2016 was a tough year for Poser. It seemed to continue its slow decline with very little positive news. 2015 was mostly about former Poser users gloating on various forums about how fine life had become using Studio. 2016 was about Smith Micro proving them right. In this article I'd like to outline my thoughts on how it got this way and how Poser's fortunes might be turned around.Obsolesence, whether planned or not
Let's start with a reality check regarding software and technology, or perhaps business in general: Tech changes fast, no one wants old tech, a company's position in a competitive market is not static or guaranteed.
I've seen a lot of changes in the last 25 years that I've been working with creative technology. I've seen a number of market leaders fall by the wayside. Many times they fail for similar reasons; neglecting their customer base and/or not staying ahead of a changing technological landscape. Here's a short list of former market leaders that are now answers to a trivia question.Quark Xpress-
Slow to implement OSX compatibility or add significant innovation to its UX and software Kodak-
Kept trying to sell paper based photography products as the world went digitalBlackberry (RiM)
-Failed to respond to the challenge from Apple and GoogleSega
-Bad business decisions and lack of innovation turned it's user base against it
Smith Micro (SM), Poser's parent company, has unfortunately exhibited many of these failing behaviors. To paraphrase Steve Jobs "they were a sitting duck for the last 10 years". They just kinda sat on their monopoly with minor improvements and when Daz came to them with a new innovation in figure technology (Genesis) they passed on it. We can argue whether that was a good idea or not, but the real issue, in my mind, is that once they declined, and Daz made Genesis a Studio only product, Smith Micro barely responded. The word on the street around 2010/11 was that "Daz makes great figures and lousy software but Poser makes great software and lousy figures". I guess SM assumed it would always be like that. Now Daz makes great figures AND great software. SM still makes lousy figures and currently depends on Daz's 10 year old Vicky 4 figure to keep customers onboard. Epic Failures
As Daz was making bold moves; dropping the price of its software and figures to zero, adding iRay the physically based renderer, updating the original Genesis to versions 2 and 3; SM was making tepid upgrades to its software, floundering about with Game Dev, releasing more bland figures, and playing catch up to Daz with weight mapping and PBR. The coup de gras was when Daz assimilated RDNA (a long time Poser vendor) and took Poser's Official Forums with them! Are you kidding me? How unaware do you have to be to allow your only competitor to walk away with your official forums, the user base that gathered there, and the many years of collected knowledge that it represented?
And even before that tragic fail Smith Micro decided to create a case study in how NOT to launch an product upgrade. The product in question is Poser 11 and the list of errors is epic. Let's start with the bugs. They're still ironing them out. Making it easy for potential customers to sit on their hands rather than reach for their wallets. Then there was their new figure Pauline. The male version wasn't even available at launch time. While potential and former customers were (literally) drooling over Daz's Vicky 7, Poser users were trying to stifle their disappointment with their new girl who was clearly broken and rushed to market. So rushed that the unpaid Poser community immediately took it upon themselves to "fix" a product that they already paid for (God bless em). Superfly, Poser's major enhancement to Poser 11, is a quality PBR and I personally like how it was implemented, but it was released with no samples of its rendering power and no tools to help users transition from the previous renderer. Once again the user base had to come to the rescue by creating tools such as EZSkin and EZDome. Add to that the brilliant decision to make it's software "phone home", squandering the potential marketing advantage in the face of Daz encrypting of its own content. The Poser 11 launch, in the face of its greatest threat to date, really couldn't have been handled any worse.Do or Die
That said, you may wonder why I plan to continue using Poser. Some of the issues with their competition were outlined in a previous journal entry and I may expound on that further in the future. Fortunately there are still some bright spots that may provide a basis for the way forward.HiveWire3d:
Right now HiveWire is the only vendor dedicated to bringing high quality, modern human and animal figures to Poser. Founded by Chris Creek (one of the founders of Daz) and other long time content developers 3 years ago, their staff has a proven track record of success in the marketplace. While their flagship model Dawn was met with some skepticism for its real and imagined shortcomings, they've developed a cult following and done just about everything right in managing their business.
I suggest Smith Micro partner heavily with HiveWire to the point of including the base models of Dawn and Dusk version 2 into their software. I would expect their upgraded figure to be announced, if not completed this year. It will be fabulous! SM needs to work closely with a dedicated figure provider, similar to how they did with Daz. Vicky 4 will eventually go the way of all things. HW3D is the only vendor who are positioned to fill the gap.Superfly:
One of SM's smarter moves was taking advantage of tech developed for the open source Blender software. Once again it's solid technology based on Blender's Cycles renderer. That singular move cut down on R&D overhead and allowed users to look to Cycle's knowledge base in using it and creating new materials. They can also take advantage of improvements to Cycles by Blender's developers.
I suggest working even closer with Blender. Blender is on an opposite trajectory as Poser. It's gaining ground with potential users. There should be a plugin to make it easy to move assets back and forth between the softwares helping to make Poser more compatible with third party software and developers.The Poser user base:
Poser has been around for over 20 years now. There are users who've actually been using it that long. Many remember when the Poserverse was more of a community than it is now and continue to provide quality tools, tutorials, and content to the base, some free and some not. Smith Micro should do everything possible to keep them happy (duh).
At the end of the day Poser's fortunes rest squarely with the future moves of its parent company, Smith Micro. Here are my humble suggestions for maintaining and expanding the user base:
- Define your brand. What makes Poser different than the competition? Promote it. Be it. In my opinion Studio is creating a walled garden a la Apple's app store, aimed at Load, Pose, Renderers (nothing wrong with LPRs of course), with extensive lock in. Poser has an opportunity to increase what I consider an advantage in being a more open platform (like Android). Figure out new and better ways to get content of various formats into and out of Poser. Make it easy to import, export, create and manipulate content in Poser.
- Discontinue Poser Debut if you haven't already. No sense charging people for a crippled version that will compare unfavorably to the free competition. Make standard Poser the entry level option and lower the price aggressively. You can tweak the pricing of the Pro version while you're at it.
- Aggressively improve the unique features already present such as the morph brush, cloth room and fitting room. Incorporate some of the tools present in the many great add ons created by third parties into the app itself. Overhaul the UI.
- Add something totally new and totally awesome. Give your competitor's customers a reason to wish they were using Poser. I can't say what that would be because if I could think of it, it probably wouldn't be that awesome.
- Improve the marketing. I get emails from SM but most of the time it's for software I don't use or want. Be active in the various forums. Build anticipation for the great upgrades and features to come. Make high quality ads with high quality images. Show off the features that already exist.
- Do something with Content Paradise already (Smith Micro's content site). Modernize the look and functionality to modern standards. Bring your forums and tutorials to the site to create community. Make them easy to find. Advertise your great new content, discounts and sales.
Those are my thoughts. My fear is that Poser might, at best, become a niche product in a niche market attracting very few new customers or third party vendors, creating a vicious downward cycle toward irrelevance. Their new product manager is a respected, long time user and innovator and I've heard things are improving in many regards. I hope Smith Micro and the Poser team are up to the task. I'd like to continue to use Poser and hope they can turn things around.