Just Rewards Competitions have generated a lot of attention in the computer graphics industry lately, most notably in the form of 3D software “shootouts.” Indeed, the NAB show in April hosted a shootout geared for broadcast-oriented computer graphics between five of the leading 3D programs: Softimage|XSI, Alias|Wavefront’s Maya, Discreet’s 3ds max, NewTek’s LightWave, and Maxon’s Cinema 4D. And the Siggraphi conference in July held a similar competition between these programs intended for use in all entertainment-related fields.
If vendors can help match users with the programs that are most appropriate for their needs, they will earn the respect and gratitude of existing and potential customers. And, in the process, they will raise the tide of satisfaction across the industry that will, in turn, lift all their boats.
Taking the alternative approach can only lead to disaster. For instance, consider how 3D mechanical CAD software vendors handled themselves the last time they were invited to participate in 3D shootouts, and how they fared as a result. The contests took place in the fall of 1998, when organizers of two of the top CAD conferences at the time-M-Tech and Computer Technology Solutions (formerly Autofact)-asked some 20 CAD vendors to send teams to design products (a computer mouse for one and an exterior rear-view mirror for the other) in front of a live audience.
To make a long story short, only a few vendors showed up for the shootouts, and before it was over, there was such hostility among the teams that the competitions have never been held since (see "Winners and Losers," December 1998, pg. 6).
In a sense, this antagonistic attitude defined the CAD industry as a whole. Vendors were unwilling to work together to solve the larger problems facing the industry. As a result, innovation ceased, user demand stalled, and vendors were left fighting for shares of a shrinking pie.
The lesson for 3D modeling and animation software vendors is to approach software shootouts not as contests they might lose, but as opportunities to educate users about their tools. This was certainly the intent of the NAB and Siggraph 3D shoot outs organizer Dan "Major Pixel" Kam mis, head of xyzandyou, the Pacific Northwest's 3D User Group (www.xyzandyou.org).
It was also the view taken by observers of the event. For example, as one of the NAB contest judges, Tara Brannigan, puts it, "All of the programs had strengths and weaknesses. But I can't consider any of the products inferior, because in the hands of capable artists, they could all be used to create marvelous works of art in different manners, as was shown in the competition. (To learn more about the NAB competition and to see responses to a survey of the event's operators and judges, go to our Web site, www.cgw.com, click on Web Exclusives, and select Surveys.)
The software vendors who participated in these 3D shootouts should be applauded and encouraged to do so again. There are no penalties, just rewards.