The Story Of CGHub: The Demise Of The Largest Digital Art Community

Picking up where we left in the first part of the CGHub story, this will be the tale of a thousand questions, despair, and a dozen broken hearts. But as George S. Patton has famously put:

“Accept the challenges so that you can feel the exhilaration of victory.”

However, before the victory, there was a battle (more of a beating) that we took every inch of… Bear with me as I tell one of the darkest stories in the history of our digital agency.

The Thunderbolt

The Story Of CGHub: The Demise Of The Largest Digital Art Community | Shakuro

Image credit: Ricardo Guimaraes

In the spring of 2014, CGHub had more than 200 000 users among which were computer graphic artists making their living off of the website, educating themselves, and finding daily inspiration in the content the platform provided. Needless to say, this was our most successful project at a time.

On April 14, all of a sudden the service we used for task management started closing the current maintenance tasks for no apparent reason. Along with that, we received a notification from the website performance tracking tool we used for CGHub, that said “website not available”. What the heck?!

First, I thought there was some technical issue so I tried to fix it right away. Our immediate discovery was the server shut down. Again, this happens sometimes, quite rarely but nothing serious. Also, the team’s credentials didn’t allow access which was very suspicious. My next step was contacting the client’s side. Their response knocked me off my feet:

“It’s over, Kostya. I shut down CGHub.”

“Hah! You’re two weeks overdue on your April Fool’s joke, mate. Wait what? This isn’t a joke?”  I felt panic creeping in… Immediately, my mind started looking for the justification of this abrupt statement. Was this due to an issue of some sort? What the flying f***?!

Anything I could think of some way or another did not reach beyond the perception of the whole thing as an embarrassing misunderstanding and a temporary measure. Boy was I wrong.

The Shock Sets In

The Story Of CGHub: The Demise Of The Largest Digital Art Community | Shakuro

Image credit: Alexandre Pinto

Bummed out as I was, I still couldn’t imagine the magnitude of what’s happened. For the first time in a while I was so perplexed I could not put my thoughts together. As a therapeutic measure, I opted for a mind map service and played a bit of a detective there. I flushed all my thoughts into it hoping to structure all the possible options with advantages and disadvantages for each.

The 200 000 users thought the website was down for maintenance or something and expected it to be back shortly. I tried to use this time to somehow solve the problem. Here are some of my rampant attempts:

– Can we buy CGHub with all the content and user data?

– No.

– Can we help you sell CGHub to a third party?

– No.

– Can we take CGHub on a lease?

– No.

– Is there a way to keep CGHub alive?

– No.

– Can we…

– No.

At this point I realized someone or something sentenced the project to death.

I am only disclosing this information due to the elapse of time for some of the things, but at that time we could say nothing to the hundreds of thousands CGHub members. Let me tell you who those people were.

The CGHub Army

Our main audience consisted of visual artists and people working in the industry with a strong emphasis on digital art – gaming, motion pictures, graphic novels, and so on.

For many of them, CGHub was a social media they liked to start their day with. A lot of people had literally been finding employees or work there. There were even some that used their CGHub Master Artist accolades as the rationale for their O-1 USA visa. Some users it took years to connect with their favorite artists and create collections of artworks they couldn’t have kept elsewhere. People built their professional life around it. The fact that everything they worked for and all the effort they entrusted us was taken away from them in a heartbeat was just devastating.

There was no public statement for three days. The buzz around #CGHubdown started to build up. Our development team was deprived of the access to all things CGHub. Hosting was up and running for another day or two while the domain was still off. Some folks, however, figured out a way to tweak a host file and access the website via some IP address.

The Story Of CGHub: The Demise Of The Largest Digital Art Community | Shakuro

Image credit: Valeron

Coming To Terms

For three days I was thinking of nothing else but what to do next. What we at Shakuro couldn’t wrap our heads around was the fact that the client’s dedication to CGHub was off the charts. The relationship of trust and commitment we’ve built over the years could not have been associated with what just happened.

But time moved on and so did we. For the last time, I harnessed my willpower for the final charge and scheduled a video call with the client to get the face-to-face confirmation and maybe turn things around. Unfortunately, I couldn’t shift that wall. With that said, I don’t believe CGHub deserved to be shut down quietly and under the radar. Silence would have been replaced by rumors, suspicion, and allegations.

What came afterwards was a storm of resentment, fair anger, accusations, and even insults aimed at the only public name behind CGHub, in the face of yours truly.

The Storm

The Story Of CGHub: The Demise Of The Largest Digital Art Community | Shakuro

Image credit: Ivan Makarkoff

It was time to speak up. As I said, CGHub was every bit of special project of ours and the following it had gathered was nothing but a family for us. Kind of a big deal. So I decided to step up with the first official statement addressing the situation via our Facebook account.

My desire to be open about what had happened was so passionate, I did not take my time formulating it. Big mistake. I don’t know why but somehow I thought everybody had an understanding of our role in CGHub as a website development team, not business executives authorized to make decisions like shutting down the whole thing. In reality, people thought we were running the show.

The imminent response came in 300 emails/day, comments, and posts on different websites either as pieces of news, analysis, and even conspiracy theories emerging, like any other due to the lack of information.

Bad rep is the least we got from this. For a development agency, a situation of being regarded to as having failed so many people is a showstopper. But I embraced the scapegoat’s part. To the credit of the Shakuro team, they took the beating, did not crumble down, and somehow managed to recuperate without any significant losses.

