (i.e. system specifications, software version or internet connection)?
Theory: Content developers refuse to acknowledge that some customers may not be able to afford high-end systems, and are too lazy to produce versions that are less resource-hungry. (Again, I did not make this up!)
Fact: I have to admit something. Before becoming a vendor and launching the business (and upgrading my system), I also asked the same question. And since I haven’t forgotten myself asking the same question, again, I understand if someone thinks that content developers should take less powerful machines into consideration. But when I talked to one of my good friends (who was already a well-known artist, business owner, content developer and programmer) about it, he just said he could not be responsible for the fact that the customer may have different system specs than he does and his products may not perform the same way, and when I start my own business, I will understand. That time I considered his way of thinking a bit rude and unfriendly. Then I noticed that it’s not just him, but more, skilled and experienced content developers I looked up to, and all companies don’t take responsibility for the customer’s specific conditions. When I faced all possible issues that come with product development (compatibility issues, differences between software versions, software bugs etc…), I noticed that making a product takes a lot of time, testing, experimentation, and all extra effort that is necessary solely due to such issues. That’s the reason why some Vue-related products can NOT be produced for both professional and artist versions. Although, most of our products ARE compatible with all versions, if the customer purchases the extra elements (such as plants) that are not included in artist versions.
About system specifications: most of the time we do involve beta testers with different systems to test our products before release, and during production, we always monitor how much resource the product uses (while rendering). That’s all we can do to make sure the product performs as described. But since – as I mentioned earlier – the performance of a product depends on so many system-related factors (both hardware and software wise), that it is physically impossible to guarantee for ANY company that the thoroughly tested product will perform the same way on *your* system. If you run into an issue, contact the customer service to find a solution before assuming that the product is a waste of money, and you’ll get the help you need. Software-related, hardware-related or system-related issues do not fall under the category of product-related issues; the developers do not have any control over them. Years ago when I had my first Vue version, dual-core CPU, 2 GB RAM and I don’t even remember what kind of GPU I had, I did not blame e-on software for long render times and for not being able to use GR; I wouldn’t even have had the right to do so. I was aware of my system specs, and it was my own decision to purchase Vue. If you take time to read the EULA (which people tend to skip) of any digital store or software developer, including e-on software and our reseller partners, they all include the same fact: that the reseller and the product developer cannot be held liable for the end user’s specific conditions. And about the internet connection: do you think Netflix can be blamed if your internet connection does not allow you to stream videos flawlessly? Of course not. There are countless ISP’s with countless potential problems. Please consider this fact as well when you contact customer support.
I hope this (pretty long) post is not being taken in the wrong way; I’m not whining, I’m not complaining, I do think a good customer support is essential, and my purpose with product development is improving the quality of artworks, sharing tips and tricks with scenes you can dissect, and constructive feedback is always welcome, since it helps improving the quality of our products. I just wanted to clarify some things. Am I doing it for the money as well? Sure! Just like you when you get up every morning, go to work, and wait for payday at the end of the month. Why would this be different? Because it doesn’t involve a daily routine? Because it doesn’t guarantee a fix cash flow? I don’t think it makes the goal itself any different. Everybody has the right to make a living, and everybody has the right to choose how…as long as it’s legal. I’m happy with my choice, but I’m not after quick money, I’m not rich, and I didn’t launch my business to screw customers over. In fact, I have no respect for companies that do that. End of story.
Have a nice week, everyone, and don’t forget to read the Terms and Conditions before agreeing to anything