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Communication and Secrecy at Serif


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After Adobe went to subscription-only, I coasted on CS6 for a while and then switched to Affinity, and have never looked back. OK, well, I do fire up Photoshop every now and again for one reason or another, but overall I've been delighted with the Affinity products, and the value proposition they offer.

Market-wise, Serif's products lie in the middle of the huge gulf between expensive, rigid Adobe, and free, freewheeling open-source alternatives (GIMP, Inkscape, Scribus...). With respect to communication with users, I find myself wishing that Serif would lean more toward the behavior of open-source products.

Serif's communication is hit-or-miss. The v1 Beta programs did a good job giving users an insight into short-term plans for features and bug fixes. But this was all users could see in the way of a product roadmap. And the long gap between v1 and v2 with no public Beta left users in the dark for a very long time. For the most part, we were left guessing. Just the fact that there was a thread entitled "Is Affinity dead?" exemplifies that situation.

In the forums, Serif staff are very responsive to questions about bugs, existing features, and product behavior, which is absolutely wonderful.

On the other hand, my perception is that questions about Serif's short- or long-term plans, or even in some cases questions about existing policies, are greeted with a frustrating silence. 

Recent examples include the v1=>v2 upgrade pricing kerfuffles (there are two of them: one for longstanding v1 users, and one for recent v1 purchasers), the Windows msix installation debacle, and the aforementioned radio silence after 1.10.5.

Some of this secrecy might be justifiable (if somewhat cynically) for business reasons. For example, prospective first-time customers looking to buy Affinity v1 this past July might've been discouraged if they knew that v2 would be released in November, but they would have to pay the going rate for the upgrade. Or, if they learned that their hoped-for feature would not be implemented. So they might have chosen to hold off, impacting the timing and amount of revenue to Serif. 

However, for the most part, I am having trouble understanding the rationale for much of the secrecy. Seeing a product roadmap can be an incentive to buy into a product at an early stage. Maybe someone doesn't want to purchase Designer because they're not sure if there'll ever be a bitmap trace feature. If they see it on the roadmap, perhaps they'll take the plunge now, to start their transition. 

And most of us understand that there will be uncertainty. Even without a definitive answer, a response is superior to silence.

It's fine for Serif to say, "This is the fairly firm roadmap for v2.2 through v2.3, the tentative roadmap for 2.4-2.8, and the speculative feature set for v3. Any of this is still liable to change. Feedback welcome."

It would have been fine for Serif to say on the day after the v2 announcement, "We understand that some users have an issue with the MSIX installation. We're going to be discussing it among ourselves to determine what, if anything we will do in response. Stay tuned." It obviously would have been even better if the plans to use MSIX had been divulged months before announcement, since it would have better prepared Serif for release.

Posts like Ash's, which explain details surrounding the pricing and upgrade decisions, are fantastic, but IMO they could've been published MUCH earlier.

Most of the people who follow the forums, myself included, are committed Affinity users and supporters. We're going to be upgrading to v2, and we're very likely to pay again for v3. So I'm just not clear on what Serif gains by being so reticent to tell us what's going on, and what the plans are for the future.

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14 minutes ago, Corgi said:

Seeing a product roadmap can be an incentive to buy into a product at an early stage. Maybe someone doesn't want to purchase Designer because they're not sure if there'll ever be a bitmap trace feature. If they see it on the roadmap, perhaps they'll take the plunge now, to start their transition. 

If I want/need a "bitmap trace feature" and it is on the road map, I won't buy the application until it is in the application. 

Mac Pro (Late 2013) Mac OS 12.7.4 
Affinity Designer 2.4.1 | Affinity Photo 2.4.1 | Affinity Publisher 2.4.1 | Beta versions as they appear.

I have never mastered color management, period, so I cannot help with that.

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1 minute ago, Old Bruce said:

If I want/need a "bitmap trace feature" and it is on the road map, I won't buy the application until it is in the application. 

Everyone is different. There are lots of features I want in Affinity that aren't in either v1 or v2. I don't know the roadmap, but I purchased both anyway.

But just so I understand....I presume you purchased v1, if not v2. Did v1 have absolutely every feature you wanted? If not, are you saying that if any feature you'd wanted had appeared on a future roadmap, you wouldn't have purchased v1 (or v2) at that time? Even if you knew you'd be getting a free update that supplied the feature?

There is certainly an argument to make that if you have your heart set on a must-have feature, and you see that it won't be implemented for a very long time, that you might not make the initial purchase. However, it's debatable how many features (and users) this applies to.

