Following on from the initial results of the Big CG Survey 2010, this article looks at the nuances in the data to give a deeper understanding of why some software scored better than others.
The survey results revealed a complex and dynamic industry with a massive range of industry standards. The CG industry has not reached the same plateau that you might expect from many markets, mainly because the CG industry is still in a state of rapid development. New companies are still arriving every year and are able to gain significant traction in very little time.
Some readers have enquired about why we were favourable about the 3ds Max results when their growth was far smaller compared to some other products like Blender, 3D Coat and so on. Part of the answer is pretty obvious: 3ds Max is an established application with a mature user base - it serves a huge range of audience types and the expectations for it to achieve in every single area are almost impossibly high. So it was not at all surprising that last year's scores were poorer compared with competition. This year, to not only stop this but improve the scores is an achievement that should be recognised.
However, there are more subtle nuances that should be discussed that'll help give an understanding of how different these products are in their current end-user demands and requirements. The current state of the market is demonstrated by the chart below formed from your responses on market share, growth and future prospects. The market has been split into segments based on the popularity of the software and your reviews of the features.
This helps to reveal a clearer perspective on the various products and the market itself. Note the positioning is based on your feature responses - not overall features in the products - so specialist applications like Terragen/Vue won't be negatively influenced because they lack animation features. Indeed this is demonstrated by the niche success that has occurred with the sculpting tools ZBrush and Mudbox becoming industry standards in the space of the last 5-10 years. It also reveals that whilst other products have received very favourable reviews, 3ds Max and Maya are very much still the two industry giants and the ones to beat - the 'iPhones' of the CG world.
It is interesting to note some of the declines. Lightwave 3D, interestingly, is moving back towards being positioned as 'untapped potential'. This is likely a reflection of the radical overhaul with the CORE release and its users considering this to have greater potential, but perhaps may take a hit in the market in the short term.
The upper right quadrant will be dominated by professionals and students. This was again reflected in your answers. We can see the professional products separated from the more community/hobbyist software packages in their spread of users. However, to really reveal the industry position we should include the student figures. Indeed, these are in many senses a more accurate way of interpreting. The concept of 'professional' is incredibly broad, whereas people studying are clearly picking packages that are broadly used and widely utilised across the industry; again here we can see 3ds Max, Maya and ZBrush ruling the roost.
Students are a critical demographic for any package, they provide the highly skilled new blood for the next generation of professionals - this is a definite advantage to these dominant packages. Again the results would suggest that there is a rich vein of new students being training in 3ds Max, Maya and ZBrush as their primary toolsets. This is another example of the challenges that products wanting to break into this segment will need to overcome - how can you get your product being taught at universities across the world?
Skewing the results
The more professional the software, the harder time it'll have. The industry-standard quadrant is, as its name suggests, the area that powers the whole market. This is where the vast majority of the deadlines, the top-end requirements and other pressures reside. So more critical responses are understandable given a professional is nearly always going to require more and be stretching the limits of the software greater than a hobbyist. It should however be something that is borne in mind when reading the results - in short, the more industry-standard applications will get a far rougher time and the ones used by hobbists will have it easier. Indeed, as you can see more than 70% of the 'very poor' responses were from the professional/student demographic, whereas the majority of positive responses came from the hobbyists.
This is also revealed in the keywords associated by the respondents. As can be seen in the chart, keywords like buggy, out-of-date and sluggish occur far more frequently with the professional demographic. You can also see evidence to ulterior motivators in the hobbyist markets where words like cheap occur far more frequently - this is unsurprisingly a far more important factor for this segment.
So what does this mean?
Hopefully this helps to describe some of the nuances that the quadrant analysis highlights for these products. Whilst products like 3ds Max, ZBrush and Maya are in the same market as others like Blender and 3D Coat, this certainly doesn't mean they have the same challenges and requirements from their end users.
Any product moving into the industry standard quadrant will result in a changing set of requirements from end users. Innovation and speed of development stay just as important, but other factors like stability and reliability become even more critical. Likewise the upper-right quadrant, whilst being somewhere every product aspires to be, is also a rougher ride. Products will be more aggressively and critically perceived by their end users.
Hence the fact 3ds Max is driving even further into the upper right quadrant is something that should be applauded and we should also keep a perspective on the differences between these packages in the various quadrants.
It should also be noted that 3ds Max 2011 was launched just shortly after the survey - anecdotally this has been viewed as one of the strongest 3ds Max releases in some time. It'll be interesting to see if this is reflected in next year's results...