My colleague Adrian Kingsley-Hughes (aka The PC Doctor) usually gets stuff right, but he’s posted a story this morning that appears to be grossly in error:
From the “that’s gotta be a dumb PR move” files, Creative Labs decides to try to charge $9.99 for Vista compatible drivers for the Audigy range of sound cards.
No, this isn’t April 1st and I kid you not. Creative really does think that people are going to pay money for a driver.
I scratched my head over this one, because I just installed a new Audigy SE card in my home theater system on Tuesday, downloaded the drivers (no charge) from Creative’s website, and am happily listening to 5.1 surround sound in my living room. Creative didn’t ask me to pay for these drivers, and I didn’t offer. We both seem to be happy with the deal.
So what’s the real story? Creative’s Vista drivers for the Audigy series are free. In fact, the update I got was posted last week, although the driver files are dated in April. They include full support for all audio features and the basic Creative console application, and they work great.
The upgrade package with the $9.99 price tag is Creative’s ALchemy software. I’ll let them explain:
In Windows Vista, Microsoft removed the Vendor Extension mechanism from Vista’s DirectSound implementation. With previous Windows Operating Systems, the Vendor Extension enabled the Sound Blaster Audigy to provide accelerated audio for DirectSound3D games.
Without Creative ALchemy,most DirectSound games running in Vista will be reduced to stereo output without any EAX effects.
Creative ALchemy (Audigy Edition) restores your Sound Blaster Audigy’s ability to process EAX effects, 3D surround sound, sampling rate conversion and hardware audio mixing for DirectSound3D games in Windows Vista.
Creative Labs had to do some fairly significant software development work to add this feature into their Vista package for older sound cards, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask gamers to help defray some of the cost of development. This shouldn’t be a surprise, either. The company announced its plans back in May.
The trouble with a story like this is it quickly gets bounced around the echo chamber and pretty soon it gets accepted, regardless of the underlying facts. I hope this one gets corrected quickly.
Update: In the comments, Adrian says he disagrees: “No matter how you cut this Ed, people are being asked to pay for drivers.”
Hmm. That’s not what Creative says:
ALchemy is a software application that translates audio calls from one API to another. ALchemy is NOT a hardware driver, and will require that you have an appropriate driver installed and functioning properly first.
People are being asked to pay for a software update. That’s been going on for a long time. In cases like this, where an OS update breaks compatibility with an existing product, vendors have three choices:
1. Abandon the product and tell their customers it’s not supported on the new OS.
2. Create an update and give it away for free.
3. Create an update and charge for it.
Every decision is different, and every company has to struggle to figure out the right thing to do. That $9.99 price tag seems pretty reasonable to me, especially if the alternative is to abandon the customers because management can’t justify the cost of the development effort otherwise.
Technorati Tags: Creative, Audigy, drivers, Windows Vista
30 thoughts on “Creative charging for Vista drivers? Not exactly.”
You wrote: “I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask gamers to help defray some of the cost of development.”
I’m going to have to disagree with you here.
I think it’s totally wrong to ask gamers to pay extra. It’s starting a dangerous trend of double-dipping the customer that’ll see us paying for all sorts of updates and new drivers soon if we’re not careful. These drivers have no value outside of the hardware and are only making available features that were previously available. It would be different if these drivers unlocked new features, although I still feel that charging for them would be wrong.
Another issue that I have with Creative over this “$9.99 for a better driver” is the shoddy state of Creative drivers and applications (such as mixers) in general, especially for Vista. The idea of paying for any driver from Creative really grates with me.
No matter how you cut this Ed, people are being asked to pay for drivers. It’s gamers right now and that might not apply to all of us (doesn’t apply to me) but if we’re not careful it’ll usher in an era where we pay for driver updates all round. I happen to think that this is very wrong.
Adrian, Microsoft rewrote the sound driver stack in Vista. In the process, they removed a capability from the OS. Creative had three choices: 1. Tell their customers that they would continue to support it on XP but not on Vista. 2. Spend a pile of money to add the support and then give it away. 3. Spend a pile of money and ask the users who plan to use it to help defray the cost.
Mosrt companies would have chosen option 1. How much money does the average hardcore gamer spend on their gear, on new titles, etc. every year? Hundreds of dollars, at least. A $9.99 charge is a drop in the bucket. And most gamers are sticking with XP for now anyway.
If you have issues with the quality of Creative products and drivers, that’s a completely different subject.
You wrote: “Microsoft rewrote the sound driver stack in Vista. In the process, they removed a capability from the OS.”
