Catchy title, right?
Unfortunately it is much more than just a catchy title. It’s a reality for many of Autodesk’s current Media & Entertainment customers. And no, this is not a blog post to say “I told you so” to 3ds max or Softimage users but something of a much larger concern that I think is being overlooked because of the current and more specific destructive mayhem that the Autodesk disease is causing.
This is about how I’m seeing a single company, single handedly, through mismanagement, incompetence, and above all, complete and utter ignorance, is doing rampant harm to a wider industry on which at least a part of their own existence depends. Combined with an unhealthy dose of disrespect for their customers this is nothing more than a recipe for disaster. A recipe that, unfortunately, is cooked up and served to its customers to chow down on.
Combine that with some of the worst public relations and communications I’ve seen coming from a corporation in a very long time and what you have is a perfect storm example of how to maximize your profits while maximizing the anger and frustration levels of your customers to the point where you will lose many of them and at the same time have shot yourself in the foot when it comes to attracting new ones. Autodesk, being synonymous with stagnation, will eventually further this stagnation not because of inaction and shoddy handling of customers but because this has been a downward spiral they created for themselves which appears to have finally reached the point of no-return.
I use the word “finally” in a positive sense, though, because the way they have strung customers along for the length of time they have gotten away with is really astounding. If there is anything Autodesk should be recognized for it would be exactly this; its ability to fool so many people for such a long time. That is an accomplishment not many corporations achieve.
If you’re like me and you’ve been “Autodesk Free” for a while you might be asking yourself, so what the heck is going on that you no longer see Autodesk as the absolute joke they’ve made themselves to be and are using strong words that imply that Autodesk is a disease that’s spreads itself out into many facets of many people’s lives and livelihoods. I’ll explain. And I’ll probably explain at length. And for those of you that are paying attention you might pick up on a few hints here and there that may help you look at this from a wider point of view. I know that might be difficult for some, especially now with the repetitive sequences of disappointment that Autodesk has put forth. But first, let me answer a question that I know will be asked.
Why I’m writing this down?
Because someone should. Simple. I managed to rid myself of anything and everything Autodesk related and let me tell you it was the most refreshing thing ever and the best choice I ever made, both as a business decision as well as a personal one. In fact, I also decided to mostly (but not completely) extract myself from the trenches of 3D software development, take a few years off, move 6000 miles, setup a whole new business (and a new and even better office haha), etc. Great, so I’m fine and doing better than ever, so what’s all this about then? Well…
In the first year of my planned time off (vacation? retirement?), before I figured out what I wanted to work on and what sort of business I wanted to build, and where, and how, and all those pesky little details, I had given some serious thoughts of re-entering the 3D development arena with some fresh new ideas that were ambitious but feasible. After looking around in detail and applying all my past and “most current” knowledge and understanding of various of the base 3D applications out there I concluded that the most logical choice and fit would be Softimage.
I will not get into details on all the contenders but trust me, every single application was considered and looked at, in detail. None capable of providing what my ideas needed, some closer than others. Maya? Sorry, I don’t touch archaic old messy stuff like that. I was never the kid that played int he mud and “baked sand-pies”. 3ds max? Ha, not on your life would I even consider touching that. Other non-Autodesk products, which of course received the greatest attention, well… they just weren’t mature enough yet, didn’t go far enough in terms of the API and what I would expect, and may still need some more time to get where they likely will be headed anyway. Except, I wasn’t going to wait for that. Out of all the choices the “lesser evil” was Softimage. I say lesser evil as a tongue-in-cheek comment because even though I’ve considered it the most solid built product out there the API left a lot to be desired and while I could see many different workarounds I wasn’t interested in spending half or most of my time trying to fight around things.
Eventually I decided, “screw it” and a year later decided on something that ends up being even more ambitious and complicated. But a lot more fun as well. 🙂
I’m so glad that I made that choice. I am so glad I made the choice to avoid anything Autodesk related because that’s in part what was the deciding factor for me to not take my plans and dive into Softimage related development. I didn’t trust Autodesk. Had no reason to. Already had seen way too much on the inside of that rotten core… core… corporation. And, I had always considered and voiced my concern that Autodesk really just wanted to get rid of Softimage, as a product in its sales channels. Well, I’m not alone in that, many Softimage customers shared those concerns from the moment Autodesk bought Softimage from Avid in, what, 2008.
