There is no reason why the NetVST technology, or something very similar, should not be deployed commercially. This page presents some ideas about how to do just that.
In the following, the term “NetVST company” is used in a generic sense, to mean “any profit-oriented company offering NetVST itself, or broadly equivalent technology”.
Companies can often achieve things that grassroots efforts cannot. There are two main reasons:
Further to #1, professional developers can bring many benefits to a development effort:
Further to #2, there is a very real commercial VST market, populated with profit-oriented companies seeking to sell plugins, DAWs, etc. This has several consequences:
To succeed, a NetVST company must be seen as a friend to other companies in the VST/DAW market. If not, they will boycott, and the NetVST effort will fail.
The number-one concern of every profit-making company is preserving profitability. Therefore, the NetVST company's product must not facilitate piracy, i.e., allow people to use commercial VSTs without paying.
In the VST/DAW software market, this obsession with piracy leads companies to expend enormous effort on copy-protection techniques such as licensing schemes and hardware dongles—fundamentally wasteful effort they would prefer to avoid. The ideal NetVST implementation should therefore enforce its own form of VST copy-protection.
The number-two concern of every company is expanding their market, i.e. reaching new customers. The recent trend toward heavy discounting of VSTs shows the importance of this concern. After every customer who can afford your €500 VST has already bought it, you may have to drop the price to €250 or less to attract more buyers, at the risk of offending those “best customers” who bought at the higher price. This is one reason why companies are beginning to experiment with subscription pricing models. The ideal NetVST implementation should support multiple pricing options.
The number-three concern of all software companies is technical support, which most see as another wasteful effort and a drain on profits. Actually it is even worse, because support requirements are notoriously hard to predict, so even a successful product could actually become a net loss if it proves too difficult for customers to install, use, or manage. The ideal NetVST implementation should therefore make installation/use/management of VSTs easier for the customer.
The final major concern shared by all companies is the cost and complexity of distribution. In software markets, the Internet has been a huge boon, as companies are able to distribute their products direct to customers, but this is not without cost. Companies find themselves becoming online merchants, which may be well outside their core competence, and failure to perform well may lead to embarrassing public criticism. The ideal NetVST implementation, therefore, should include an integrated online store, managed by the NetVST company.
To summarize, the NetVST company should provide:
Each of these items is discussed below in its own section. But first, we briefly consider various options for deployment of the NetVST implementation itself.
Options for how a NetVST system is deployed can be characterized according to the distance between the host program (e.g. DAW) and the VSTs:
Substantially all of the considerations below apply equally to all three NetVST deployment options.
VST plugins are vulnerable to piracy (unauthorized copying and use) because they are just software files, which implement well-defined, publicly-known APIs to connect to host programs. To eliminate this vulnerability, some VST companies use various kinds of “copy-protection” technologies, all of which are based on the notion of locking.
A locking technique renders a plugin (or program) inoperable unless some licensing condition is met, e.g.
In either case, there is a license resource (hardware dongle and/or soft license) which satisfies some logical equation embedded in the product's executable code. Usually, this equation will have at least one other input which in some way identifies the hardware on which the product is authorized to run, such as the serial number of the main hard-disk drive, Ethernet address, or the like. The logical equation computed by the product acts like a “lock”, and the license resource a “key” which opens the lock and allows the product to run normally.
Locking schemes have many problems:
A NetVST implementation, which sits in between the VST product and the public API it presents to host programs, naturally supports two alternative copy-protection methods as follows:
The second technique imposes a run-time cost, but is vastly more secure.
If every copy of the NetVST program (the one which actually loads and executes VST plugins) is identical, even these cryptographic protections will still rely on a lock embedded in the the NetVST program itself, which will then be vulnerable to keygen or patching attacks. The solution is to apply a similar cryptographic protection to the NetVST program itself, i.e.,
Of course, no copy-protection scheme is foolproof. A sufficiently determined person will always find a way to circumvent it. The key points are:
A great many VST plugins don't implement any copy protection at all. This includes both free plugins, for which copy protection is unnecessary, as well as paid plugins from companies which don't have the resources or inclination to implement protection. Commercial NetVST products should, of course, support such plugins.
If the protection provided by the NetVST product itself is good enough, many VST makers in the “paid but not protected” category would likely be very interested in it.
Commercial NetVST products should also support plugins which use legacy dongle- or license-based copy protection schemes, for two reasons:
If the protection provided by the NetVST product itself is good enough, VST makers will be quite strongly motivated to support it instead of their legacy schemes, because it will be simplify life for end-users and VST makers alike.
This video presents an experimental NetVST system in which both local and remote instances of a VST plugin are used, to allow the VST GUI to appear inside the user's DAW, while the heavy DSP lifting is performed by the instance on a separate NetVST server. Three comments should be made concerning copy protection in this scenario:
Many VST customers will continue to prefer the traditional pay-once pricing model, and as noted above, they will normally already have a substantial library of VSTs which they have already bought and paid for, and should be entitled to continue (including in the NetVST system) however they wish.
The pay-once model has serious limitations, which a commercial NetVST solution should seek to mitigate:
Commercial NetVST implementations should ideally support all kinds of pricing options, so as to be as “friendly” to VST makers as possible. Further to the three points above:
However, a NetVST system with adequate copy protection can go beyond even these pricing models. The NetVST program can leverage its position in the host-VST communication bottleneck to track usage of individual VSTs. The resulting data will become a valuable resource in its own right, e.g. to inform VST makers how customers are using their products, and/or to facilitate targeted marketing efforts. However, it can also be used to implement usage-based pricing options, such as:
Note that any system of automatic pricing enforcement must necessarily rely on some kind of software locking mechanism as described in the previous section. Due consideration must be given to making such mechanisms cheat-proof enough that users won't be tempted to try to circumvent them.
Acquiring and using any software product imposes a burden of management on the end-user, and today's VST products are particularly bad in this respect.
A commercial NetVST solution must address these issues, even if it does little else. Apple's innovative “App Store” for iOS devices provides the model to emulate:
And finally, dear the heart of every online marketer everywhere…
As mentioned in the previous section, a commercial NetVST system should include an integrated “VST store” modelled on Apple's fantastically successful App Stores. This is basically a standard online e-commerce web site, so an established online VST reseller would have a natural advantage in building one.
The key to “integration” of the VST store is automatic coordination between the databases of the online store and the end-user's NetVST system. When a customer completes a purchase on the store web site, the associated downloads, license codes, etc. automatically become available to their NetVST system. (Amazon's online store and Kindle app for iPad provide a useful model of how this should work.)
Other than that, there is little to say about the notion of a VST store, as it is simply one more e-commerce site on the web.