Despite the amount of garbage thrown at us, we took on the middle-man role and till the very end negotiated on behalf of the owners with PRO users looking for refunds, advertisers, third-party businesses who partnered with CGHub, and just random folks looking for a fight.    

Truth be told, all the PRO account users allegedly got their refunds, so legally things were being settled without our participation as we did not benefit from subscriptions directly.  

Considering the extent of response to a simple announcement post, I thought I had to clarify our scope of involvement with CGHub and answer some of the questions. I did it via another Facebook post that happened to be 56 000% more popular than anything we ever posted before, according to the Facebook stats. Dubious distinction but what can you do…

It’s crazy how many people actually responded to the event with anger and defiance, intermingling with sympathy and support from those who did understand where we were at:

It’s even crazier if you look at how many proposals were still coming in after all the noise. There were emails from people literally offering us (!) 7-digit prices for the platform. We redirected all of those to the owners and they declined every single one of them.

Though no contract obligations were restraining us, Shakuro sold none of the CGHub’s code, content, business logic concepts, or any assets whatsoever.  

The Oblivion

The Story Of CGHub: The Demise Of The Largest Digital Art Community | Shakuro

Image credit: Sergey Zabelin

No wonder CGHub’s going out of business pushed a lot of second and third-division players to the game. A lot of cautious users had their works backed up which is always a smart thing to do. But the main reason for people’s frustration was the newly formed void. Imagine Instagram ceasing to be. How much time would it take you to find all the people you appreciate and follow them on a different resource? Or what if all of them are on different resources?

That was a dark period for many CG artists binded with CGHub. We felt the tension and inevitably, thoughts of a comeback started to set in.

Two months after the shutdown, as the emails kept coming suggesting ways to restore CGHub, bring it back, and giving more criticism for what we didn’t do. But there were some that saw an opportunity in the demise of CGHub. Among them was Kirill Chepizhko, a CG artist and a well-known hard surface designer today.

As a prominent member of the CG community, his idea of reoccupying the estate CGHub vacated was not only business-motivated but with the soul component as well. Needless to say, we seized on the opportunity to redeem ourselves and cleanse our karma.

The New Beginning

The Story Of CGHub: The Demise Of The Largest Digital Art Community | Shakuro

Image credit: Ricardo Guimaraes

Even though a lot of time was wasted, we still felt like a new project on different terms and with a different approach was exactly what we needed. Technically, CGHub was not impeccable but our attitude was and I believe it was this fact that attracted the guys to recreate all the best it had while improving on the drawbacks.

Different Terms

This time, it had to be something else. At the end of the day those who suffered the most from the CGHub shutdown were ironically those who made it possible – the artists. This time, they had to be secure. They had to be the owners and they had to be in charge of what happens to the platform.

No more secret owners, no more NDAs, no more power moves, no more bullshit.

The transparent, karma-free, and almost a utopian idea of a digital art platform made “for us by us” was meant to end the oblivion and get us back on track doing what we are really passionate about. This time it was meant to be a non-commercial project with revenue used to pay for the development service, maintenance, servers, and infrastructure. Eventually, the project was supposed to become an open-source one, allowing other developers to contribute.

Different Troubles

For an open project, there are not a lot of options to get a development budget. The most obvious one is get crowdfunded. We launched a Kickstarter campaign, aimed at raising $90K which would cover the new project design and development.

Aaaand we failed… (oh, well) Having collected $55K of the required $90K, we started the new project with a new name of Computer Graphics+. How many crowdfunded projects actually make it after failing to raise the pledged amounts? Besides, we barely even got approved, as Kickstarter has a strict policy concerning social platforms. We managed to leverage the artistic part of the project and take it down that road.

What we’ve gained from this campaign though, apart from the money we appreciate every penny of, was the fact that the people who contributed to CGHub and have been thrown under the bus by it, believed us and stood behind our new venture.

All the things these world-class artists were saying in the video, deeply resonated with us and gave us true confidence in Computer Graphics+ as the right move.

The Second Chance

The Story Of CGHub: The Demise Of The Largest Digital Art Community | Shakuro

Image credit: alexnegrea

Even though the Kickstarter campaign did not get us the perceived funding, it did give us a number of investors who got the feel of the project and decided to step in. I know, sounds like the same project, run by a group of guys with money, not the artists. Yes, it wasn’t exactly what we wanted. The investors wanted the project to be lucrative and we wouldn’t settle on the tech team role anymore.

The negotiations lasted for another 9 months which was painful, as every day of delay was taking us further from where CGHub left.

The development stage started in early 2015. With our fair share of ordeals, 8 months later, we launched the MVP of what will become one of our main co-owned projects.

The Takeaway

CGHub was founded on a solid idea that enticed the owners, us, and the public into the world of digital visual art. One thing that CGHub was able to establish since day one, is the intimate space for a very specific type of creative people. Being part of that community was awesome, but what was its strength became its curse.

CGHub was unplugged due to some deeply personal reasons that the owners had every right not to disclose.

The beautiful song “Mama Said” by Metallica has a great line: “The brightest flame burns quickest.” In the light of that flame, all of us saw something. Weather it was a chance to defeat your own demons, find your passion, battle-test your skills, or overcome a challenge and be born again with a brand new proposal for the world. This story shaped us and the least I can be thankful for is the chance to know right from wrong, and never end up in a situation like this in the future.

As this part comes to an end, I’m trying to glue my thoughts together for what should be the final part of the CG-related saga. Stay tuned.

. . .

All images courtesy of cgplus.com