I’m glad that NOT TRUSTING Autodesk and having an absolute aversion to the company made me decide otherwise. Had I not done so I’d have jumped into something two years ago only to now discover the business would go by the wayside. In purely projected cost and effort I’d have lost two years of my life, the business, and possibly somewhere between $150K to $300K in money down the drain. And that’s not even accounting for the loss of money for “not working” and doing a fully self-funded new business for a period of 2 years.
I’m glad that Autodesk’s proven untrustworthiness has come through for me in that way. Except it also made me think about other developers out there who now ARE in that position, or worse. And what about all the great Softimage artists, many of which I’ve become friends with even if there was always some level of rivalry between “your product vs. my product”, but that’s what happens in a small industry where you run around in for, oh, some 25 years now. What about all those people who are going to be economically impacted by the decisions and actions of Autodesk, a company that takes absolutely no real responsibility in a community that they once were part of but are now only known in as the faceless entity that could not compete well enough in the community so instead they decided to buy it… and by that I mean a large chunk of that community… bought it. So they could play with it as if they owned it. Well, in a way they do, and what you’re seeing is the result of that.
So what happened?
I suspect that quite a few of you who are reading this right now are Autodesk customers. Very likely you are Softimage users. Even more likely you are a Softimage user who’s been using the software for their livelihood, you depend on it, your company or employer depends on you depending on it. You are also 3ds max users, I am sure. So perhaps the following is something you can skip reading because you are completely aware of what happened. However, since my site gets a lot of visitors from all over, many who have nothing to do with 3D or media or any of that, I’ll explain things as quick as possible.
Recently Autodesk decided to EOL (end of life) Softimage. A 3D application with a very rich history and a pillar in the 3D community. Many users, experts in their respective fields, have been happy using it (though a lot less happy and increasingly so since Autodesk bought the company in 2008) and some for as long as it has been around since 1988. It’s the cool software that brought you all the amazing CGI in movies like Jurassic Park and countless more, too many to mention really. The software we used to toy around with at the time when we needed to shell out $40.000 to $75.000 for the SGI workstations to use it on. Great stuff, cool stuff. Feel free to use the comments below to add whatever great stories and stuff you wish to share about Softimage.
Compared to the other two competing products, also owned by Autodesk, 3ds max and Maya (which they acquired before they bought Softimage), Softimage had the freshest code and the newest “smell”. But beyond just being newer it has also been considered better in many areas where the other two products have been lacking in. I could write a lot about Softimage but what’s the point, especially now. I never wrote or spoke much about Softimage even though I thought XSI was amazing and had a lot of really great development and great people going for it. Heck, I even wrote a little transition guide for 3ds max users back in 2002.
To all you Softimage users out there, please know this… before Autodesk bought Softimage everyone at Autodesk was aware of it, looked at it, played with it, dissected it, studied it. In fact, I was personally responsible for writing a competitive analysis document for use in development and marketing areas. At the time, remember, it was a competitor. However, it was a very much respected competitor. This respect faded very rapidly very shortly after Autodesk bought it, though. Instead, as you all know, it got treated as the family member nobody wants to talk about. That alone was more than enough reason for me to know what might be happening and well, has happened.
Autodesk has recently admitted that they did not acquire Softimage for its product but its talent and its intellectual property. What a joke. And what a bold faced lie. Yes, I am officially calling Autodesk and whoever came up with those statements a bold face liar. Or just plain ignorant because they haven’t been around long enough? Everyone at Autodesk always knew what happens after an acquisition. Part of the staff will leave prior or during the initial period, especially those who have an “elsewhere” to go to or find gainful employment. The ones that stick around eventually get laid off in a “reorg” that happens either after the initial 6-12 months or a little later. And what you are left with is not the people you claim you acquired the company for. Everyone KNOWS that and anyone, especially within Autodesk who claims otherwise must be pretty darn ignorant and “encouraged” to use the official statements that have been decided on. After all, someone has to be the messenger, right?