That’s an issue for Microsoft and Creative to thrash out. Since Creative plans on being in business and selling sound cards for the Windows Vista environment, it would have had to overcome these issues either way. Cost of business. Asking gamers to carry some of the cost is unacceptable.
You wrote: “Mosrt companies would have chosen option 1. How much money does the average hardcore gamer spend on their gear, on new titles, etc. every year? Hundreds of dollars, at least. A $9.99 charge is a drop in the bucket. And most gamers are sticking with XP for now anyway.”
Drop in the bucket or not, it’s still double-dipping. In fact, double-dipping usually starts with comparisons such as the “drop in the bucket” argument.
And of the three options you listed above, option 3 isn’t going to be all that effective for Creative. It’s already annoying existing Creative customers who bought and paid for a card that supported EAX and have now moved to Vista, and a cracked version of the driver is making the rounds on P2P. From a marketing/PR perspective, Creative would have been better off going with option 1 or 2.
I have to agree with the PC Doctor on this one. When I look at the Creative web site, it shows that they are still selling the Audigy line of which I have a couple cards presently. I also looked at one of the Audigy web pages and it stresses that it supports games and Vista.
If they can support Vista and games with the new cards they are shipping then asking those that bought their cards a month or two before they released support for games on Vista to pony up $10 for drivers is inexcusable.
Of course I could be wrong and they are doing a bait and switch on all their Audigy cards, advertising full support but not actually providing it.
Bob, the Audigy cards do support games and Vista. If you have a stereo setup, you have a great experience. If you have a multi-channel setup, you get stereo and you need to purchase an add-on for the full surround sound experience.
What percentage of Audigy owners are (a) using Vista (b) playing games that use EAX and do not support Open AL and (c) using multi-channel surround sound setups?
And my point still stands: The headline on the original story is wrong. The focus of the original story is wrong. Creative is not charging for drivers. They are charging for an add-on software product that is only necessary for people who meet a fairly exotic set of criteria.
I just went to Creative’s wweb page for the Audigy, and they make it pretty clear which features are X-only and which are supported through OpenAL.
Adrian, you’re now beginning to address the real issue. Creative made a business decision. And no, it’s not double-dipping, not when there is significant new development work attached to it.
If I read you correctly, you would have advised Creative to abandon this entire hardware platform for gamners and tell them to stick with XP. I don’t think you really meant that.
Anyway, I’m more annoyed that I had to pay $16 extra for a set of digital outputs via FlexiJack to enable surround sound via my external ampliefier and my Audigy card. But here too Creative made a business decision that most people will not use SPDIF connections so why put them on the card and raise the cost of goods.
“Adrian, you’re now beginning to address the real issue. Creative made a business decision. And no, it’s not double-dipping, not when there is significant new development work attached to it.”
If Creative is to continue supporting the Vista OS, the company would have had to undertake the development work either way. The same “significant new development work” could be applied to any kind of update.
“If I read you correctly, you would have advised Creative to abandon this entire hardware platform for gamners and tell them to stick with XP. I don’t think you really meant that.”
If this software application really has a small audience, then alienating the small but influential gaming market by trying to squeeze ten bucks out of them is unlikely to win Creative many friends, and in the long run that’s bad business. If dev cash is that short that the company has to start charging for software applications updates, there’s a serious problem over at Creative.
“Anyway, I’m more annoyed that I had to pay $16 extra for a set of digital outputs via FlexiJack to enable surround sound via my external ampliefier and my Audigy card. But here too Creative made a business decision that most people will not use SPDIF connections so why put them on the card and raise the cost of goods.”
Hehehe … I know how you feel 😉
The problem with Creative’s decision isn’t that it’s evil or illegal, it’s that it’s stupid. Every computer I’ve bought in the last 15 or so years, going back to that 25 MHz 386 with an original SoundBlaster, has had a dedicated soundcard in it. But as I look forward to my next computer, I don’t see much reason to put one in. Motherboard audio is just as well supported (if not better) by Vista drivers, it has all the same capabilities, and with a digital out going to my DAC there’s no sound quality difference, either (and for people who don’t have external DACs, the sound quality from the motherboard stuff is no doubt already sufficient for them).
So what am I getting for my extra $100? Not much that I can see. Creative has to know that sound cards are a dying market, and if they want to keep selling them, they need to make a compelling case that they’re worth the $100, and they’ll do all sorts of things that the built-in stuff won’t do. It’s a hard case to make, and this kind of penny-ante grubbing sure doesn’t help them make it.
