Recently I’ve been diving into Game development with Unity3D. There are a few books out there, but they’re expensive and usually out-dated or not at the level I need, or just don’t cover the specific topics I’m looking for. While browsing Facebook, I got a targeted ad for a course on building out a full scale RPG on Udemy. Of course, my favorite type of games are RPGs so I clicked on it. The course was almost $300! While I’m not opposed to paying that price, I do tend to hesitate until I can evaluate the content to make sure it has what I need and want.
Anyway, I forgot about it for a while, but during a business trip, I wanted something to do so I went looking for the course and found the kick starter page the authors had setup for the course and reading through the description, there was a link to Udemy to buy the course for $25! So of course I bought it!
That was the start of an addiction. I continued to buy courses from Udemy. Today I just bought two more courses (Build Your Own First Person Shooter / Survival Game in Unity, and Unity Game Development Academy: Make 2D & 3D Games) and now I have over 10 in my library. That sparked me to write this post.
If you’re not aware, I am a Pluralsight author. I’ve authored 3 courses, Code Generation using T4 Templates, Building Extensible Applications with MEF and Ruby and Rail for .NET Developers. I thought Pluralsight was (it still is) awesome and it set the bar pretty high.
What really sets Pluralsight apart from other platforms is the quality of the content. In this, I mean the production value. The screen captures are clean and crisp and the audio is superb. Care is taken to ensure a minimum level of quality. Courses are reviewed for technical accuracy before publishing and to ensure a cohesive flow.
Not to mention Pluralsight has content from some of the biggest names in our industry and with their subscription model, you can binge on unlimited content from your favorite authors.
Now, being an author I have full access (for free) to the Pluralsight library and can watch whatever I want, whenever I want. But since 2011, I have watched only a handful of courses and have only finished 2 (small ones). I’ve already finished 3 of the Udemy courses I purchased and I only started with Udemy about 2 months ago.
What is the difference? I get Pluralsight 100% free for being an author, and I have to pay for Udemy courses. It certainly isn’t due to better quality. Pluralsight has the best quality of any online training company due to their rigid standards, while Udemy doesn’t have much of a quality control (if any at all). Some of the Udemy courses I purchased had terrible audio quality, were not well thought out, had a lot of redundancy and the quality of the video was blurry.
Here is the difference for me. Pluralsight is a great place for entry level developers through senior level developers. Excellent quality, well thought out curriculum and top notch authors. Throw on the subscription model and you have a winning combination that will help someone learn a new technology in a short amount of time.
The problem is the content curation process limits the scope of the available courses. While it’s not as bad now, it used to be that courses had to be a minimum length. So you couldn’t get bite sized courses (and mostly you still can’t). But there is another issue here, and that is how authors get paid. Because authors get paid on a royalty system (number of minutes watched), courses tend to be drawn out and longer than necessary. Authors speak at an unbearably slow pace to drag out the length of the course because they are literally getting paid by the minute. This means that a subject that could have been taught in 1 hour will span 3-4 hours.
There is a playback speed button, so you can set the playback speed to 2x and still understand exactly what the author is saying (which also proves the point of how purposely slow authors speak), but there is still an issue. That issue is the topics. Topics are limited to the most popular subject currently so there is a very narrow selection.
Pluralsight doesn’t limit the topics, but because the effort that goes into producing a course is significant, it doesn’t seem worth it [to authors] when the view rate is low and your course will (not maybe) get lost in the noise and over powered by more popular courses.
For example, all of the courses I produced were more advanced topics and not really in the cool-kids group, so they would never make the top 100 list even though they were rated 4.5/5 or better. Not that this is Pluralsight’s fault, or the fault of my courses, it’s just the audience and the promotion system. Of course Pluralsight wants to have courses on what’s hot right now, that’s how they get subscriptions. It’s a business!
Contrast this with Udemy. Udemy is kind of the wild-west compared to Pluralsight. Almost anyone can author a course and publish it. Pluralsight is very selective about their authors and what content they can produce. Very much involved in the entire process which is why the quality is so high. Udemy, not so much. Almost anyone with a microphone and screen capture software can produce a course.
The major difference is the way the courses are marketed and promoted to users. The reason I purchased so many courses in such a small time frame is because of the promotional emails and course suggestions. Udemy does a perfect job of targeting me with courses that I would want to see based on my past purchase and browsing history.
The other trick that Udemy plays (and it works!) is that the courses are priced fairly high. Some courses can be $100-$300 which would be a high barrier for entry for most people and it makes Pluralsight’s subscription model seem very favorable. But, I’ve only ever spent $10-$25 on the courses I bought. The reason is because Udemy puts everything on sale. “For 3-days only this course is only $9.99 instead of $295!” and it works.
Combine the low cost with the highly targeted advertisements and you have a winning combination that benefits not only the users, but the authors as well.
Let’s contrast my courses. My courses on Pluralsight are not promoted. They might be put into a recommended learning path, but they’re too advanced for most which means the likely hood of someone watching them without specifically looking for the subject is low. I’ve made a nice chunk of change from the royalties, don’t get me wrong. But compared to what I could have made if Pluralsight had a better way of targeting users and promoting courses…well, I don’t want to think about it.
Since Udemy is more of an open market, almost anyone can produce a course on any topic of any length. This means that you’re far more likely to find a course that is specific enough to what you are interested in. This means you spend less time wading through fluff and content your don’t care about. Users rank the content so it’s usually easy to spot a bad course so you don’t waste money and time.
In the Pluralsight world, the cool kids rule and make the money. In the Udemy world, the user is top priority but the authors are still taken care of. Each has it’s pro’s and con’s but for someone who just wants a very targeted/specific content would do better over on Udemy while someone just starting out might want to spend their time with Pluralsight.
As an author and a user, I think this is a fair comparison. What do you think? I’d like to hear your experiences.