CAD Fortress 2

CADDispenserHistorically, evaluating and purchasing Computer Aided Design (CAD) software has been about as simple as getting your own Death Star operational.  Such an ordeal often required navigation of obscure sales channels, VARs, vendor magic shows demonstrations, golf outings with salesmen of ill repute, complex licensing stipulations and annoyances like the rather dated concept of software maintenance.  The so-called mid market was a bit simpler thanks to economies of scale, but generally the entire process seemed to have more in common with real estate and used car sales than engineering technology.  CAD software has always been a rather complex affair, and companies were often selecting products resembling Team Fortress 2’s Heavy Weapons Guy and his chain gun – very effective in the field but costing four hundred thousand dollars to fire for twelve seconds.  But soon, perhaps, buying CAD may be as simple as buying the latest PC game.  я в осадке.

Today’s CAD market is rapidly transforming with modernized licensing models and an explosion of more innovative and cost-effective choices.  Even long established products (as I mentioned in a RENT-A-CAD future), are adopting subscription models to improve accessibility and affordability.  But all is not well in a market that has thus far long resisted change.  No doubt there has been considerable consternation about subscription models displacing perpetual licensing, ranging anywhere from legitimate skepticism to outright crying like sad, tiny babies.  Cry some more!  Consequently, response to subscription initiatives by the likes of Autodesk and Siemens has been understandably mixed.  Part of the issue (as has been the case with outcry over Adobe’s subscription model) is such models often represent a substantial cost increase over some perpetual licensing alternatives.  It is especially true when users are holding on to versions for as long as they can possibly manage and then some.  And as evidence that the CAD market often seems more like Jurassic Park than anything else, the subscription models up to this point are still largely dependent on the reseller model – which bakes in another layer of costs and confusion to pass down to the customer.

While the market struggles to understand subscription modeling, here comes SolidFace out of the blue -as Indie as a CAD package will ever get- looking for distribution on none other than gaming giant Valve’s immensely popular Steam service.  Wait, er what?  No doubt they are seeing an intersection between two markets – the fast growing segment of independent designers/engineers using unconventional tools for social engineering and electronic gaming.

Some of you may or may not be familiar with the Steam phenomenon.  Introduced originally as an automated patching engine for Half Life 2, and operated by Valve software, the portal has grown tremendously to become the premiere online community and storefront for digital downloads of PC/Mac games.  Steam debuted in a time where PC gaming was on the decline due to the popularity of console gaming from Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft.  Many attribute the strong resurgence of PC gaming to Steam’s magic formula of periodic sales and their curated library mixing big name AAA titles with critically acclaimed indie hits.  Amassing 65 million users worldwide, Steam has without doubt been widely hailed as a (I’m making a note here) huge success.  Valve has been steadily expanding Steam’s reach, adding a market for PC applications (like You Need a Budget or Sonar X3), family sharing plans, and living room modes intended to displace consoles on purpose-built turnkey PC’s built by partners.

Steam is everything the modern cloud-based marketplace should be.  And now it’s just about to collide with CAD, a market place that is everything but modern.  But Steam is not a subscription model (it’s free to join) – but rather a cloud distribution service that both delivers, updates, and manages the software you buy from the service.  So it’s perpetual licensing, optionally protected by Digital Rights Management (DRM), and delivered by the cloud.

The Steam platform also has a community feature called Greenlight, think of it as a pseudo incubator for budding independent game and software designers.  Game and software concepts are presented on the service, and Steam users vote for their favorites, ultimately determining which titles get inducted for distribution on Steam.  Early-Access concepts allow eager players/users to buy into the development Kickstarter style, while earning the right to participate in shaping the product by using and providing feedback on alpha and beta builds.  It’s quite possibly the future of software development, and SolidFace is boldly pioneering that future for the world of engineering CAD.  The days of calling up a salesman for a CAD demo may be about to go the way of the milkman and Saturday postal service.

SolidFace’s Steam Greenlight page is here.  Will it be successful?  Time will tell, but it’s certainly a watershed moment for the CAD world.  Many will argue that there’s no room in the CAD world for independent upstarts, because they can’t compete with the breadth and depth of functionality in today’s mainstream products.  But all of those long standing CAD products started somewhere with humble beginnings.  Who knows?  Maybe this happens to Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) next.

I’m going to go vote for them – if only for the entertainment to one day see a promotional Team Fortress 2 CAD hat tie-in.  It’s amazing how worlds can collide.