I have to side with Ed on this one. Being a very long time Creative user (first sound blaster bought from Sierra for 386) I have seen them abandon hardware or platforms before. They are providing drivers for free. They are also providing an additional emulation / compatibility layer for older games to get enhanced performance for a fee. The interesting thing however is the point Bob T brought up, what is included in the box of a currently shipping card? Is WAX in Vista support listed and is this software in the box?
When someone bought an Audigy a year or more ago the person can assume the card would be supported under Vista however there was no guarantee, Vista support is an added feature to older products. On my networking hardware I often have to pay for firmware updates to add features, I think it is silly to pay for firmware but I have no choice since I want the features that weren’t in the original product. I think this is the same, adding additional features.
Microsoft has at times dropped support for hardware or hardware features from the core OS, as it seems with portions of DirectSound. If the manufacturer doesn’t step in that hardware or feature just stops working. Creative has no obligation to add this support other than to garner good will. One would wonder how much they make off their soundcard business these days given the quality of on board sound though. Also how have other sound card makers responded to Vista? Did they not have any features outside the standard vista set?
We’re getting sidetracked, Adrian. Go back to the beginning of this post and my original point.
You wrote “Creative Labs decides to try to charge $9.99 for Vista compatible drivers for the Audigy range of sound cards.” That’s not true. The drivers are free. A software utility that enables direct hardware acceleration for game play on multi-channel sound systems costs $9.95.
You wrote, “Creative really does think that people are going to pay money for a driver.” It’s not a driver. It’s a software update, and one that many, probably most, indeed the overwhelming majority of Creative customers won’t need.
Have you tried to contact anyone from Creative to get their side of the story?
“Have you tried to contact anyone from Creative to get their side of the story?”
Yep. No comment as of yet.
I’m not getting down the is it a driver or a software update road. Since you must have an Audigy card in order for this download to enable EAX, the line is very blurred. Driver or software update, we’re going down a rocky road. I really don’t want to see us go down the road of having to pay for software updates for hardware.
We could go around and around debating whether this is right or not. What matters for Creative is how this will be received by the gaming community and whether they’ll pay the ten bucks or switch to a different vendor.
Adrian, a hardware driver is a well-defined category of software. This update is not a driver. It is software that translates APIs. The best analogy I can think of is TV tuner cards, which have significant application software that works hand in hand with drivers. The software is useless without hardware and drivers, but the hardware can be used with other software or with older versions, as long as I am willing to forgo some new features. If I update my TV tuner drivers so they work with Vista, I don’t get a new version of Sage TV or Beyond TV. I have to pay for the Vista-compatible update. Same thing here.
I was thinking about TV tuners too since I’ve had problems with Hauppauge drivers under Vista. Would I have paid $10 for a driver or software update or spend the $60 or whatever it was on a new card? I went for a new card. Given that a Gamer X-Fi is about $85, $10 for a software update is steep.
The difference between the EAX “patch” and Sage TV or Beyond TV is that the Creative software is enabling a feature specific to the Creative sound card. It’s made and supported by Creative and not a third-party company.
To be fair to Creative, it’s not the only company pulling this kind of stunt. The fact that I have to pay for codecs is the reason that’s put me off buying an Archos PMP. Many others are doing the same thing.
But we’re getting side-tracked again. The issue is paying for software updates and the implications for us down the line.
“The issue is paying for software updates ”
I’m going to try and get my hands on an Audigy card and this update and see exactly what it does … I might have a card here somewhere.
Although I tend to agree with Adrian’s perspective (also I admit I’ve never liked Creative or their products), but completely understand Ed’s defense. The villain in the shadows is really (again) Microsoft, but Creative and consumers are paying the price.
I’d also like to add that I really appreciate the thoughtful back and forth between two knowledgeable bloggers. The thread is better than the original blog posts… 😉
I think readers would get alot more context, information, and facts if more bloggers and journalists would read each others posts and point out possible misstatements and reveal more of the slats involved.
Keep up the good work.
Oops. “slats” was supposed to be “slants”.
I think the real problem is with vendor’s margins being so tight it’s difficult for them to absorb the cost of developing major upgrades like this.
I’m on Creative’s side on this. They could have left Vista users with reduced features like many other vendors have. Instead they went the yards and developed a solution.
We all like to get paid for our work, particularly when we’re doing the right thing, and I don’t think Creative should be any different.
I’m also tentatively siding with Creative on this, but only because I haven’t been one of those affected by it. My audio on the PC is done with an outboard USB-connected digital amplifier — a relatively exotic piece of hardware, but AFAIK USB audio devices all hew to a pretty strong standard. I’ve been able to plug this thing into any computer and get good results.