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4 minutes ago, Old Bruce said:

If I want/need a "bitmap trace feature" and it is on the road map, I won't buy the application until it is in the application. 

For me, it depends on the immediacy of the need.  If we're using bitmap tracing as an example, that is not an immediate need for me.  If Serif says it's on the road map for Designer, that gives me some assurance that it will be coming, so I would be less hesitant to buy Designer and hope that Designer gets it before my need becomes more immediate.  On the other hand, if my need was immediate, I would look elsewhere.  But, then again, it depends.  If it's on the road map for Designer, then maybe I just look for an app that does bitmap tracing to fill the need until it's added to Designer.  If it's not on the road map, then maybe I would need to invest in some other illustration program entirely.  Or maybe I use two illustration programs, as I do with Designer and that other program that gets talked about here (that also does not have bitmap tracing despite its "hundreds" or "thousands" of features).

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48 minutes ago, Corgi said:

Even if you knew you'd be getting a free update that supplied the feature?

 'Twas Clauswitz who put it best "A map is not the terrain" 

There are things I would like the various Affinity applications to do, I am not missing anything critical but for people who need bitmap to vector capability in their daily work I would say look elswhere, regardless of any roadmap.

Mac Pro (Late 2013) Mac OS 12.7.4 
Affinity Designer 2.4.1 | Affinity Photo 2.4.1 | Affinity Publisher 2.4.1 | Beta versions as they appear.

I have never mastered color management, period, so I cannot help with that.

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54 minutes ago, Old Bruce said:

but for people who need bitmap to vector capability in their daily work I would say look elswhere

Look elsewhere for bitmap trace? Or look elsewhere for an entirely different "single application which does everything needed"?

Some users don't seem to mind mixing and using different applications. I don't either, for functions I need occasionally. Especially if the other app is free or very low cost. But if it was something that every project I worked on needed, and needed frequently, or was only offered in an expensive app, I'd probably want it integrated in a single app.

-- Walt
Designer, Photo, and Publisher V1 and V2 at latest retail and beta releases
PC:
    Desktop:  Windows 11 Pro, version 23H2, 64GB memory, AMD Ryzen 9 5900 12-Core @ 3.00 GHz, NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3090 

    Laptop:  Windows 11 Pro, version 23H2, 32GB memory, Intel Core i7-10750H @ 2.60GHz, Intel UHD Graphics Comet Lake GT2 and NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3070 Laptop GPU.
iPad:  iPad Pro M1, 12.9": iPadOS 17.5, Apple Pencil 2, Magic Keyboard 
Mac:  2023 M2 MacBook Air 15", 16GB memory, macOS Sonoma 14.5

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54 minutes ago, Old Bruce said:

There are things I would like the various Affinity applications to do, I am not missing anything critical but for people who need bitmap to vector capability in their daily work I would say look elswhere, regardless of any roadmap.

Absolutely, purchasing software that's presently missing a "must have" feature doesn't typically make sense. But I wasn't writing about "must have" features.

I intended to refer only to features that would be useful or "nice to have," and whether Serif would benefit or be harmed by showing them on a roadmap. On one hand, yes, it could discourage immediate purchases if a fairly compelling but missing feature isn't on the roadmap, or if it is far in the future. On the other hand, having a robust product (like Affinity) along with an exciting roadmap that exudes progress and innovation can encourage people to buy into the product.

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5 minutes ago, Corgi said:

an exciting roadmap that exudes progress and innovation can encourage people to buy into the product.

It can also result in resentment and ill will from those people who bought and didn't get the feature(s) in what they consider a timely fashion. That in turn can result in bad press which will result in drops in sales to people who otherwise would have bought the product despite the fact that x, y and z features are not included.

Mac Pro (Late 2013) Mac OS 12.7.4 
Affinity Designer 2.4.1 | Affinity Photo 2.4.1 | Affinity Publisher 2.4.1 | Beta versions as they appear.

I have never mastered color management, period, so I cannot help with that.

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Roadmaps are useful to me. If I know software developers are planning on adding features important to me, I'll invest in learning that software, knowing that it'll come soon, and make-do with opensource alternatives for things like vector trace or envelope distort while I wait, before moving my entire workflow in to Affinity. If a feature I want isn't on the road-map, it makes me question why would I waste time learning that software when I can spend my time learning and mastering software that does what I need it to.

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1 minute ago, Old Bruce said:

It can also result in resentment and ill will from those people who bought and didn't get the feature(s) in what they consider a timely fashion. That in turn can result in bad press which will result in drops in sales to people who otherwise would have bought the product despite the fact that x, y and z features are not included.

