I’m probably wrong, but IMO the main things maya needs to do well are:
- handle assets well (performance and management)
- high compatibility with bleeding-edge tools
- flexible framework that’s capable of handling 95% of scenes
IMO maya is the best at that list overall in a very broad sense. Things like modeling tools, render engines, or specialty FX plugins are mostly the same between packages now.
Houdini easily edges out Maya in a couple things on my list, but at a great cost of complexity, artist unfriendliness, and the general lack of solid houdini skills for general 3D from an employment standpoint.
C4D IMO isn’t as strong in any of those areas except for very specific types of procedural motion-graphics shape animation. What it gains in simplicity, it loses on depth and flexibility.
Max isn’t as strong in animation or as flexible (Windows-only, no nodes), but holds its own just fine or even better in other areas
Blender (as always) is catching up in most areas, ahead in a few, obviously not first priority for commercial companies to produce tools for.
Modo seems behind on most of those things on my list from what I know. It seems to excel at a few specific areas of production, but not as solid across the board. Though I’m probably wrong as I mainly only know people who use it for modeling or hobby-type rendering, not full animation production.
Lightwave is legacy these days, still working fine for those that use it, but not much widespread use anymore because it hasn’t kept pace.
Given how much the apps have shifted around, I think it’s smart for companies to not try to make their app do everything well under one software. If Autodesk put all their Maya resources into competing with zBrush, we’d all be screwed. ZBrush won that war and no one would suddenly drop zBrush (which is universally useful to all 3D apps) in favor of Maya’s version of zBrush tools.
Things like the new Render Setup are the heavy duty type of scene management tools are things that no 3rd party will likely create. Even though I don’t yet use Render Setup (my scenes aren’t usually complicated), I see the power it has in managing complicated render layers/passes that would quickly get buried and lost with the traditional Maya Render Layers. So I like that Maya is pushing major scene management tools forward like that, even if it takes 2-3 versions to fully work out the kinks.