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I’m quite excited. I am truly excited! No, I am deeply excited! There is a progressive shift that is happening in software sales’ model that is going to affect a lot of people: affordable or subscription-based licenses, for high-end, professional creative software in particular. I won’t go too deep into the criticisms and caveats of this shift today, but I’ll rather try to explore how it may affect the creative community, if not every creative person, in a positive manner.

More affordable, centralized, accessible tools

When Epic introduced their subscription model for the 4th generation of their Unreal Engine, I… actually could believe my eyes. But, I was facing an example of an incredible shift that’s happening in software nowadays: an engine’s source code that used to cost a million bucks was now available to anyone, for 19€ a month? If game creation in general was already accessible, with this new software generation, it is now high end, very technical creation tools that are at every single person’s fingertips.

And it’s not only Epic! On mobile devices and Mac, productivity tools and entertainment apps have shared affordable prices for a couple of years already. But more recently, this movement has started affecting the whole PC world: Steam, a mainstream gaming platform, now features professional grade creation software! It promotes innovative tools that are used on big productions like Substance, Sonar or even 3d Coat. Even the CryEngine was added to the list lately. New tools released there tend to be [relatively] cheap. And not only that, but they generally offer ergonomic User Interfaces. In other words, we’re getting strong tools, smart tools, and cheap tools centralized in a common marketplace.

I like that compact kind of environment, as it brings the developers and users closer together: Steam provides forums, articles, a newsfeed, and links to get in touch with the software authors rather quickly. In other words, we get the benefits of the social functionality of the platform. This facilitates bug reports, feature requests and other kinds of feedback.

Now, don’t get me wrong on this: Steam is far from being the best platforms for software. I would love to see the Steam Workshop and Guide features used more often to share tutorials and resources among users for example, just like it’s done in games. Content presentation isn’t always structured in the most efficient way for professional users as well, who will often favor the tool’s official website. But I do think that this broader diffusion of software represents a solid step towards open tools, accessible tools, thus smarter tools.

Subscription-based models or the promise of faster release cycles

This trend is a more recent one: to ensure user loyalty, regular revenue, and to prevent piracy, the creators of various tools are choosing more and more to use subscription-based licensing. Adobe product users have made some noise when they got forced to rent their software for a monthly fee (that rattle started in 2013, as Adobe stopped to deliver definitive licenses for all of its tools, increasing drastically licensing fees for many firms and individual users). Microsoft already does this with the Office 365 suite as well.

First of all, I do think that the accessibility in terms of pricing is once again synonym of broader communities. Those tools aren’t priced far less than before though: it is a matter of entry price point. Because the subscription is billed monthly, the cost may feel easier to handle. Only a little amount of money is being charged at a time, and the user can cancel after a month or a year if the toolset just doesn’t fit. The cloud-based licensed tools do come along with nicer packages as well: some cloud storage, a limited access to a subset of companion products… even if those features are meant to retain the user within the brand’s environment!

I do think that the steady flow of income the firm gets from it is not only healthy for it from an economic standpoint, but it forces the development team to accelerate the tool’s release cycle.  We can already see it with the Adobe tools, which get a couple of features added every 4 to 6 months (there was only a release per year before). However, I guess that users deserve to have the choice between subscribing and buying a definitive license, which is still too often not the case. But this is a topic for another article!

 

Did this trend in software sales affect the way you use your computer? Did they permit you to get new tools to express your creativity with? Don’t hesitate to share your experience with us and everyone in the comments below! We are always glad to get in touch with you.

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