Perhaps, although your second sentence sounds quite unlikely.

And, in which situation might you be more resentful: 1) You purchase the product and hope for feature X, and release after release, X never materializes; or 2) You see on the roadmap that feature X won't be for awhile? I'd prefer the latter...at least I'd know up-front that it's not coming.

Releasing a roadmap (or a partial/tentative roadmap) can also excite people and generate a buzz that wouldn't be generated otherwise. And/or, it could also provide valuable feedback to Serif as they see people's reactions to the roadmap, causing them to reprioritize to benefit the user community as a whole. We just saw this happen with MSIX, although after the fact.

Look, as I admitted up front, showing a roadmap can cut both ways, but there is merit to its consideration. Your replies tend to suggest that you see no potential benefit at all to Serif. Not sure if I'm mischaracterizing your position, but that's what's coming across. However, neither one of us is in the position to render a verdict either way.

Beyond not publicizing a product roadmap, there are other more obvious missteps that Serif has taken with respect to communication with users that I mention in my original post. Just sayin', this wasn't only about the lack of a roadmap.

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3 minutes ago, LondonSquirrel said:

It can also lead to legal issues. Bob buys the software because such and such a feature is on the roadmap. Three years later it has not appeared. It could be reasonably argued that Bob was misled.

That's why, when you release a roadmap, you wouldn't want to cast it as ironclad.

"The timeline, roadmap, and list of features shown here are preliminary in nature and subject to change based on many factors such as technical considerations, time considerations, economic conditions, corporate re-prioritization, and customer feedback. In no way are they to be construed as commitments."

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Just now, LondonSquirrel said:

You are telling us that it is indeed subject to all these factors. Agreed. So then it really does have no purpose. The top things on the roadmap could all be discarded or put on the back burner for years.

Of course it has a purpose, assuming the company intends (at the time the roadmap is issued) to try to adhere to the timeline to the best of their ability. 

Also, almost every large company has a product roadmap, for internal use if not external. They wouldn't develop these roadmaps if they served no purpose. So the issue is whether it helps the company and its customers if some or all of that roadmap is made public.

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3 minutes ago, N.P.M. said:

Have you been around the last week here on the forum?
People see things different when they want something and when a roadmap is involved it is seen as a promise no matter what you and I think are the intentions.
Just because it is on said list is enough for people to demand it should have been met.
 

I've been on some of the forums a lot, but don't recall seeing anyone complaining about a tentative feature that was hinted at but not delivered.

But you are right; some people will interpret a tentative intention as a promise. These unfortunate people constitute one disadvantage to having a product roadmap. The flip side is that it will benefit other users.

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1 minute ago, LondonSquirrel said:

You've already given a good list of why this may not be possible.

I think we will just have to agree to disagree.

I have a list of pros and cons of releasing a product roadmap, and I'm saying that it's something that Serif could consider.

You just wrote that "it may not be possible" (emphasis mine). First of all, of course it's possible -- I think what you mean is that it may not be wise for Serif to release one. But since you said may, then we clearly agree. It may, or it may not. Neither one of us knows.

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Some of you in this thread may not have been here back in the old days when Serif had a public Roadmap, and may not have seen the anguish it caused among the forum members when things weren't done in the order the they wanted, or were delayed longer than they thought they should be, or when their favorite item was missing from the Roadmap.

That is why we do not have a public Roadmap any more for the Affinity products, and why Serif seldom says anything about their future plans.

-- Walt
Designer, Photo, and Publisher V1 and V2 at latest retail and beta releases
PC:
    Desktop:  Windows 11 Pro, version 23H2, 64GB memory, AMD Ryzen 9 5900 12-Core @ 3.00 GHz, NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3090 

    Laptop:  Windows 11 Pro, version 23H2, 32GB memory, Intel Core i7-10750H @ 2.60GHz, Intel UHD Graphics Comet Lake GT2 and NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3070 Laptop GPU.
iPad:  iPad Pro M1, 12.9": iPadOS 17.5, Apple Pencil 2, Magic Keyboard 
Mac:  2023 M2 MacBook Air 15", 16GB memory, macOS Sonoma 14.5

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1 minute ago, walt.farrell said:

Some of you in this thread may not have been here back in the old days when Serif had a public Roadmap, and may not have seen the anguish it caused among the forum members when things weren't done in the order the they wanted, or were delayed longer than they thought they should be, or when their favorite item was missing from the Roadmap.

That is why we do not have a public Roadmap any more for the Affinity products, and why Serif seldom says anything about their future plans.

