Some thoughts on Creative Cloud
I’ve just spent some time on CGTalk reading through miles of overwhelmingly negative comments about Adobe’s decision to drop Creative Suite and move exclusively to Creative Cloud, its cloud-based subscription model. While I normally tend to stay clear of such discussions, I thought I would make an exception this time and give my two cents on the controversy, for all it’s worth. I was partly motivated in doing this by this post by my good friend Matt Guetta, who paints a very positive picture of his move to CC. I trust Matt’s judgement on most things and I would really recommend you read his thoughts for a balanced view.
I have a slightly different take, though. But where I agree with Matt is that such issues, which are at heart business and financial issues, can only be usefully considered and discussed if you leave the emotions at the door. Corporations, especially exchange-listed corporations, are neither evil nor benevolent. Nor do they work for their customers. The duty of their management is first and foremost to the company’s owners: the shareholders. Seen this way, Adobe’s move, though certainly bold and risky, could well make a lot of sense. The move to the CC model has little to do with art but comes straight from management school. if it works, it will smooth the company’s revenue stream, make it more predictable, increase Adobe’s pricing power, its profit margins, its cash flow, and the loyalty of its customers, thus cementing its already very strong competitive position – all things that, if they can be delivered, I would definitely welcome, were I an Adobe shareholder.
I’m not, though, and my interests are therefore quite different. In fact, they are in many ways the opposite. I’m interested in getting the best and most current tools while paying as little as possible for them. In addition, I’m moved by a variety of personal circumstances, including, possibly, some irrational preferences that may apply to me and to no other artist. I speak for myself, not for the community of Adobe users, who, like Matt, may come to completely different conclusions.
On the financial side, first of all, I try and stay clear as much as possible from recurring expenditures, especially those that are difficult to get out of. In general terms, I also try not to pay upfront for products or services I may or will use in the future. I would rather keep my cash on my own interest-bearing account than on another person’s and buy tools when I need them. Buying a software suite (the Adobe CS proposition) is an investment – it will be there for you to use until you have amortised it or it has become obsolete, which may be a long time from now depending on what you do with it. Renting a tool, which you won’t have access to once you stop paying for it (the Adobe CC proposition), is more akin to consumption and therefore, the way I see it, carries far less value.
The second set of parameters to consider here is the room Adobe occupies in my workflow. I am primarily a 3D artist. Boiled down to the absolute essentials, my central set of tools is 3ds Max and Vray. I have an Autodesk subscription for Max, which is fine because I do need to stay on top of new versions and a subscription is vastly cheaper than upgrading every year, and I buy every new version of Vray as soon as they come out. I also own Adobe’s Production Premium Suite 5.5, which I bought at a discount directly from Adobe in my country a while after it came out. I have never used most of its components, but I’m a heavy user of Photoshop (for which I also bought a number of plugins) for texturing and post-production, and a relatively frequent user of After Effects. That said, I’m not locked into the .psd format the way I’m into the .max format. My deliverables tend to be .jpg stills, .exr files or videos. Neither is staying current as much of a requirement when it comes to Photoshop and AE. I guess most of the tools I used were already present in past versions of the software.
Given this, what are my options today? Since Adobe is discontinuing CS, there are only four possible routes to go right now: 1. move to CC, taking advantage of the introductory offer (which, in Europe at least, is still rather expensive); 2. quickly buy CS6 in order to get the most current version of the software and use the last opportunity to invest in an Adobe product that will be functional for as long as you decide to keep it on your hard drive; 3. move to a competing set of products for 2D work; 4. stay on CS 5.5 and see what happens.
I briefly considered option 2 after hearing the news from Adobe this week. Yet the truth is that CS6 does not have any feature I would particularly care for or I’m likely to use extensively. I also toyed with option 1 after reading Matt’s post, but quickly ruled it out for the same reason (why get into such a big and open-ended financial commitment if all I’m going to use are the features I already enjoy in CS 5.5?). In addition, because I trust Adobe to keep working hard at delivering good value for its shareholders, I expect the company to do what any good manager would given the circumstances: to raise CC subscription prices steadily as more users get locked in while keeping a lid on expenditures, including R&D expenditures (both of which would be perfectly fair as Adobe has made no commitment either about capping prices in the medium term or about delivering a specific number of updates per year).
Ergo, for now, I will stick to CS 5.5, which I love and which does everything I want it to do perfectly well and a lot more too. Once it has become outdated, which given my usage could be two or three years from now, I will consider option 1 and 3 again. In the meantime, I will have spent no money at all, which financially works better than any of the other options barring a move to free open-source 2D software. I see no need to switch products for now, but it certainly remains a perfectly realistic option. While changing my 3D tools would make me utterly miserable, the learning curve of 2D software (again, for my usage) is not as steep. I used Gimp for a long time and moved to Photoshop long after I started 3D work and only when Adobe came up with a very attractive offer for a one-off investment. Likewise, I don’t want to rule out CC becoming a better value proposition once it matures.
Whatever happens, watching things develop will be fascinating. Adobe’s decision, I’m sure, was entirely unemotional and based on extensive market research. But it was a bold one too, and one that, in its pioneering nature, has not really been tested by anyone before. If it turns out to be a good business decision, I expect Adobe to push forward and inspire many competitors to follow suit. If it fails, it will most likely be reversed or watered-down as unemotionally as it was introduced in a matter of a few quarters, not years. In any case, the jury will come out on CC long before my version of CS 5.5 has reached its sell-by-date.
As I said, this is where I come from. If your workflow is very different – if Adobe software is your central tool, if you receive or deliver .psd files on a routine basis, if you are part of a much bigger pipeline, or if you use the software’s most advanced features to the full, you will likely come to a different conclusion. But from my rather comfortable niche, I will watch events unfold with keen interest.