COVID-19's Impact on Flight Sim Hardware

September 12, 2021

COVID-19 has had some massive effects on hardware supply and demand. For example, GPU prices alone have escalated as manufacturing goods suppliers try to prevent supply chains from collapsing.

According to an industry insider who wishes to remain unnamed, the reasons for this are at least twofold; firstly, due to various restrictions, factories are unable to work at maximum efficiency. Secondly, the virus has triggered a commercial panic wave, causing large companies to buy up all the stock they can get.

Although we are now starting to see the compensatory effects of vaccinations, wholesale prices have been estimated, according to my source, to increase by at least 30% and stay there for quite awhile.

Obviously, the flight simulation industry cannot avoid feeling some of the repercussions of these events: Thrustmaster has been facing serious delivery difficulties, especially with respect to their Airbus line of licensed products. Elsewhere, Honeycomb threatened to ban for life any customer trying to buy more than one example of any product.

Whilst such drastic measures, designed to prevent scolding (resale at outrageous prices), may be partly effective, they may also hurt the reputation of the companies involved. Threshold has reached out to both Thrustmaster and Honeycomb Aeronautical for comment regarding the current market situation.

An important, although oft-undrestimated, effect of these market perturbations is that on developers, of both addons and the core simulators that we utilise. Microsoft Flight Simulator recently took steps to merge the XBox and PC codebases on a fundamental level with Sim Update 5, essentially breaking the entire  simulator in the process. Although primarily motivated by the XBox rollout, the associated processing pipeline optimisations were probably also prompted by the expected downturn in the sales of new hardware.

At least some addon developers seem to also have been affected: although developments have survived the past lockdowns mostly unscathed, in more recent times, key product introductions, such as the entire PMDG “glass-jet” fleet, seem to have been delayed by longer-term changes to the MFS roadmap, brought about by COVID-19-related staff shortages at Asobo, where the Flight Simulator team has been working from home for a long time, before recently returning to the office.  It appears that PMDG have chosen to depend comparatively heavily upon Asobo’s assistance in bringing the fleet over, which may be hurting their bottom line. Still, I trust that the refreshed 737NG will be more than worth the wait, and hope that it will turn out more polished than the DC-6. To say nothing of their victim-of politics MAX product, which I expect to see in 2022 at the earliest, and that is an optimistic assessment. Yet other devs such as Fenix continue to work unaffected, thanks to a bolder strategy. Furthermore, the slowdown in hardware turnover may also affect the pace of addon development by itself.

A recent article published by the BBC quotes recent upsurges in the general popularity of gaming and bitcoin mining, both related to the pandemic, as reasons for the hardware industry turmoil. There’s just no way manufacturing can keep up with the demand — for the new 3090 series Nvidia cards, queues of up to 3000 people exist, something never seen before. You would think the top brass would be impressed, but instead everyone is just scratching their heads in utter disbelief.

Whatever the end result, one thing is certain: this has never been seen before. In fact, even mid-range cards now carry twice their usual price. The merchant is happy, the customer less so.

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