This is good information; I wasn't around for that. I see plenty of anguish on the forum these days complaining about missing features.

Perhaps this explains the pendulum swinging too far in the other direction. They are tight-lipped (which is difficult, with the upper lip already stiff) about so much, even when there would seem to be no downside to releasing certain information to users.

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Or perhaps it's because the roadmap was used a lure and many fell for it and were rather disappointed when the majority of focus was first on new apps and then on new platforms, rather than "finishing" the original product. Which still doesn't have a blend tool, but now has a new UI.

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1 hour ago, walt.farrell said:

Some of you in this thread may not have been here back in the old days when Serif had a public Roadmap, and may not have seen the anguish it caused among the forum members when things weren't done in the order the they wanted, or were delayed longer than they thought they should be, or when their favorite item was missing from the Roadmap.  ...

After some more thought about this ... can you please elaborate about what happened?

Of course there will be plenty of anguish no matter what any roadmap says. If I'm waiting for feature X and it's not in the roadmap, I might complain when the roadmap is released. But if there is no roadmap, I'm liable to repeatedly get my hopes up only to then complain about the lack of feature X after each and every subsequent product release. So the net amount of complaining could potentially be lower overall with a roadmap.

Complaining about a roadmap is one way to give a company feedback, so they can make adjustments well in advance. That's something that can be constructive. Though a much better way to get feedback is to survey the customer base broadly ... I'm unaware if Serif has done this.

OTOH, with a roadmap release, I can imagine that a massive number of angry messages and forum posts, with customers arguing vehemently with each other, would be unconstructive. And the deluge would be concentrated in a short period of time, exacerbating the situation.

I can only infer that Serif decided the benefit of a roadmap wasn't worth the cost, although this wouldn't explain why they've kneecapped other aspects of their communications with the customer base.

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3 minutes ago, Corgi said:

Complaining about a roadmap is one way to give a company feedback, so they can make adjustments well in advance. That's something that can be constructive. Though a much better way to get feedback is to survey the customer base broadly ... I'm unaware if Serif has done this.

When a product is a tool that has a time to familiarity and creative empowerment vastly costlier (in terms of time and productivity's lost) than the sticker price, a far better way to improve the product is to ask those that used the product for a while, and then stopped using it, to find out why, and get a feel for how many are not switching to your product, at all, from alternatives.

Unfortunately that's not something of concern to Affinity, because their primary schtick is something akin to "we're a light weighted version of some of Adobe's apps, with similar usage paradigms, but we're not Adobe, so no subscription model!"

it's the "lesser of two evils" approach to marketing that served Google so well in their usurping of Microsoft's claim to desktop access to the interWebs.

In this marketing approach it's enough to be close-enough to the incumbent in order to bleed off their disgruntled users, and far too much effort to make products that are truly rivals on a price-to-price, like-to-like parity comparison, as that would trigger rational rather than emotional purchasing decisions. 

 

 

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5 minutes ago, LondonSquirrel said:

Maybe there's a lot of customers out here who don't want Serif to rival Adobe on price. ~£600 a year indefinitely. No thanks. I feel I have been saved (passive voice) several thousand £ over the last few years by Serif.

What I see in the forums is some people who seem to want all the features of Adobe Photoshop/Illustrator/InDesign but for a one time £30 price per program. And free updates for ever. And on top of the free updates they would like a discount too.

The Serif programs don't do everything I want. But in quite a few cases I have found very reasonable workarounds.

That's some pretty amazing context removal!

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19 minutes ago, LondonSquirrel said:

What I see in the forums is some people who seem to want all the features of Adobe Photoshop/Illustrator/InDesign but for a one time £30 price per program. And free updates for ever. And on top of the free updates they would like a discount too.

...and this is epic levels of misinterpretation, at the very least.

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11 minutes ago, LondonSquirrel said:

It's not at all. You wrote it. I could just as easily have quoted the whole sentence.

And you'd still have removed the whole context, which was encapsulated by: "in this marketing approach", which refers to the above paragraphs (plural) which respond to the suppositions and propositions of the post being replied to, within a thread about the nature of hiding versus transparent things.  

 

As I say, some pretty amazing context removal to utilise those words the way you have!

Well done, I think... it's kind of a straw man building endeavour, I think. But it's so amazing I'm a bit unsure what happened.

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Expectations and rapport between the company and customers would have to be improved before they could go back to a true roadmap, imo. It may never be feasible if development remains too fluid for reasons such as a development learning curves, technical obstacles, business opportunities, etc... they are a small company attempting to do something very ambitious and probably learning in the process.

