Good bye Maya! A blog post about Autodesk's licensing absurdities! (continued)

Article / 19 May 2020

This is a farewell to the program that was the base of my work for the last 15 years!

The main reason why I chose to quit using Maya is the changes to Autodesk's licensing policies. I wrote about this about 3 months ago but I was pretty much set I would accept the compromise of getting Maya LT for a year until the whole Indie thing gets cleared up. (Scroll down to the end for a 2022 update)

But then the virus hit and my prospects for work as a freelance took a nose-dive. It wasn't that I couldn't get work, it's that despite everyone looking for freelancers, less were willing to pay my already low rate. But I digress, maybe I'll write about this in another blog post. I decided to cut my costs, bite the bullet and try using Blender... and I love it. After about two weeks I was working at the same speed as I did in Maya with minimal addons. The short take is modeling is better than Maya, UVs are a bit lacking but with 2-3 addons you can get close enough for light work such as props. For more complex stuff, I'll probably buy RizomUV the first time I need it professionally. Rendering, especially EEVEE real-time is years ahead of Maya. Animation? I'm not an animator so I can't tell you.

My only dilemma were my courses. I used to teach modeling for games in Maya at three institutions: two private and one state owned. They're of course on hold for now due to the pandemic but I still have to think about the future and this is very relevant to the subject of this post.
Since Autodesk's Student license was very permissive, I could teach Maya with the ease of mind knowing I could instruct my students to get Student licenses good for 3 years, enough for them to continue and perfect their craft after finishing the course even if they couldn't get a job right away. I do not condone piracy, so I saw the ease of getting a Student license as a good move by Autodesk to increase the base for potential customers without forcing them into piracy. Kind of Microsoft accepting grey-market Windows 10 licenses for $10.

The main reason there's a demand for Maya is that it's one of the two big programs used in 3d modeling for games, the other one being 3ds Max. For the Politehnica University, teaching Blender is something they would prefer since academia loves Open Source! For the private institutions, my courses are more driven by market forces and since no big studio in Romania uses Blender as their main tool, this puts me at a disadvantage. I could continue to teach Maya though, right? Technically yes but then Autodesk decided to change its Student license by reducing the license period to 1 year and requiring official documentation to have the students prove they are enrolled in an accredited institution. See the problem? (More on this here:

Let me put it into fewer words:

If you want to teach Maya you either have to buy a license or work for an accredited institution that has Educational Licenses which are free but not available to everyone. You also cannot use a Student or Educational version to post tutorials on Youtube (confirmed by Autodesk Support), that is considered commercial use. So Autodesk is putting small teachers like me in the position of buying a license to basically bring more customers to Autodesk. This is easy to justify if you use Maya for work and absorb the costs there but since Maya's Indie license is still a discriminatory piece of garbage, I am basically forced to pay 1800E/year for the "privilege" of teaching students a software that they or their employers will pay the same for a year's subscription if I only want to teach a few courses a year. So, I can either be a full time teacher to justify the costs or a small time teacher so I can also work and justify the cost. Either way, this looks so bad, it kind of makes multi-level marketers look like saints! Yes, mine is an edge case since I'm not using Maya for commercial work anymore but the more than 50 people I teach every year are potential customers for Autodesk so I find it weird that I cannot use a free educational license for teaching.

So my dilemma is not so much a dilemma for me anymore, I'm ditching Maya altogether! I'm not going to teach it anymore and by what I'm hearing from friends and colleagues in Romanian studios, Blender is getting more and more accepted which should drive demand for Blender teaching locally in the future.

So after these months of the ups and downs of switching software and writing blog posts here's where myself and Autodesk are:

+ I'm reducing my fixed costs by 1800E/year, the cost of a Maya subscription.
+ I'm learning a new piece of software and diversifying my portfolio. I can now say that I've modeled in Max, Maya and Blender and I know all of them well enough to work with a variety of clients and meet their needs.
- I have to postpone teaching for a while until I adapt my course to Blender.

- Lost a paying customer.
- Probably lost about 50 potential new customers per year.

As a conclusion, why bother writing this? Because I like Maya and in a market economy you have to speak your mind to be part of the demand. I have expressed all my grievances to Autodesk Support and while the people there were very nice and understanding, I felt that my complaints fell on deaf ears! So I'm making them public on hope this will inspire other people or make it clearer for Autodesk that what they're doing is not good for their customers which means it won't be good for their stakeholders either in the future!

2022 Update: Since I wrote this post Autodesk has partially fixed its Indie license by making it available in "third world countries" such as the part of Europe that's not France, Italy and Germany, the UK and US. This means that you can now buy the Indie license for a fraction of the cost of the full license.
That's great news right? I should buy it and get back into it? Not so fast Bub! Autodesk's Indie license is pretty restrictive and limits the scope of projects I can work on with it. For example if I am a successful independent freelancer and I work for a AAA game with a million dollar budget, I'm not allowed to use the Indie license because the project I'm working on goes beyond the silly limits imposed by Autodesk. So while the Indie license is great if you're working on small projects, working on any project worth over 100.000$ is a big no no. Since you're limited to one license per person/organization and since 100k is maybe a bit more than what a good 3d artist can expect to make in the US, you basically CAN'T USE INDIE FOR ANYTHING THAT INVOLVES MORE ARTISTS THAN YOURSELF!

