And Then Premium Features Arrived…

On March 28, 2012, Adobe announced and introduced the anxiously awaited Flash Player Premium Features for Gaming, with Flash Player 11.2 and AIR 3.2. Also Roadmap for Flash Runtimes was updated. (BTW, the problem with the road-map is that it’s just some plans, ‘official gossip’ as I call it, it offers no commitment or legally binding promise from Adobe. And it can get updated anytime…).

What has the cat dragged in?

Good news is that using domain memory and (Alchemy introduced and officially documented) fast memory opcodes by themselves is not considered as premium use. Only using both domain memory and Stage 3D is considered as premium. So it seems Adobe listened to the community and did what it could. (‘a fair compromise‘ – Mike Chambers).

Licensing starts on August 1 -we have a grace period and any prior work will get to use the premium features royalty free-, there will be no charges for the first $50K of revenues (but 9% after that). AIR including for mobile applications for iOS and Android, will be royalty free.  There’s a FAQ about all this.

Another good thing is that Adobe states ‘no intent‘ for making any existing feature premium in the future (but any new feature may come as premium). In any case, it’s up to the community and individuals to trust Adobe about any intentions…

In summary, it looks as if only big gaming studios, who would use Alchemy to convert their million dollar 3D games to Flash for the Web only (as AIR usage is royalty free), are the target (and $50K entry point will protect small studios). ‘These premium features will allow console developers to deliver unprecedented, AAA console quality games to over a billion computers’ says Tom Nguyen, Sr. Product Manager, Gaming at Adobe.

Community response

[in no particular order]

Nicolas Cannasse, creator of MTASC and Haxe, called this the Speed Tax for 3D games: ‘Adobe just made DECENT SPEED a “premium feature”‘.

Nicolas Cannasse

Joa Ebert, another name who needs no introduction to anyone in the Flash community, in his post titled ‘Collateral Damage‘, announced: ‘I am no longer committed to supporting any Flash related open-source projects‘. A sad development indeed.

Joa Ebert, Flash on the Beach 2009

Peter Elst, yet another name who should not be unfamiliar to any Flash platform developer, currently a Googler, tweeted: ‘I’m calling it… Flash Player time of death March 28th 2012, you’ll be missed – died at the hands of incompetent surgeons‘.

 

 

Tweet from Peter Elst

Robert Penner, author of famous easing equations – if you remember them, good old times-, author, former Adobe Flash Team member, tweeted the following: ‘I thought Adobe was supposed to make money by building the best tools and services, not by cutting them & selling the platform. I’m not saying Adobe is wrong to change their Flash platform strategy. But I’d rather they be successful with great tools & free platform.‘.

Robert Penner in Flash CS4 About Box

Phillip Kerman, writer, teacher, programmer, tweeted: ‘man, can’t sleep… had a nightmare Adobe really did kill Flash. Wait, did I even go to sleep yet?‘.

 

Omar Gonzalez, Senior Software Architect @ Almer/Blank, tweeted: ‘I don’t think I’ve ever seen a company destroy so much of their own intellectual property in such a short amount of time. #amazing #Adobe‘.

.Net magazine covered the story

There were also positive reactions, I think mostly because some people thought the $50K is big enough a barrier that will protect them, some are clueless newbies who just heard about Alchemy opcodes and decided they are not affected, some use AIR exclusively and didn’t care about anything else, some sincerely found initial conditions for licensing acceptable, and some, I believe, felt that that to contain the damage, they have to back the decision publicly… And then some, chose to remain silent…

Below are links to some discussions on Google+:

Richard Davey: https://plus.google.com/106676047029022880747/posts/arRMVLEQdiN

Jesse Freeman: https://plus.google.com/113373098067901951782/posts/hJZMKnGh6We

Jesse Warden: https://plus.google.com/109537902154361720350/posts/Nmvh8HY4BG6

Other developments…

On March 31, Daniel Bunte had a blog post titled How we managed to get Alchemy1 working with FlashPlayer 11.2 Incubator and the secrets of SWF Tag 92. So it seems, Adobe will  use a different method for enabling premium features. This is a technical detail, still I find it important to mention here.

Kurt Melander commented on my previous post and said: ‘…speaking from the e-learning development side and as a US DoD defense contractor, the digital signing may be due in large part to the downgrading of flash and Shockwave from the DoD CIO office in terms of risk for mobile code. Shockwave .dcr format is now no longer allowed on military networks and is classified “1x”,  flash was downgraded from a “3″ to a “2″, lower numbers meaning higher risk to the network. One of the main reasons for this downgrade is the lack of Flash and Shockwave to recognize or validate digitally signed code.

Jethro Villegas, former Engineering Manager and Software Architect for Flash Professional, commented: ‘Digitally authenticated SWF files can be so useful in many ways.‘ I can’t agree more.

So, most probably, digital signatures in SWF files will stay for one reason or another.

Was premium features really necessary?

Thibault Imbert

Thibault Imbert, Sr. Product Manager for the Flash Runtime at Adobe, had the following comment at Nicolas’ post:

…because games could generate millions of revenue with maybe 200 copies of Flash Builder and Flash Pro sold. Is it a good business? Not really.

