Price Slashing Impacts 3D Graphics IndustryBy Paulo de AndradeAlias/Wavefront has reduced the price of Maya. Not just by a little bit, but significantly. Maya Complete, formerly priced at $7,500 will now sell for $1,999 and Maya Unlimited, which formerly sold for $16,000 will be priced at $6,999. The software remains the same and no features were removed in order to lower the prices. This means that Maya is now priced in the same category as traditional volume market 3D software such as Lightwave and MAX, which may very well be considered a landmark in the history of 3D graphics. It’s the very first time that a high-end 3D application is priced within the reach of virtually any artist, breaking down the financial walls that separated the larger animation studios and production facilities from individual artists.

The market really began to change the moment that applications like Lightwave and MAX started offering features that were competitive with higher end packages such as Maya and Softimage XSI. Even though the lower-priced packages were not as powerful or user-friendly as the higher priced ones, they offered many similar functions for a fraction of the cost. Many users of these packages dreamed of moving up to higher end ones, but were immediately discouraged by the price barriers imposed upon them. Not only was the initial purchase price of a package like Maya much higher, but the practically mandatory maintenance contracts imposed a considerable financial burden for individuals or small shops. Even the game developers market sometimes could not justify the expense of moving to a high-end package when the cost of maintaining a few dozen licenses exceeded a hundred thousand dollars per year.
Those unfamiliar with how maintenance contracts work with high-end packages should know that, in most cases, paying an expensive yearly maintenance fee was the only way to obtain software upgrades. So, on top of the initial software cost, it was necessary to pay a few thousand dollars a year if you wanted to keep your version current. Maintenance fees also gave the user access to very good, unlimited phone support, as well as other benefits.

But the problem is that many times the cost of support far outweighed the benefits and, if a user chose not to pay for support, he/she might not be able to upgrade the software anymore. The common workaround would be to renew the maintenance contract, which often meant paying for back support, in case an upgrade was really necessary. Or, in the case of Alias/Wavefront, pay a considerably higher fee for a direct upgrade. But Alias/Wavefront is the first high-end 3D software developer to admit that this model doesn’t work that well for individuals and small companies, taking the pioneering step to change it. With the Maya price drop came the ability to purchase upgrades, as need, for a reasonable fee even if the user is not currently under a maintenance contract.

In this case it basically works out the same as with other volume market programs. But if you wish to benefit from the advantages offered by maintenance, such as an unlimited number of of phone calls to the support hotline, guaranteed “free” software upgrades, and access to additional materials on the A|W web site, annual full maintenance prices were also significantly reduced to $1,299 per year for Maya Complete (nodelocked) and $1,499 per year for Maya Unlimited (nodelocked). At these prices, maintenance costs make sense, specially if A|W delivers more than one upgrade in a year . For certain facilities, an annual maintenance contract may also be easier to budget for, since it is a more predictable expense.

Maya’s price drop is the first major step towards the true democratization of high-end 3D animation. Now talented freelance animators and small facilities will have access to virtually the same toolset that the large studios do. Talent, and not the size of a bank account, will dictate the sophistication of 3D animated projects from now on. And the larger studios will benefit from this price drop as well because not only will it be cheaper for them to acquire more licenses, but they will end up with a larger talent pool to draw upon.

The reality of the high-quality production market in general has changed. And this has happened all across the board, from really affordable digital video acquisition and post-production systems to high-end compositing and special effects packages. In the not-so-distant old days, only the ones with a lot of money to spend had access to the high-quality tools and, as a result, had exclusive access to high profile clients. This is not the case anymore except for high-end 3D. But Maya’s price slashing is about to change that, too.
On the Macintosh side of things, Maya’s OS X port had been eagerly anticipated by everyone. But because there had never been a real high-end 3D application available for the Mac, users found the former price to be too high. They loved the feature set and they loved that such an amazing tool was finally available for their chosen platform. But they were simply not accustomed to paying higher prices for more sophisticated tools. The Mac had never been considered a mainstream 3D platform and, while many designers and artists would have loved to get into the 3D world, the entry ticket was considered too steep. However, with Maya’s new pricing structure, things will certainly change.

For basically the same cost as popular applications such as After Effects production bundle, they will now have access to the world’s leading high-end 3D program. This can only be good for the Macintosh, because it may propel it to be accepted into the larger production facilities, specially now that Unix-based OS X can be easily integrated into their Unix pipelines. And this means that the Mac will be recognized as the capable 3D production platform it is.

What remains to be seen is the reaction from other high-end 3D companies such as Softimage. Will they lower their prices, too? Will they change their upgrade and maintenance policies? And what about companies such as Newtek (Lightwave) and Discreet (Max). With Maya now in direct competition with their volume market products, what will they do to remain competitive?

Maya’s price slashing will definitely change the 3D software industry. Good for Alias|Wavefront. They had the courage to admit that the market has changed and I hope that their decision pays off big time. By being the first ones to leave behind an outdated pricing structure, they have a lot to gain. And so do animators, designers, filmmakers and artists who will be able, for the first time, to afford such incredible technology.

Maya Complete 4 will be priced beginning April 4 at US$1,999 and will include modeling, rendering, animation, dynamics, Artisan, Paint Effects and Maya Embedded Language (MEL), an open interface for programming and scripting. Maya Unlimited 4 will be priced at US$6,999 and will include Maya Fur, Maya Cloth and advanced modeling features. Maya is available through the Alias|Wavefront network of authorized resellers or may be purchased online, beginning April 4, 2002 at: http://www.aliaswavefront.com