What to Make of “Premium Features” in Flash Player

I am responding to Adobe’s announcement yesterday that Flash Player 11.2 will introduce “premium features” licensing and royalties. If you have not read the announcement yet, you can find it here.

I want to explain that I have been developing with Flash for thirteen years. While Adobe scared many of their developers recently, I have tried to remain calm and not overreact (even though a 10% reduction in work-force across the company, offloading Flex to the Apache Foundation, and cancelling Flash Player Mobile and Flash Player for Linux development are definitely bad news).

That said, I don’t keep my eggs in Adobe’s basket anymore. Anyone who knows me probably knows that I am a lead developer on NME (which I use to target Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, webOS, BlackBerry, Flash and HTML5).

No Longer an Open Runtime

The first thing I took away from the announcement is that the Flash Player runtime is no longer open. I do understand that Flash Player is not open source, but until now it has been open to hacking, and has been based around an open SWF specification.

Whether or not you need to pay to use “premium features”, you know need Adobe’s approval and licensing to access certain parts of the runtime. I have no intention of making  “mountains out of molehills” (pun not intended), but I still feel saddened by this news.

Adobe is sending a message to social game companies in particular — if you want to be the very best, you need more than skill and talent. It will cost you. Wait, where have I heard that model before? Oh, irony.

A Tale of Two APIs

It may seem as though the royalties will not affect most developers. Maybe not, but I can see how it could affect projects I’ve developed in the past. One project in particular (which I used for multiple clients) need the memory APIs for fast JPG compression. Without them, compression took almost two minutes instead of around ten to fifteen seconds.

If I had built the project more recently, I surely would have used Away3D 4 instead of Away3D 3, which relies on Stage3D for hardware acceleration.  There, I’ve used both APIs.

What about the minimum level of revenue? The average purchase from these applications was around $10,000 per customer. That would add up to $50,000 very quickly, and that does not even consider other costs.

Profit Apart from the Flash IDE

The bottom-line is that Adobe has positioned themselves to profit from Flash Player without subsidizing through sales of the Flash IDE. Perhaps they’ve realized many developers do not always need the latest version of their software, but more likely they are aiming to profit from Autodesk and Unity, who have become more involved with deploying 3D content to Flash Player.

This isn’t wrong, but it is valuable to know that these decisions are being made for the benefit of Adobe, not for you.

  • Honestly, we should be happy that Adobe is doing *something* to fund the Flash Player. Perhaps if they had done this years ago we wouldn’t have suffered the problems you outlined at the start of the article.

  • Tonypee

    Haha, Troy, you have to be kidding. I presume you are referring to flex and fp mobile. I don’t believe at an point that aobe was lacking cash for these, but lack market support. This is due to their continued sub standard performance and tooling. They aren’t lacking cash.
    Let’s be fair, for the last 5years, they have been making millions off changing color of the buttons in the flash IDE, and making it run slower- what other great features are there? The least hey could do is invest in great runtim features to keep the platform alive.
    If they wanted a similar cut to the apple app store, why not create a flash distribution channel which allows devs to MAKE money and then take a cut. Not just tax them to drive them away.

  • imp7

    This is a very controlled response to the news. I agree it is definitely about the benefit of Adobe, not the developers and community. I think its a sad change in strategy that Adobe has fallen into. Instead of continuing to innovate in tooling, they are profiting from this “speed tax”. It is a huge change in strategy from the beginnings of flash player and its one that would not work outside of their current market penetration. Realistically developers today don’t have technology that has the penetration / workflow / features flash/as3 does, however this is more reason for developers to find other solutions for the future. I am glad I decided to learn haxe, now with more tooling like intellij idea’s plugin and FDT , I think there will be an explosion for nme / haxe based development from the current flash crowd. However people really need to do all they can to spread why these solutions are better.