You know what happens to such “messengers” that the company uses to speak through? Once they lose their credibility they are laterally promoted and eventually laid off during some “reorg”.
And then what happened?
Well, in one word, the part of the community (the graphics/3D/TV/film/etc. community) affected by this, the users of Softimage, the customers of Autodesk, generated more mail on the Softimage mailing list (yes, us old farts use mailing lists, still!) in a single day than it would otherwise see in several months. And that continued day after day and continues as I write this. Oh, yeah, for reference, I must be the “biggest lurker” on that list since I’ve been subscribed to it forever. Or what feels like forever. Can’t remember when but somewhere in the early 90’s. 🙂
No surprise there, of course. People just saw the one big software product they use to make a living decimated right in front of their eyes. I sympathize and empathize with you all. It was also the very first time I saw professionals use amounts of profanity on the list, in volume. Again, no surprise there given the enormous impact this is going to have on a lot of people.
Autodesk has a few of its employees on the list doing communication and I must say they are doing a decent job based on the position they have been forced in. But let’s not forget what happens to the messengers. Not only will everyone shoot the messenger because that’s just the way these things go. The employer will get rid of its messengers once they are no longer useful because they have lost credibility for being in the position of communicating the company’s position and views. They must be feeling quite uneasy at this point.
I guess I feel sorry for them also. But not as sorry as I feel for the users. The only reason I feel sorry for the Autodesk employees that are forced into this position is because these are probably the people who are happy at Autodesk (in which case I think there must be something wrong with you) or the people who just couldn’t jump ship and go elsewhere or do something else that is worthwhile and fulfilling for them. Sorry if that sounds harsh but that’s the way I see it. Of course, I am biased because over the years I still had many personal friends within Autodesk who regularly complained about many things and expressed a desire to be able to leave. It’s just the way things are there.
Of course, Autodesk had talked to all their “big” Softimage customers prior to making a public announcement about “killing Softimage” (I’m paraphrasing here to avoid corporate speak). Not a big deal if someone fell through the cracks. Not a big deal that the news of course hit the public prior to Autodesk being prepared to handle the enormous fallout and backlash (one they fully deserve).
Autodesk’s solution is very Autodesk-ish
Softimage is proving itself to be “Autodesk’s hurricane Katrina”.
So Autodesk is offering Softimage users a migration path to either 3ds max or Maya. Neither being even remotely acceptable to Softimage users. And that you can use your current or latest Softimage license in perpetuity after 2016 even if you are not “on subscription” (that means you paying Autodesk a sum of money every year so they can build instant messaging apps and really innovative things like that as they’ve recently unveiled). The latter only came about after violent outbursts from the Softimage users, and rightly so.
Autodesk then held a “webinar” to address concerns and discuss this “transition” plan they’ve put forward for current users. I’m not sure what to say but “three stooges” came to mind repeatedly. I think that from a PR stand point it was a good idea. But that’s it, Autodesk sometimes has good ideas but then utterly fails in its execution. In this case nothing was really addressed in a way that I think would’ve been appropriate. Instead, lots of marketing speak and policy talk from people who really were there to communicate for the company. Maurice had a decent posture but the other two came across as if someone held a shotgun to their heads. Constantly taking their eyes away from the camera and looking at the floor, anxiously trying to answer questions to the best of their ability and how they had prepared for them. Truly sad. But hey, at least they tried.
I will not make jokes about the webinar stream cutting out early on and that they had to record and upload the remainder. Even at Autodesk real technical difficulties can happen and while I enjoy those who make fun of it, let’s be real… it happens and I don’t think there was a conspiracy of invisible hands yanking cables anywhere.
The Softimage user response
Lots of Softimage users are looking elsewhere and vowing to not send a single penny on Autodesk. I applaud you. I hope you will be able to do that. Even if you have to pay more elsewhere you might consider the sudden lack of frustration is worth that.
