October 31, 2005

An interesting take on things...

by Chris Randall

I was doing my morning Browse, and I took in a quick read of Craig Anderton's final AES Wrap-up, where he opines on the state of the industry. This particular paragraph caught my eye:

Software companies don't have an easy road. It's not just the software theft, which remains a persistent problem that saps the vitality of the industry, but also the need to keep up with the OS and hardware updates being thrust upon them. Add that to people complaining about the cost of upgrades. (So are software buyers some of the whiniest customers in the world, or what? I mean, do you ever get an email from Ford saying "Bring in your 2004 model, and we'll give you a new model for an extra $1,000.") Then add the trials and tribulations of copy protection - users hate it, companies hate it even more - and you have an industry that has to pedal really fast just to stay in place.

That right there is a little piece of truth. Now that I've spent some time on the side of the software business where things are made, rather than used, I have to say that it's an odd state of affairs.

For instance:

1) For some reason I can't fathom, TDM users don't complain about prices, even though a plug that runs native and one that runs in TDM are essentially the same amount of work for a company that does both. So they'll happily pay $899 for a plug that requires a $10,000 dongle, but the native version is $499 and people bitch and moan about that. That's one thing I just don't get.

2) Windows users are way more bitchy than OSX users. If you asked me when we started this, I'd have said the opposite, but now I know better. When one releases a plugin on both platforms, the OSX users will say "hey, that looks like something that is useful" or "I don't think I need that," and leave it at that. Windows users, on the other hand, will generally go on ad nauseum about why this feature or that wasn't included, why the copy protection blows, why there aren't enough presets, why it is too expensive, why it looks cheap, how they would have done it far better, how there are 96 free plugins that do the same thing, etc.

3) However, OSX users aren't getting off the hook that easy. It is _really_ difficult to keep up with Apple's moods vis-a-vis their operating system. It is so much easier to make a Windows VST than even an OSX VST, never you mind the gigantic PITA that is AU. And every time an OS update comes down the pike, we have to re-learn how to make an AU. It is really quite a struggle.

Our philosphy regarding pricing and upgrades is well known, so I won't go in to it at length here, except to say that I think, on the average, native plug-in makers charge too much. If prices were lower on the average, piracy wouldn't be so rampant. Or at least, people would feel worse about it than they do. Perceived value is a tenuous thing, especially when what you're selling is basically a stream of ones and zeros.

One final thought on this, then I'll return to our regularly scheduled programming. One of the main problems on the Windows side is the glut of freeware. One customer wrote our info line not too long ago, basically asking why he should buy DubStation when there were several similar products already available for free. I answered thus: when you purchase a plugin from a company, you're also purchasing a manual, someone to talk to if you have trouble or desires, an upgrade path which will follow the operating system's upgrades, and the relatively certain knowledge that the plug-in will follow the "rules" that are intrinsic to it being a professional plugin.

When you use freeware, or get a cracked plug-in, you rarely get any of those things. With a lot of freeware, you're basically buying in to something that will almost certainly become abandonware at some point, when the teenager that wrote the software grows up and actually starts working. That sentence will certainly earn me some ire, but I call it like I see it.



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Oct.31.2005 @ 1:34 PM
I've always wondered why TDM users don't feel like they're getting hosed. I can only assume that to a large degree, it's because they aren't spending their own money but rather out of the budget of a commercial studio. Those non-commercial TDM users would then probably feel too embarassed to complain, being in the minority.

Being a Windows user who tries to keep the whining to a minimum these days (as best I can, old habits die hard), I get pretty tired of the incessant whining over price and copy protection and GUI. If it wasn't for the abyss that is Apple and their every evil whim, it'd be better for us to all go Mac.


Oct.31.2005 @ 1:45 PM
Interesting to see this subject as viewed by a plug-in developer.

I recently made a fun little video of our band, had my wife walk around with a video camera during two takes of one of our songs, and editing them together with some whee! cheesy effects. I started the project on my nice free copy of iMovie, and immediately ran into limitations I wasn't ready to accept. Sighing, I reached for my credit card and hit the Apple store to buy Final Cut Express, looking with a certain grim acceptance on probably spending $150 - for a program I knew damn well would do what I wanted, and would do it well.

Apple wanted THREE hundred for it, which I couldn't justify, so I hit Limewire and had it (three copies of it, from three sourcesy) in about 15 minutes. Apple can bitch that I ran out on them to the tune of $300, but they could've had my $150 without any complaints. I'm sure you all see where this is going.

