[This feature was published in the October 2013 edition of Develop magazine, which is available through your browser and on iPad]
When did Autodesk decide to target the indie audience with Maya LT?
Like most people in the games industry, we’ve always been really excited about what’s going on in indie, where they’re pushing the boundaries not just of gameplay design, but also production and the way they do things. We’re also really enthusiastic about all the support for the indies from the big guys that’s going on; things like what Sony and Microsoft are doing. And indie is something we’re very keen to support in any way possible. So we took a good look at our product line, and it was clear that with some work it was really well positioned to serve indie developers.
So how did you begin to work out how to change the product to better suit indies?
Well, we asked ourselves about what they really care about in terms of tools, and what they care about is having a strong userbase behind a tool, accessing production-proven tools, and they need flexible pricing. A strong userbase and production-proven tools is something we have got at Autodesk, and looking at our tools, Maya is probably the strongest for gaming in that regard. But flexible pricing is something we didn’t have. So we looked at Maya closely – because its functioning on Mac and PC, making it the obvious choice in terms of indies – and we thought about Maya’s appeal to indies.
And you’ve changed what Maya offers significantly for the LT edition?
Maya is a big and very powerful product with loads of different features. When you look at games development, and especially smaller studios, they are really only using a small subset of what Maya offers.
We figured that there was a bunch of things that weren’t really applicable in Maya that we could pull out to enable us to decrease the price significantly.
How will that pricing work?
Well, the full version of Maya is priced at around $3500, and we’re offering LT at $795, with a rental pricing option, to make it easier for smaller developers who find themselves scaling up and scaling down, or freelance developers who want to easily charge back the costs of tools to whoever they are doing a piece of work for. The rental price is $50 a month, and if you go up and purchase more time, it could go as low as $30 a month.
We did a tonne of research and a tonne of focus groups, working with indie developers to what price point they would feel is acceptable, and to work out what we could legitimately charge, and we’ve arrived at a cost price we feel is fair.
Let’s move onto the feature set. How is Maya LT different from the full Maya?
In terms of the feature set, some of the surplus stuff includes some of the rendering, which is used in Maya by those in the film, television and animation industries, for example, but for games developers they are using the renderer of the game engine. With Viewport 2.0, which is available in Maya, and the DirectX 11 suport, it’s a lot more of a ‘what you see is what you get’ situation. What you see in Viewport is an accurate depiction of what you’ll get in the game engine, so the need for the renderer just wasn’t there. So we pulled out the renderer, so the hardware and software renderer, Mental Ray and Render Map, isn’t in there. We did keep in Turtle Renderer to give indies access to more realistic light-baking into scenes.
There’s also the ability to do playblasts, because we saw an increasing number of indies are developing 2D games using 3D models, just because it’s easier in terms of the animating process.
That’s one of the main differences. Another, that we did to maintain the difference between the larger Maya customers and the indie games developers using LT, is that you can import and modify models of any size, but when you export there’s a limit on the polys you can export in LT. So when you export in FBX there’s a 25,000 per-seat poly limit on assets that you create in Maya LT. That limit has jumped around quite a bit, with devices continuing to improve their fidelity and resolutions and stuff like that, and its something we can adjust quite easily in the future, but the models and the things we’ve seen come out of developers that are under that 25,000 cap is more than adequate for what we see these smaller developers will need.
There are a couple of other things – like the particle effects and the hair that indie studios aren’t really using – that we pulled out, but we decreased the price by a tremendous amount, so we needed to keep that differentiation there between our full tools and LT.
Will we see LT updates in tandem with new Maya releases, or are the products more separated than that?
The nice thing about Maya LT is that it’s on a totally separate release schedule, and updates will be coming a lot more regularly than with Maya, because the way things are moving with indie development is so fast. We have a really nimble team of ninjas internally working on this, adding in new features, workflows and integrations that are built specifically for indie games makers. We’re trying to create a really customised tool specifically for this audience of small teams.
Does Autodesk have any sense that LT could serve as an introduction to Maya for studios that may grow and one day need the full Maya product?
We hope that happens with Maya LT. We’re really trying to cater the learning materials as well, for people who are less familiar with our products, and see LT as something that could be an on-ramp for people looking to get further into games development – perhaps people that are moving from 2D to building 3D assets for their games. And LT and Maya are comparable in many ways. LT spits out FBX, which can be used on any of our larger tools, for example. The pipelines are completely interoperable, but it stays within the limitations of FBX to start with.
And what about indies new to Autodesk products. How have you made LT welcoming to them?
We’re working on materials specific to people who are newer to Maya, who are using specific workflows, for example, with Unity or even fully-2D game engines. We are working on plenty of very focused learning materials for those guys.
And you’re already working with select partner indies in building Maya LT?
Absolutely. We’ve had a beta that has been out there for maybe five months, and there’s a lot of different developers out there on that beta that are working with the product. We’ve been taking under consideration a lot of feedback that they’ve given us.
At launch, and shortly thereafter, we’ll start to feature works that are built using Maya LT, so you’ll start to see what’s possible. But right now all of the projects already using Maya LT are completely under wraps.
With so many tools integrating with Maya, could Maya LT encourage even more middleware outfits to start to embrace indies? And on that note, have you made the job of supporting indies easier now, and could you have done it sooner?
Let’s be honest. This has been a long time coming, and I would have liked us to have had this out there a while ago. We are definitely with Maya LT, as I mentioned before, working on a new approach, where we are really trying to support integration with the tools community, and it is a real opportunity to do so. Yes, we are doing it, but, again, it’s a little early for saying too much more. I have beers with the Project Anarchy guys on almost a weekly basis now, and we work with the Unity guys too. We’re really trying to integrate as much as possible and provide the best end user experience for everyone, so they don’t have to choose one thing or another; we want everything to work for everyone.
On a related note, we’re really trying to take our Area website to the next level for the indie artist. We really want to embrace this notion of indie artists, as a very specific part of the indie developer community, and so we’re providing lots of resources and support specifically for the indie artists. We’re really banking on that community being a part of Maya LT and its success.