I feel sorry for several people, including a few friends, who ended up getting f-ed up the a.. with a 10 foot pole by Autodesk when they moved away from 3ds max to Maya only to find themselves customers of Autodesk again when they bought Maya. I feel even more sorry for two in particular who moved from Maya to Softimage. Only to end up being customers of Autodesk yet AGAIN (f-ed up the a.. with a 10 foot pole with razor wire this time?) and then only a few years later to be told their latest tool will be EOL’ed.
I don’t know what these two friends of mine did to deserve that much bad karma and be put through all this but it’s near unimaginable considering the many years they spent going from being competent in one product to becoming competent in another, and then another and then having that stomped out the way Autodesk does it best.
I hope that if they now decide to go the route of Modo or Houdini that they don’t end up in the same place again. Of course, at this point I think the community would publicly lynch any company that allows itself to be acquired by Autodesk. I’m not going to play favorites here because I have none but if one has to make decisions I’d probably be looking at both of them and would personally lean towards Modo because Brad is a stand-up guy and always has been (even during the early days when we were all in fierce competition). Except you also can’t make decisions on products based on individuals either. It’s going to be tricky for Softimage users to find their way. And it seems many 3ds max users will soon be joining you on that journey.
Lots of users are still in shock and trying to make sense of this. Some will take the route that Autodesk has offered them (good luck to you but I would be very careful). Others will sever ties with Autodesk as a vendor completely. Some work at larger studios where they have no control over who’s a vendor and who’s not, though.
And in part because of some of those in the latter position is why I’m writing this. I’ve heard their frustrations privately and they are in no position to speak up because many places have policies that employees are not encouraged to speak in a negative way about vendors. Some have such policies written and in some cases it’s mostly unwritten but “common sense” not to. Those users have no voice. Autodesk probably think there’s already too much noise and the volume is way too high because of those users that do. But for those that do there are quite a lot more that don’t have the ability to voice their concerns.
Adding insult to repeated injury after more insults
While all this explosive Softimage stuff is going on Autodesk also unveiled the new line of 2015 products, including Maya 2015 and 3ds max 2015. Instead of that going over like a lead balloon it went over not unlike the EOL of Softimage. So now what?!?!
Well, 3ds max users are extremely unhappy with the 2015 update, especially considering that they’ve been paying for continued use on these “subscription” plans. And what they got was not much to write home about. I don’t know why they expected more than what they got, though, because 3ds max development has been completely stagnant for many years and its users are mainly being strung along for as long as Autodesk can get away with. Nothing new there but after the latest outrages on the 3ds max side of this community you’d think people would’ve figured out already that resource allocation just doesn’t happen to be in the area of their interests or needs.
So not only do we have heated frustration, anger, and harm being done in the Softimage area of the community, now we have another such explosive response going on in another. I’ve been around for long enough in this business to recognize when things are bad and when things are beyond bad. We’re at beyond bad guys. Really we are. And Autodesk, which I am sure will be reading this also at some point, knows this. But knowing it and knowing what to do about it are two different things. At this point I don’t think there is anything they can do about it. Their usual approach will not work. Of course, the usual approach is to tell users things will be better with the next upgrade. That things are actively changing behind the scenes. And all you get is their word. Of course, once again what you’re getting are the words of people who are in no position to make the promises they make. After all, Autodesk told all its Softimage a year before they decide to “kill it” that the future of Softimage was bright. Well, perhaps they were correct… you know, that bright light… go into the light… that light!
I’m sorry to sound skeptical. I’m not. I’m a realist and one who seems to have been right about too many things and more than I would have liked to be right about over the many years. But Eddie and Tom will not be able to do what you, the 3ds max users, are expecting and wishing for. Nobody at Softimage was able to do what their users wished for (increased exposure, more marketing, trying to actually sell Softimage instead of denying it a place in the “family”). Let’s get real serious and real here for a moment.
Autodesk has been a complacent and incompetent company when it comes to Media and Entertainment (something I am sure they will disagree with but of course within their own capabilities they might consider themselves hard working and accomplishing something… which if you can’t do any better even the smallest of achievements is something to be applauded) and they have strung along users SO FAR that it is not merely difficult but more than likely impossible to “turn the ship around”. Well, maybe not impossible but nobody is going to wait it out for many years to come… you know, the kind of time it would take for a big ship to turn around. And as the ship turns, rest assured some captain may decide on a different course of action halfway through. That’s what you have now and that’s what you will have next year and the year thereafter. If that’s good enough for you, great. But from the sounds I’m hearing that’s clearly not good enough for a lot of users.
