Emergency Brake! or How you successfully kill a good Product

Do I hate being right! You know, sometimes I’m surprised myself by my sixth sense, but in the end it always seems to work out to my advantage. It would appear I can add another such instance to my lucky list! A bit more than two years ago (man, time does fly!) I was actually quite a bit excited about Core, that is what LightWave might have become one day. As a long-time user I was actually looking forward to the program getting a dose of fresh blood, even if there wasn’t exactly anything wrong with the way things were – yes, the interface was dated and inarguably many of its paradigms were also from another era, but for my kind of stuff it worked. I didn’t necessarily have a problem with two separate apps nor did I miss things like a history stack as all these posed no serious obstacle and at worst required a bit more intense file versioning to have something to go back to. Still, would I have kept using a reinvented and rejuvenated Lightwave? Sure, even more so for a 395 USD upgrade to the next two versions! Yet somehow something didn’t feel right and the thing that made me suspicious was the insane obsession with UI customization.

Flexible, skinnable interfaces – to a degree – are nice, but when it becomes someone’s favorite obsession for a 3D program, I cannot agree. The thing is, developers use UI libraries like Qt (no, not Quicktime) for application prototyping all the time and in a few years you might find out what crazy things Adobe may have attempted in After Effects, after all, when someone writes his memoirs, but versatility is just one side of the equation. The other side of a good UI is its ability to guide the user by not distracting him with unnecessary fluff elements and yes, also by limiting him in doing certain things. NewTek seemed to have lost sight of that fact completely. That and then came trickling out more info about all the other stuff that didn’t impress me too much, so I decided to sit this one out, regardless how affordable the offer may have been.

And here we are, seeing very much the end of it: Development didn’t progress at pace and someone needs to sell this failure as a strategic decision. It’s just that people are not that stupid, you know. NewTek‘s development strategy has always been abhorrent with absolutely no halfway predictable pattern even at the best of their times, but I truly believe they have stretched the patience of even their most loyal users too far this time. Similar to myself drifting back to Cinema 4D complemented by modo, many of their users have moved on to other apps already and this trend will now become even more prominent. Autodesk, Maxon, Luxology and all the others will no doubt be more than happy to pick up all the disappointed and burned users and the vultures are circling. It’s a shame, though, as it will effectively very much mean that Lightwave will become even more of a niche product regardless of its qualities and in the long run less and less relevant. They can’t even blame anyone, they did it all to themselves.

There is of course a lesson here: The most ambitious, idealistic and technically sophisticated development effort doesn’t do you any good, if you can’t convince your existing users to come along for the ride, something which also seems to happen to Final Cut Pro X. But that’s a story again for another time…

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