I also think Mike Chambers‘ (currently Director, Developer Advocacy for web platforms at Adobe) following comment there is important:

The model where Adobe invests all of the resources in developing the Flash Player, and then projects such as Haxe and Unity pull developers away from Adobe tooling is one that was not sustainable under the old model. Under the new model, it doesnt matter which tools and technologies you are using to develop Flash content, since revenue is generated based on the runtime and not tooling.

So-called Alchemy opcodes are officially well-documented.

So, it is clear that Adobe needed more money to support Flash Player development. But was the right answer Premium Features? Why wasn’t AIR developers targeted? Why wasn’t right click context menu introduced as a premium feature? Is $50K the optimal amount? Is 9% the optimal percentage? What will the nominal fee for Premium Features Developer Program be (which will be introduced after grace period ends on August 1, 2012)? Will it be be worth all this?

As I stated in my previous post, IMO SWF format is now a closed format. As someone programming for SWF format since April 1998 and co-author of the first Flash decompiler (since May 2000, which we still update daily) and many SWF related tools, I am qualified to make that statement. Closing SWF format will have ‘dire consequences’. (Our reaction as Manitu Group will be increasing pricing for our commercial applications, as we think premium technologies, require premium tools that cost premium prices).

Some last minute improvements to premium feature set has been a good thing nevertheless, but my personal opinion is that it won’t be sufficient to save the SWF format, hence the Flash platform. But we may have gained some time. And who knows, maybe more…

So, has Flash really died this time with the introduction of premium features as I predicted?

No hablo inglés.

 

Update: Robin Debreuil posted following comment while sharing info about this post at Google+:

‘I’ve heard of the death of Flash more times than I can count over the years. I think the difference this time is the claims are coming from the people that use it, and the ‘killer’ is the company that makes it. Time will tell I guess.

The quote that sums it up for me is:

“The model where Adobe invests all of the resources in developing the Flash Player, and then projects such as Haxe and Unity pull developers away from Adobe tooling is one that was not sustainable under the old model”

I’m sure that is true, but really it is saying Adobe can’t compete in spite of all the advantages inherent in making the platform. Look at FlashDevelop – made for free by two people (and no doubt some friendly help) and it blows away Adobe coding tools. Not because it is cheaper, because it is better.

So if you can’t compete, sure, business model two, try to wring money out of your platform standard as you slowly choke it to death. The real question though is why can’t they compete? If my money was tied up in there, I’d be asking that question a lot.’

 

And here is Mike Chambers’ reply: (I won’t be cloning the discussion, this is the last update I’ll have here, read more at its source).

Mike Chambers

‘I dont think it is a question of competing. Adobe could put in the resources to build a 3d authoring tool that competes with Unity, but why would it want to? Unity already is awesome, and can target Flash Player.

Why not create a model where Adobe doesn’t have to build every single tool that targets the Flash Player in order to ensure that there are resources to continue to invest in the Flash Player? Why not create a model that better reflects the core value of Flash, which is the reach and richness that the Flash Player provides?

Update2: Ray Cutro‘s G+ post titled Speed Tax for Speedy death of Flash Platform is a good read as he mentions certain points which I deliberately avoided, and illustrates sincere disappointment of a passionate developer.

Update3: [July 21, 2012] Tom Nguyen posted the following to the Adobe AIR and Adobe Flash Player Team blog: Update: Premium Features for Flash Player :

“We previously communicated that beginning August 1, new content using the Premium Features for Flash Player would require a commercial license from Adobe, and that we would share more details on how to obtain a license. We will be extending this deadline to give publishers more time to prepare and obtain a license. These Premium Features are designed primarily to enable publishers and commercial game developers to target the Flash Player with games developed using C/C++ (via the Project “Alchemy” compiler) and/or 3rd party tools such as Unity.

We expect to make available a website where you can obtain a license by the end of August, which will be available at adobe.com/go/fpl. And we are extending the free use of the Premium Features for new content publicly released prior to the availability of the licensing website. To obtain a license for grandfathered content that is released prior to the availability of the licensing website, please contact us directly at fpl@adobe.com.

To provide publishers with enough time to obtain a license to take advantage of Premium Features, Flash Player will not begin enforcing the license requirements for Premium Features until at least 8 weeks after the availability of the licensing website. Once Flash Player begins enforcing the Premium Features license requirement, unlicensed content requesting use of the Premium Features will continue to run, and will automatically use software rendering (for more information, please review the release notes for the beta release of Flash Player 11.4).”

Update4: [January 30, 2013] Adobe reclassified use of Alchemy fast-mem opcodes with Stage3D as nonpremium!  This means currently there are no premium features (but there can be some in the future).

Here is relevant part of the FAQ from Adobe Premium Features for Flash Player page:

What are the XC APIs?
The XC APIs are the combination of domain memory APIs and Stage3D hardware acceleration APIs. These cross-compilation APIs allow a 3rd party ecosystem of game development tools to target Flash Player, including languages such as C/C++ and tools like Unity, as well as the Adobe Flash C++ Compiler (flascc) cross-compiler.

What is the status of the XC APIs?
As of January 2013, the XC APIs are no longer classified as a Premium Feature and access no longer requires a separate license from Adobe, nor royalties. The use of Stage 3D APIs in conjunction with the fast-memory opcodes via the domainMemory API will be available as a standard feature without requiring that content creators enter into a separate license agreement with Adobe. …

Why is Adobe changing the licensing requirements for the XC APIs?

Based on feedback from developers, Adobe has decided to change the licensing terms for the XC APIs and classify these capabilities as a standard feature. …

 Current version of Adobe roadmap for the Flash runtimes states:

“As of January 2013, the XC APIs are no longer classified as a Premium Feature and access will no longer require a separate license from Adobe. Thus the use of Stage3D APIs in conjunction with the fast-memory opcodes via the domainMemory API will be available without requiring that content creators enter into a separate license agreement with Adobe. Developers and publishers that have published content using the XC APIs do not need to make any changes to their content to reflect the change of status for the XC APIs, nor submit royalty payments.

At this time, there are currently no APIs or features designated as Premium Features in the Flash runtimes. However, additional Premium Features may be added in the future.”

Also worth noting is that plans for Flash Player “Next” and ActionScript “Next”  has changed:

“However, by its nature, this type of architectural innovation is disruptive and generally not backwards-compatible. As Adobe has learned in the past from transitions between generations of virtual machines (from ActionScript 2 to ActionScript 3), this places a high burden on developers who want to take advantage of features and APIs which may only be available via the new runtime, or which may require significant porting of content, frameworks, and libraries. Given this, as well as the growing importance of browser-based virtual machines, Adobe will focus its future Flash Player development on top of the existing Flash Player architecture and virtual machine, and not on a completely new virtual machine and architecture (Flash Player “Next”) as was previously planned. At the same time, Adobe plans to continue its next-generation virtual machine and language work as part of the larger web community doing such work on web-based virtual machines.”

This is consistent with Premium Feature reclassification, as earlier plans were making fast memory opcodes irrelevant:

New ActionScript 3 APIs to access the fast-memory opcodes are no longer being added to the “Dolores” release. The APIs are no longer relevant due to planned improvements for ActionScript execution and APIs in ActionScript “Next”.

Below are a couple of  Twitter reactions to the news:

Good news everyone ! Flash Premium Features licensing is no more in effect for XC API’s. - Ralph Hauwert @UnitZeroOne

#wtf now #stage3d + #alchemy are no longer a premium feature. So wht purpse served that move lst year ? #as3 - Patrick Le Clec’h@pleclech

It says a lot about the stewardship of Flash that rolling back a bad idea is seen as the top new feature. - Robin Debreuil @debreuil

The #Flash speed tax is dead. Hope #adobe doesn’t replace it with something worse - Nicolas Cannasse @ncannasse

This entry was posted in Central-Apollo-AIR, Flash, Flex, MG, Misc..

3 Responses to And Then Premium Features Arrived…

  1. Matt Bolt says:

    “I’m sure that is true, but really it is saying Adobe can’t compete in spite of all the advantages inherent in making the platform. Look at FlashDevelop – made for free by two people (and no doubt some friendly help) and it blows away Adobe coding tools. Not because it is cheaper, because it is better.”

    So true and such an excellent point.

  2. Alex says:

    1. Now that Flash targets fewer user cases (games and video being its only dedicated targets), you have fewer targets to sell tools.

    2. Time and money spent working on tools that duplicate what other companies or individuals already provide is time and money that is not spent improving the platform. Now that competition against the Flash platform itself has increased dramatically with HTML5, that’s a huge problem. I don’t WANT Adobe to keep fighting a war on all fronts. It is much better for Flash developers like me if they focus on making the platform itself more competitive.

    The people who say Flash is dead because of this or that are simply wrong. There is one thing only that will kill Flash, and it’s a simple rule of business. For Flash to live, it must provide features that are both unique as well as in demand. In other words, it has to provide a compelling value argument. If it does, it will live. If it doesn’t, it will die. The actions Adobe has taken are at least a step towards allowing them to play competitively.

    Companies will look at premium features and decide if using them will allow them to make more than 9% more than a competing technology (or more than Flash without those features). If they will, then Flash + Premium is a valid choice for them. It’s not a religious war. It’s math.

  3. ken says:

    Oh flash will die, its been taken off of most mobile platforms, Html5 and Java are right on its heels and there is no tax as of yet for using either platform. Adobe is just turning into a greedy company, well turning into more of a greedy company. I came to Flash because of one thing only, its ability to make Facebook games. With even Facebook now adopting a HTML5 point of view and Adobe taxing the living daylights out of any company dumb enough to keep using Flash. It will die. As I stated in another post. Steve Jobs built Flash a plain pine coffin, Adobe lined it with silk so they can have a peaceful rest. RIP Adobe, RIP!!!

    Its a shame too, such a cute little system