This is highly speculative and based solely on your fears, I’m afraid. While there’s always a slim chance that Blender might one day go commercial, it is highly unlikely. Blender has been around for 25 years now and has been free for about 21 years, starting with the SGI version.
I think that you underestimate the community’s desire to keep Blender free. While Blender as commercial software (via the shareware model) failed, the Blender Foundation managed to raise €100k in just over 2 months. As a non-profit organization, Blender Foundation has done a marvelous job of fundraising. They’re averaging about $95k/month; enough to support 16 full time salaried developers.
While it’s true that Blender gets a lot of corporate sponsorship, nearly 26% of Blender’s development fund comes from users. The Blender Foundation receives about $300k annually from end user donations. Corporate sponsorship could dry up and the foundation would still be able to support 4 salaried developers. That’s not to mention the numerous developers devoting their free time to branches.
I don’t ever see Blender as going commercial. It doesn’t make sense. The core ethos has always been about leveling the playing field and democratizing 3D software. Blender Foundation may take money from large corporations such as NVIDIA and Epic, but they are in no way beholden to them. While, as a non-profit, they are probably required to offer up a certain degree of transparency, they are still largely autonomous and decide the direction of the app. Just because a company such as Ubisoft has chipped into the fund doesn’t buy them the power to act as some puppet master. That’s not really how it works.
Keep in mind that it’s also in the best interests of these companies to keep Blender free. I have no doubt in my mind that many companies have grown tired of living under the thumb of Autodesk. It’s gotten to the point where some legacy licenses are no longer as perpetual as once claimed. Autodesk, knowing that it has studios where they want them, can just about change the rules on a whim. It’s getting real old. Autodesk has become a Goliath waiting to be slain by some underdog David. Seriously.
It just so happens that Epic Games and Ubisoft are the most prominent players (so far) to put their money where their mouth is and test the waters. And why wouldn’t they? Even if they were to donate $1mil, think about how much staying with Autodesk’s products is costing them in the long run. Funding Blender is still cheaper than being forced into subscriptions. They might not be able to direct Blender’s evolution, but their donations will guarantee that it will continue to grow and mature.
This is in stark contrast to an Autodesk subscription, which only guarantees you access to their software. Autodesk could literally freeze their apps and ask you to continue paying for the privilege of using their software. As long as they keep these apps compatible with the latest OSes and drivers, they can sit on their laurels and collect that fat cash.
Think about it another way. By coming together as a community and funding Blender’s development, they’re not just avoiding subscriptions. They’re collectively saving money that might otherwise be spent on developing in-house Maya/3dsmax alternatives. Instead of reinventing the wheel themselves, they chip a couple of bucks so that some other developer can keep on building an app that they were already building before the donations. There’s a certain power to crowdfunding. All Blender Foundation has to do is keep developing and keep listening to the larger community they serve.
With a company such as NVIDIA, the advantages of supporting Blender are a little less obvious. It more or less amounts to another way to get the NVIDIA name out there, no different than sponsoring an art competition. You could argue that they’d be pushing a pro-NVIDIA agenda by ensuring that Blender would get stronger CUDA support, but development on that front was going to continue anyway - with or without NVIDIA’s donation.
I also would take NVIDIA’s support of Blender as a big, big stamp of approval, tbh. They don’t have to throw their money Blender’s way. In doing so, they’re basically saying that Blender has grown into something worth backing. It legitimizes Blender and only strengthens the Foundation’s resolve to stay on their current track.
COULD Blender go commercial? Sure. I could also spontaneously wake up with a previously non-existent French accent. That could happen. It won’t but it could. Blender donations could dry up today and it still wouldn’t kill the project. The same motivation that inspired Ton to put Blender into everybody’s hands for free would still be there. Art shouldn’t be for the elite or those who could pay to buy into the system. It should be for everybody. The community paid to free Blender once before. Unless Maya itself suddenly goes free, the community will continue to pay to keep Blender the non-ADSK alternative.
Again, Blender has been around for 25 years and free for 21 of them. Short of Ton dying today and taking his vision for Blender’s future with him, there’s no way that the Foundation is going to deviate from their current strategy - even if corporate sponsorship drops off. The community - and its desire to get more for less - will ways remain the true dominant force. I’m not sure that you can put the genie back in its bottle.