I'm at a point in my life where I've used cracked software for decades (C64, Amiga, PC, etc etc) because there was no WAY I could afford all the stuff I wanted to learn how to use. Now I work in the field, and it's worth it to me to buy what I can for exactly the reasons listed above - support, manuals, and more than anything else, being that one step closer to a reliable tool I can use. Software these days is buggy enough without having to run an emulator of some sort in the background just to use it.

I'm a long-time Mac user, and subscribe to the Quality vs. Quantity theory of Why Some People Like Mac Software. We don't have the abovementioned glut of freeware/shareware writers, which means I get confused when I go to download software for Windows and am confronted with dozens of various FTP clients. I feel like the available software for the Mac is a small enough community that I can be familiar with it without being deeply involved, if that makes sense. I'm sure you've all noticed how Mac users like community, even while they're touting their individuality... :)


Oct.31.2005 @ 2:37 PM
brandon daniel
Eh, my *only* beef with AD plugins are that the two platforms are sold seperately, as opposed to most plugins these days where you buy the plugin and you get copies for both mac and pc. But even that isn't a big deal, your prices are so low that if I find I want something enough for my mac it wouldn't kill me to buy it again.

Oct.31.2005 @ 2:59 PM
Chris Randall
Dude, all you gotta do is write! Our store software, being slightly lame, can only deliver one download per purchase. So until we rewrite it, people have to let me know that they want the other one. Then I send them a link to download it.

So now you have no Beef!



Oct.31.2005 @ 5:05 PM
Customer support you didn't even know was there! w00t

Oct.31.2005 @ 6:26 PM
Wade Alin
you're absolutely right about the TDM/RTAS issue. The majority of TDM based users are big ass companies. Or atleast small ass companies. i know a few individuals that own TDM systems but not many.

pc guys are just geeks. and now i'm one of them. fuck. i've tried to point that out and it was certainly a factor in my reluctance to switch to the pc format (which I did about a year ago, the best move i've ever made, thanks chris) i don't mean that as a total insult but for real - the guys with dried butter on their chins outside the theater, still rabidly disputing the finer points of insert sci-fi movie here - they use pcs. not macs. so it's no wonder they want to geek all over your plugs. take it as a compliment, i guess. me, i would build some kind of "complaint control" in dongle form.


Oct.31.2005 @ 10:23 PM
Yeah TDM users are often making their money back. I know I did when I had a TDM system.

Mac users don't complain because we're used to getting scraps. "Oooh, you're doing an AU version? Thanks!"


Nov.01.2005 @ 9:58 AM
I'm really hoping they introduce a mac version of Synthedit. Then you guys can experience the tidal wave of uselessness for yourselves...

Nov.01.2005 @ 10:12 AM
Chris Randall
No doubt. Someone would probably be able to make a good living charging $5.00 a throw to port Synthedit VSTs to OSX. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of Synthedit plugs available.



Nov.01.2005 @ 11:15 AM
Adam Schabtach
I think Wade's partly right that we catch more flak from PC users in online forums than Mac users because PC users are geeks, but I think more to the point is the fact that there are about nine PC users for every Mac user. If you choose a larger subset of the general population, you choose a larger handful of whiners. For every person who posts something like "why should I pay $39 for that when there are twelve free things that are just the same?" there are manymore people who aren't posting anything, and hopefully a few of the latter group are thinking "yeah, that looks kinda cool."

Or, putting it another way: the people who whine and moan on online forums are people who have nothing better to do with their time than whine and moan on online forums.

Anyway, Craig Anderton's quite right. This is no easy business. I stumbled across an exchange in a piracy newsgroup (yes, I read them--know thy enemy and all that) in which people were going on about how Charlie Steinberg must be so rich by now that he's living in a castle. Somehow the fact that Steinberg has been acquired by several different companies in recent years must have escaped their notice. [Hint: if Steinberg were really rolling in money, why would he be courting buyers for his company?] People simply don't understand (or don't consider) that a huge amount of work goes into producing this stuff, even though the end result can be duplicated and distributed (at least for download-only versions) for very low cost.

I can personally attest that this is the lowest-paying job I've ever held, and I've been working in the computer biz for nearly 20 years now. But I'm not complaining: it's also my favorite. Thanks to everyone here who has shown their support (monetary or otherwise) for our work.

Back to coding. I've got a filter bank to tweak.

(less loquacious half of AD)


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