About Autodesk Maya's licensing model (Complete, LT, Indie)

Article / 11 February 2020

I love Maya, I've been using it for about 15 years now. Before that I was a Max user but as soon as I saw Maya's marking menus and the UV editor, I switched in a heart beat.

I worked on multiple AAA titles in Maya, I wrote a bunch of Mel scripts, I taught Maya to students for the last 6 years. I think Maya is the best animation program out there and definitely the most well taught out modeling program when it comes to user interaction. You can basically do everything is just a few marking menus. Nothing comes close and if anyone tells you differently it's because they never used marking menus to their full potential!

About two years ago I went freelance so I had to start purchasing my own subscription. I knew it would be expensive but I felt it was the right thing to do and support the developer. You might find this obvious but from where I'm from, paying for software is not that common, people prefer... alternative methods of obtaining it. Lucky for me, the first version I payed for was 2017 which was chock full of new modelling features with Update 4 bringing a whole to UVing as well. But then 2018, 2019 and now 2020 came out. I'm not saying there aren't any new modelling features but they seem to be too little to justify the yearly price. There were a bunch of animation and under-the-hood improvements that I'm sure animation artists love and that will have a positive impact on the future of Maya's modeling but for the most part, 2017 Update 5 is the last great modeling update. 

While I was getting disappointed with this slow progress, last year I got a call from Autodesk Support and had a chance to talk for quite a bit about how I use Maya and what I think the direction of the program should be. It felt like a genuine conversation and I'm really glad they gave me a chance to speak up. One of my issues was that Maya is a huge program with a ton of features but that there are individual artists and small studios who only use it for certain things and for which the subscription fee is too much. I also complained about how useless Maya LT is without Python scripting. I was told it's an issue a lot of users have and that Autodesk is working on it. Why would Autodesk call me? Well, like I said, here in Romania, paying 2000E/year for a license is almost unheard of so they didn't have many clients to choose from I guess!

Not long after this call I see an announcement for Maya Indie and I'm getting excited!

But then I click on the link and I see that Maya Indie is a pilot program only available in the UK, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. This left me disappointed, confused and even a bit offended. I understand that they need to test how many people would switch to Indie and how this would impact their income but I don't understand why exclude areas like Eastern Europe where piracy is rampant and such a drastic reduction in price would get people to buy the license which would otherwise pirate it. I mean, yeah, they would loose the income from people like me, but I'm sure they would more than make up for it with new subscriptions. The offended part comes from the fact that last year, people in the "western" world got a nice price cut for Maya when people from less developed countries got nothing! 2000E or piracy! It's offensive because if I dare to ask the same per hour rate as somebody from the US or UK, I get served the same "but you live in Romania, life's cheaper there, your rate is too high!" So while these "poor souls" who live in a developed country got to keep more of their income, I didn't just because Autodesk is afraid selling cheaper software wouldn't make them more money.

I of course asked Autodesk about this in December last year and they told me they do not have any news about the Maya Indie program. My current subscription expires at the end of February and I'm left with quite a painful dilemma.  Should I extend my subscription for another year and risk overpaying, should I switch to a monthly subscription and pay them more money while expecting Maya Indie to come out?  Thankfully I got a response from Autodesk Support in January stating Maya Indie won't be available world-wide for at least another year! So now I'm forced to either pay 10x more than some of my anglo-saxon colleagues who probably earn at least 4x more than me in one year or accept the limitations of LT.

I don't feel like this type of discriminatory practices should be left without challenge so personally I'm doing the following:
1. I am renouncing my full Maya subscription and promise I will never reactivate it unless it's in the form of Maya Indie and at a decent price.
2. I will purchase a Maya LT for the next year in hopes of being able to live with the crippling omission of Python and plugins.
3. I started a thread on the Maya LT Ideas forum proposing that Autodesk just ditch LT altogether and make Maya Indie available world wide. You can read more here and vote if you think it's something wort pursuing:
4. Next year, when the LT license expires, I will only continue to pay Autodesk for Maya Indie and nothing else. If that is not available until then I will just give up LT as well and just switch to Blender. I'm already incorporating it into my pipeline for non-Maya tasks anyway.

The image attached to this post is modified by me by adding the green text at the top. Of course this is not Autodesk's opinion on the matter, it is solely mine. I don't think Autodesk's intention is to discriminate but I hope everyone understands how this looks like it to me or other customers in the areas where Indie is not available!

Late edit:
It seems other people have the same complaint as me and are making their voices heard.
Also please consider voting these Ideas: