A story about Addons (name it facts)

About 12 years ago i joined a talented Blender Addon developer to help out with documentation. At that time the Addon was given away for free with unlimited update support forever. At the time we joined he got donations of about 10-20 USD per month for his Addon. The Addon however was under constant development which took him much more than an hour per week.

Some months later the Addon became more and more prominent. Users loved the work. Downloads raised. Donations kept about the same as before. Lets better not talk about how much extra effort the documentation took.

Some time later the Addon developer became seriously ill and quit the project. I decided to not drop the Addon as it had become popular by then. I joined efforts with another developer and it took us a lot of time to understand how things work but
eventually we got back to maintenance. Donations kept at the same level as before. The developer worked for free. I started to learn programing.

The we decided to start selling the Addon instead of hoping for donations to help us keeping the project running. That changed
everything:

  • Sales jumped up to about 100-200 USD per month. Our popularity helped a lot! Nice!
  • Hobby changed to business, we started a small legal company
  • People started to talk negative about our work and took copies and redistribute them on their own servers for free
  • However the amount of sales did not change a lot. We took this as a positive sign.

The user community grew. The demand for support also. But we had promised to maintain the Addon for free and forever. That started to become a burden because what used to be a “some hours per week job” now suddenly became something like a half time job. Luckily the original developer joined us again. Still the sales did grow only very slowly if at all.

One year later we even got a third developer on board to start a second Addon which took a lot more of time to develop it (2 years). He first worked for free in the hope to get back his fair share once we start selling.

  • In the meantime we tried to sell Support. Nobody purchased support.
  • Then we offered one on one help in chat groups. nobody was interested.
  • We tried it with paid projects. Nobody wanted.
  • We thought of selling the already existing documentation instead of distributing it on Youtube. We found that was the wrong way to go, especially because we feared that users would start to create free documentation on Youtube and misguide other users by teaching odd or wrong workflows.

Eventually we sold developer versions of our new Addon for half price. That worked! Sales doubled almost instantly into a remarkable range of about 500 USD per month.

some time after we got our second Addon finished, we changed our license model from “pay once, free updates forever” to a license renewal model where a user can prolong the ability to download updates on a year by year basis. We have decided to offer year by year renewals but we allow users to leave out as many years as they like before they purchase a renewal. Nobody looses their license. This works nicely for us.

And Today

  • We are members of the Blender Development Fund.
  • Our Addons are popular and under active maintenance

But also:

  • We still work well below any “industry standard income”
  • We know there are pirates which cause significant drop in sales
  • From a business point of view the project is a massive failure
  • From a personal point of view the project is still a nice Hobby that gains enough money to keep happy.
  • 2 developers have left due to low rewards
  • We won’t find any new developer to work on a voluntary basis or way under normal fees.

I am ending with a very mixed feeling about the idea of supporting a software under GPL because we actually are depending heavily on the good will of others. And we have no way to protect our self other than simply not working on a GPL project. That is a problem.