Two years ago, Red Giant released BulletProof, a media management tool for video shooters. Today, they announced that it is being discontinued. Because I stood up in front of a thousand people at NAB two years ago — and all of the readers of Prolost — and pitched the vision of this app as “the other half of your camera,” I feel I owe you an explanation of what happened.
BulletProof was not a successful product, for two important reasons:
You didn’t buy it.
BulletProof didn’t sell well. It never made enough money to cover its substantial development costs. That could have been okay, because we could have worked on that like Microsoft does, where it’s often the third version of a product that actually lives up to both the usefulness and profitability potential of an announcement — but there was a bigger problem:
I didn’t use it.
It is 100% true that BulletProof was designed by filmmakers, for filmmakers, to fill a real need. But despite this, I personally never made it a day-in, day-out necessity in my own workflow the way I do with Magic Bullet Suite.
BulletProof failed what has always been my number one rule for designing products at Red Giant: Will I actually use it? I’ve given a lot of thought as to why that is, and I have a few ideas. If you’re interested, read on.
It’s hard to sell good habits.
Bruce Sharpe, the creator of PluralEyes, pointed out an important difference between his audio sync product and BulletProof. Bulletproof is a vitamin, where PluralEyes is a pain reliever. It’s hard to get people to take their vitamins, but sooner or later, everyone needs a painkiller.
Every shooter already has some solution for getting files off their cameras. BulletProof needed to be better than what they were already using. We thought better meant tons and tons of awesome functionality, like playback, playlists, in/out points, keywords, and color correction. But it turned out that...
Simple is better than better.
We should have seen this day coming when we noticed two years ago that the most common reaction to BulletProof was “Wow, that looks amazing — I should really take the time to learn that.”
BulletProof was impressive, but to many it felt like an obligation. Often people would react to it by saying “I know a lot of people who would love this,” which is a very different thing than saying “I love this.”
One of the best byproducts of the grand BulletProof experiment is Offload, a stripped-down, bare bones tool for getting video and stills off your camera and onto your computer. My design goal with Offload was simple: I wanted you to feel like you already knew how to use it. And customers overwhelmingly voted (with dollars) in favor of an app that does less, but does it right now, without imposing a steep learning curve.
BulletProof is better than manually copying files in the OS, but much harder. Offload is better (because it’s safer), and easier.
A camera-facing software product is always out of date.
How many times does OS X bug you about system updates that are nothing but format support for new cameras? How many Lightroom or Photoshop updates do we go through for this reason? Heck, Adobe released a Camera Raw compatibility update just a few weeks before launching Lightroom CC — that’s how urgent and frequent these updates are. Red Giant is a small company, and keeping BulletProof up-to-date with all the latest cameras and codecs was always going to be an uphill battle.
An app that does everything pretty well is not as appealing as one that does one thing better than anything else.
What exactly was BulletProof? Was it a transcoding tool? An on-set preview and color tool? A tool for DITs, or for shooters, or for editors? Was it for managing libraries of b-roll or for making a director’s life easier on set?
Unfortunately, the answer was 80% yes to all those questions.
We knew this was a problem. No one could ever describe BulletProof in a single sentence. Yet we plowed forward, thinking this lack of specific functional intent was a problem we could solve in the future, rather than a fundamental failing.
There are two very important things to know about BulletProof’s end-of-life. First, Red Giant is 100% committed to making every single BulletProof and Shooter Suite customer happy. They will contact you individually and make every effort to offset the damage done by discontinuing a product you paid good money for, and may have even come to rely on.
The second thing to note is that BulletProof represents a major technological investment at Red Giant, and that investment has paid dividends in numerous ways. BulletProof ushered in an entirely new interface technology at Red Giant. It provided our first opportunity to build a playback engine compatible with Colorista and Looks. The benefits of these projects will be felt across the entire product line. And of course, BulletProof’s checksum-verified copy and backup technology lives on in Offload.
I believed in the vision of BulletProof, and in many ways I still do. It’s a bummer that this is where we are. But I applaud the team at Red Giant for making the difficult decision to move past this ambitious experiment and focus their resources on the products that have truly connected with filmmakers.