I’ve already heard both Softimage and 3ds max users voice their concern that 3ds max is the next on the chopping block to be EOL’ed. Offered the choice to “go Maya or go…”. I’ve also heard people say things like “they’d never do that to 3ds max because it has more/the most users”. Uhm, yes, 3ds max has a much larger user base, that’s correct. But as many 3ds max users have already figured out by now, most of the effort on 3ds max is in the realm of arch-viz, etc. and not on what a lot of y’all need it to be. They’d never EOL 3ds max because all these arch-viz civil-engineering CAD-types are using it right?
Most of those are using 3ds max Design!
Autodesk had been trying for YEARS to get 3ds max users to move to 3ds viz (remember that, what it was called before it was called 3ds max Design) and repeated attempts failed until a while ago. Now that this has been set in motion and has worked out “well enough” (I guess, based on what I’ve seen) while users kept saying it made no sense to have the two MAX products so similar even though each would go their own way. You really think that at some point, sooner than you’d like, Autodesk would not decide that that effort is not in their best financial interest and offer you a choice; “upgrade” to Maya or “downgrade” to 3ds max Design?
And this is where Autodesk’s latest kerfuffle that they call “communication” has really shown what you, the customer, CAN expect. You CAN expect that you will be told that everything is fine and the future is bright. You CAN expect that a year after being told that “things change” and “different decisions” needed to be made. That’s what you want to build your future on? That’s what you want to have your business or livelihood depend on? Well, if you do then you’re a bigger risk taker than me and I’ve been known to take big risks.
Autodesk, the metastasizing cancer of the 3D world
There, I said (well, wrote) it again. And here’s the part that actually made me write this post. If you’ve been around this industry for as long as I have you recognize patterns and develop a strange form of intuition about things. And what I’ve been seeing the past week or so is awful.
The problem here is that Autodesk does not understand community. They may claim they do but they really don’t. Then again, Autodesk claims a lot of things that they are mostly ignorant about and as has been proven will claim things and then change their minds about it because “things change”. I felt personally offended by Autodesk’s statements about how “things change” and they have to “adapt” because things are “changing” in the industry. Well, yes, things have been changing but none of what they’re doing has any direct relevance to that. In fact, Autodesk may very well be the least relevant aspect of what’s been going on for the past years. The fact that Autodesk claims they know best, they know better for you, and understand things that you clearly do not, is plain insulting. That attitude is a disease and they’re spreading it.
Autodesk hasn’t understood community for a very long time (at least the past decade and then some). I could cite dozens of examples on why that is but I think everyone has already noticed that themselves, if not now, certainly longer ago. And if you do not understand the community in which you derive part of your business revenue then you will NEVER be able to properly service such a community. Nor will you be able to profit from it. Profit is good. I would never deny anyone their profit and I don’t think Autodesk is evil because they want to maximize theirs. That’s normal. Even the way they sometimes try to maximize it is… meh, whatever. The problem is that they don’t understand the business they are in. They don’t understand their customers either. They don’t understand a damn thing, really. And based on that they make decisions to maximize profit and resources. And THAT is the cancer that has metastasized throughout the 3D “scene” and one that I think is now officially too late to turn around, rescue, repair, or otherwise improve for the better.
Everyone worth their weight in salt avoids Autodesk like the plague for many reasons so what they end up with are the people who are generally not the best you need in the positions you need them at. This has been an ongoing problem and one that has been perfectly visible to its customers. This has spread and has become the new standard. The new normal. The way things are done because “that’s the way we do things here because we’ve always done things that way”.
