Blog: Why "Flight" is the Best Thing to Happen to Flight Simulators

A few weeks ago I posted some news about Microsoft’s new Flight Simulator title, simply named Flight. In case you haven’t read it, here’s a quick summary of the damage and casualties:

  • The game will be free-to-play and have pay-for content
  • Only the Island of Hawaii will be available to fly in (as opposed to the majority of the Earth like in previous titles)
  • Only two planes will be available at launch with others to be provided via DLC over time
  • No third-party modifications are allowed
  • VATSIM (The Virtual Air Traffic Simulation System) will not be supported.
  • The game will require Games for Windows LIVE

So as you see, the vaunted and classic Microsoft Flight Simulator series isn’t being remade or reborn, but shoved to the side so a new series can take its place. It was difficult to see this coming. Microsoft have been flip-flopping after the release of Flight Simulator X in 2006 on whether the next Flight Simulator title would continue to be a simulation or try to increase the “casualness” that some people accuse FSX of starting.

But in 2009, Microsoft closed down their ACES development studio, which was handling the Flight Simulator series, and laid off all personnel. After that, Flight started to materialize. For those unfamiliar with the Flight Sim community, in addition to amateur modders, companies arose that sold third-party add-ons for the Flight Simulator series. Companies like PMDG, Aerosoft, and Orbx added in incredibly detailed new planes, terrain, cities, and airports to the base Flight Simulator titles.

Microsoft have basically shut down these people’s livelihoods. At first, Microsoft took in the suggestions of the third-party developers and showed interest in how they can monetize the secondary market. Finally, one day Microsoft sat down and offered the indie devs a deal, as Robert S. Randazzo of PMDG explains:

Eventually we were presented with a picture of how our lives would have to change in order to support FLIGHT:

  • All commercial products would be marketed exclusively by MS and we would not be allowed to sell our own products from our own sites.
  • No freeware, not even free expansions to our own products. (Think: liveries)
  • Unclear controls regarding pricing.
  • The inability to market our own products in the brick and mortar retail market without purchasing licenses to our own products in advance of production. (This would increase our costs dramatically, making it impossible to support a retail operation…)
  • All developers would be required to pay a sizable per-unit license fee on all FLIGHT products.

As you can see, this was very nearly a protection racket scheme Microsoft purposed. It knew that the Microsoft Flight Simulator series dominated the market—and still does—so it hoped it could bully the third parties into sharing their profits with them. PMDG refused the offer as politely as they could and kept communications with Microsoft regarding the development of Flight until MS broke off from all third-party devs and went alone.

PMDG has always had a good, honest, open relationship with the team at MS- so we provided them with open, honest and candid feedback that we felt was respectful, and candid. In spite of repeated requests for a commitment, we demurred. Shortly there-after the communication channel went dead. Calls and emails went unanswered, and advance alphas stopped arriving. Shortly there-after we received a perfunctory email advising that our input was no longer desired.

I wish I could tell you that I was surprised- but I was not. After all- we were being asked to effectively surrender years of very delicate and careful work to build a brand and a relationship with all of you. This was not something to be taken lightly…

So at the end of the day, I was surprised and disappointed to see that the developers of FLIGHT elected to bring in a bunch of people to see FLIGHT, while very noticeably keeping out many of the same folks who have supported MS and the genre for years. The message was made loudly and clearly that our input was not desired and that the strategic objectives of FLIGHT do not involve the community that companies like PMDG, Aerosoft and the like represent.

In addition, VATSIM (Virtual Air Traffic Simulation System) will be completely cut off from Flight. What is VATSIM? Basically, it’s a massive multiplayer online network where players can join virtual airlines and fly around the virtual world communicating with hundreds of other pilots as well as human Air Traffic controllers. Flight Simulator X is by far the most used Flight Simulator on the network for this reason, so Microsoft just shot themselves in the foot.

After all this, why am I saying that Flight is the best thing to happen to Flight Simulators? Because with Microsoft’s monopoly out of the picture, we can finally get some progression in the flight sim market. Flight Simulator X was a mess on release ad even now, five years after the fact, it’s still taxing the toughest gaming rigs simply because it was built on the outdated reliance on CPU power rather than GPUs.

We now have the flight sim community migrating to titles like the beautiful X-Plane 10whose creator says he sold over 2000 copies within days of the January 4 Microsoft press release; and Lockheed Martin is making a commercial version of its professional flight simulation program, Prepar3d, for home users as well. Ironically, Prepar3d was developed from Flight Simulator X source code that Microsoft sold to Lockheed. To add insult to injury, members of the ACES studio are now working on Prepar3d. Lockheed is essentially taking Microsoft’s market share with Microsoft’s own product and (former) employees. Third-party developers are also migrating to X-Plane 10 and continuing to support Flight Simulator X and Flight Simulator 2004.

So thank you, Microsoft, for packing your bags and leaving. You’re now allowing us to find greener pastures finally.

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Mohamed Al Saadoon

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