My conjecture: I suspect that during v1 they were still in the baby stages of building a full platform that would've worked for what they promised, but faced early growing pains either because of scaling problems or issues with the platform itself that needed rethinking/refactoring. Perhaps having to undo some of what they first built in order to continue to scale properly and reliably at that point on 3 platforms (it used to just be Apple...). So to reduce bugs, but also to meet the goals they could have met at the time and maintain income, they kept moving forward but with a more fluid outlook in mind. So that took away from the development of major features that otherwise might’ve been at least been started by their team in order to solve issues with scaling the platform/foundation itself.

Potential Development Woes: Many aspects of development seem as if they're being done from scratch. Some of the current implementations may be placeholders for proprietary/long-term solutions. This can give the appearances of a hastily built product while they are work on the guts. We have no way to know, but they don't have the development experience of say, the developers of Adobe. Moreover, Adobe is building on top of an older platform. It's time-tested, it's proven, and it's likely been refactored to scale for many years to come. It's much easier for them to scale or to cycle through new developers, keep them up to speed and still hit development targets fairly on time. How much work would they really have to do if the bare bones were laid before them? Also, it likely has more documentation. It's much easier to train that person within the confines of certain time-tested APIs rather than to bring in a brand new person to build the API itself entirely, plus write the initial code to interact with it. I think it is much more likely Serif bit off more than they could chew with v1 rather than that the company being disingenuous. However, that's just my feeling.

Now, if all what I said above were indeed the case, yes technically they could have come forward and been more upfront about having to gut V1 entirely and that as things were it could not meet their expectations. This could've been their primary mistake, not being forward.. That said, they’ve kind of admitted this by suggesting they were buildings things differently this time, that it should work better and thus should work for their business going forward. Basically, they were in new territory. This, however, does not mean they are not still learning.

This is what I think caused the roadmap to ultimately be pulled. Something along these lines anyway. At some point the writing was on the wall and the pressure to meet certain demands maybe became too much while fighting with the frustrations of working with V1 code. To speed things up, they cut their losses and took down the roadmap to flesh out the development process itself. That's why we always hear "This is going to be an undertaking but it is in our plans”, etc. I don't think it is an excuse, personally. I think they are being honest and it might even feel awful when they have to say this. So that might be another reason for reduced communication, developer frustration and just not feeling like they are where they want or expected to be.

I think negative sentiment is a factor, but I just don’t think to the degree some people are suggesting. I can think of a couple of moderators/staff here that can hold their own. So I don't think a user's cynical feeling prevents all from expressing themselves. That said, it does appear at times as though developers do let marketing do the legwork as far as PR and that can be seen as using them as a shield. This, imo, has been quite damaging. That’s why there's been this strong impression either via (supporters) “Oh they’re afraid of being forthcoming because see all the criticism and disappointment! Can you blame them!? *points at crazy rando*" versus (detractors) “They’ve misled us, it’s been the marketing intentionally misleading all along and I/you were so foolish to believe in them. Look at how much they suck, haha” It's created conjecture and tension between two ways of perceiving the situation, neither of which could be debunked fully.

I do agree they should be more aggressive with betas/alphas in preproduction, but they should likely also be very careful about it. Maybe set it up so people will have to apply for it and keep it limited. Doing it out in the open presents issues because 1) trolls and to be quite blunt, 2) there's a portion of the user base here that don't understand how the development process works and are prone to unnecessary conjecture. This can lead to misunderstandings, something the staff likely want to minimize.

It's different for open source programs. Development is supported by donations and generous volunteers/testers who treat it as their pet project, so expectations are adjusted accordingly. Nobody expects GIMP to compete with Adobe, for example, as the user base for these programs are quite niche. Also the toleration for weird design choices are much higher. I still remember when GIMP was a bit of a joke among artists very early on. It's been in development forever and is still considered a joke for a some even if that's not quite true now. The user has no real skin in the game if they are testing a product for free. Serif isn’t the same, they’re the opposite of a charity, they’re an actual business and must be able to fund themselves through word of mouth.

Basically, while they absolutely cannot make business decisions solely based upon the discretion of a very limited demographic of users on their product forums, they should consider borrowing more inspiration towards development from the most attached of their user base as far as company interaction is considered. Since these are the most ideal of members to spread the most positive words on their suite. Some might say they already do that with staff interactions, but I mean this from a corporate perspective. Imagine if word spread that a thread here gains enough recognition for leading to significant tweaks/changes in the program suite that make their a positive off forum. It then gives the perception of a company that truly listens. The problem is, these changes tend to come so late, the opportunity is often lost.

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