Corporate cultures and in particular internal politics have a life-span. A shelf-life. A sell-by date. Eventually they completely fail itself and that which they try and accomplish. And when they do there is no repair. There is no overhaul. There is no replacement. There is only “an end to it”. I think we are currently at the early stage of that end and at a place in time where no matter how good your intentions are, there is no saving it. I commend anyone for their courage for trying and I truly believe that even running into a burning building while its collapsing shows courage but there is a fine line between courage and insanity. Especially if the textbook definition of insanity is trying to do the same thing over and over again expecting a different outcome.
I’m very rarely wrong about these things and would love for Eddie to prove me wrong. I’ll come over and buy you all the beverages of choices you can handle. Not because it matters to me what happens with 3ds max or any other product but because I’d like to be proven wrong… for once. Unfortunately, me offering unlimited beverages will not change the bigger scale of things and how things really work.
The damage that Autodesk has caused, continues to cause, and will most certainly continue for as long as its customers allow for is really beyond words. Countless Softimage proficient artists who will suddenly find themselves less employable and have a limited amount of time to start getting real competent and proficient using “other” tools, forced to make a decision that will impact their careers after they had already made a decision that impacted their careers in a positive way before. Countless small businesses/boutiques and “one man shops” that rely on Softimage to put food on the table suddenly having to deal with the reality of how Autodesk decides to deal with their customers. Many smaller businesses who are looking at massive costs of overhauling their pipelines, retraining people, finding qualified artists, etc. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg here because these are just the big waves and like all big waves, they have crests.
3ds max users demanding Eddie’s head for a below mediocre update (and from what I’ve seen today I’d certainly call it the least of all upgrades for 3ds max ever) when Eddie can’t be responsible for it since he came on board and shared his good intentions long after most of the technical and planning aspects of this update had already been set in stone. However, will you now make your decisions based on just one or two individuals with good intentions, knowing what “things can change” and knowing that if it wasn’t for the recent “outbusts” in the 3ds max community there probably wouldn’t even be anyone listening to users AT ALL and that this is the kind of upgrade quality you should expect for as long as Autodesk pleases?
At no point in time has the 3D community as a whole been in such turmoil with so many people upset, angry, and pissed off beyond words. Sure, the last years of SGI were pretty bad and those of us who had tons of money riding on that and depending on it sure had things to say and they weren’t pretty. But that was nothing compared to what’s going on today.
At no point were users of 3D products (be it hardware or software) THIS dissatisfied. And in the midst of all this we’re already seeing the part that I consider the absolute worst Autodesk has caused in being this “cancer” I speak of; they have created enough ill feelings and frustration and anxiety for its customers in this community that they are arguing amongst themselves in ways that also has never been seen before. Granted, some areas are less like that than others but what I’m seeing is the absolute worst outcome of an unintended “divide and conquer” that is playing out. Just be aware that it is YOU ALL who are being divided.
As far as Autodesk is concerned, this is nothing new, just larger and more simultaneous than in past times. It will blow over again. Things will settle down and it will be business as usual again. You know now what business as usual means, right?
Do I have a solution for all this? No. I’m not in the business of providing one. But I am in the business of understanding history, having learned from history, and looking forward. And what I can see looking forward is that everyone would probably be better off if they can rid themselves of this disease called Autodesk sooner rather than later. Because later is never better.
I’ve never thought or expressed that Autodesk should crawl into a corner and “cease its existence” but that has changed now. I do rather wish they would. It would open up opportunities for competition that would have a difficult time right now and create a desperate need in the industry that will be picked up on by people who would try to do things differently from how Autodesk does them. Unfortunately I do see quite some awkward challenges in that considering the number of patents and what-not Autodesk will continue to hold a death-grip on after all these “acquisitions”.
Oh, for anyone who thinks I’m treating Autodesk unfairly and too harshly here. Please go back to your regular stationary orbit and holding pattern. The future looks bright! Very bright. The next upgrade will be better. The next product will knock your socks off. Oh, well, the next one after that for sure will. Or the one after that when they bring on someone who could tell you all that in a more convincing way. Be ware though… staying in orbit makes you part of the problem that allows companies like Autodesk to do the things they do in the way they do them. And for that you don’t even get the treatment you’d deserve. Or… perhaps you will. And if you really disagree with me on all this… well, what can I say… in that case I probably just published this so I can point at it and tell you “told you so” soon, right?