Creative’s issue, as I understand it, is that they have a capability on one of their cards which they want to support but which they cannot absorb the cost of by default — it’s specialized enough that they are forced to charge something for it. Most of the people I know would gladly pony up $10 for something like that, because, as you said, they’re blowing so much money for their audio hardware to begin with that this is not really going to seem like much.
One argument I hear a lot is: “Well, if they can charge us for THIS, what ELSE can they start charging us for?” That’s a slippery-slope argument, and my only response to that has been, “When they do, then we’ll talk. Right now, they’re not.” Disingenuous, maybe but I suspect some people will look for any excuse to put down The Man.
I am thinking the $9.99 (warranted or not) is on the steep side. Just thinking, that if there are 5 million cards out in the market place (just a guess), and 20% of them upgrade and pay $9.99 – thats 9.9m!
Larry, I suspect you’re off by an order of magnitude. These are low-end cards, not the sort that hardcore gamers are likely to choose anyway. The only people who need this update are those who are running Vista and who plays games that use multi-channel sound and EAX effects. Is that 20%? Doubtful. Maybe 2%.
I think $10 for a “software update” for hardware is ridiculous. Just imagine a distopian future where you’ll need to buy $10 “software updates” for all your hardware components!
Imagine this scenario: Microsoft changes how input devices work in games, so now all mice manufacturers need to update their drivers. You just bought a $100 laser gaming mouse a couple months ago and when you go to download the drivers you find out that you can download a basic driver that allows tracking at half the dpi and only the left and right mouse buttons work. If you want to have full resolution tracking, use the wheel and the other buttons, you have to buy a “software update”. Would you spend $10 for a mouse “software update” to enable the middle mouse button in games? I wouldn’t. That company would lose my business.
This is a horrible business practice and I can’t believe anyone would imagine it’s a good thing. Thankfully, I don’t own a Creative sound card, and I’ll make sure never to buy their products from now on.
I wish Creative would let me buy a working Vista driver for my card.
We bought a Creative Sound Blaster Audigy2 ZS Platinum for one reason: it supported onboard digital decoding; our previous card only supported pass-through.
But then we upgraded to Vista and lost that feature. Creative’s new drivers are hobbled, no more onboard decoding for us so the entire purchase was useless.
From the driver release notes:
“This driver does not support the following:
and I have yet to see any hint of them correcting the situation.
What is being missed here is that the ALchemy software for X-Fi cards is free, while they are charging for Audigy.
Ed Bott, what planet are you from? The fact is that almost all other hardware vendors have been regularly communicating with their customer bases and have regularly released beta and finally WHQL drivers – FOR FREE! The issue IS NOT MICROSOFT it is Creative’s complete disdane for it’s customers, mainly those who have Audigy 2ZS sound cards. I respectfully ask you to do more research before you blog or make posts and then participate in a debate on this topic. I would suggest you and anyone else go to the Creative forums on Windows Vista and drivers and you will see tens of thousands of really pissed Creative customers – and that includes me. They have not said anything to any of their customers and as it stand I cannot exploit the full sound card capability I had under Windows XP. Microsoft worked with all hardware vendors beginning more than 2.5 years ago releasing new operating system architectures, beta code and much more. Creative have known for more than 2 years what would be happening and almost everyone else has done the right thing by their customers, ie. nVidia, ATI etc etc and continually released drivers and importantly communictaed with their customers. I bought my computer with a Creative Audigy 2ZS just on 2 years ago knowing that Vista was coming and therefore expecting updated drivers from all the hardware manufacturers. Guess what, Creative are the only one to not only not provide decent drivers and updated software but they have stcuk two fingers up to their customers by not once saying when or if they will release updated Audigy 2 ZS drivers. They have released some drivers for other cards. I SHOULD NOT HAVE TO PAY any more money to creative for updated drivers.
What annoys me about this is that a bought a new computer with Vista and a Creative Sound Card. I also bought the optical add-on so I could output in surround sound direct to my surround sound system.
I did research before purchasing and nowhere was it mentioned that I could not play DVDs in surround sound, let alone surround sound games. In fact there was hardly any information at all then.
I would have been better off putting the money towards a higher CPU rather than a dedicated sound card.
Here you have Alchemy that works with every Sound Blaster Life+ and restores EAX/5.1. For free.
The true is simple: creative llided to us. The X-fi Alchemy (realased for free) can (and always could) work with Audigy as well. It just included system check to prevent working with cards older than X-fi, probably this was to force us to buy new hardware. As soon us the sytsem chceck i deleted, it works just fine. Shame on you, creative!
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