The Impact of MSFS On Product Development For Enthusiast Flight Simulation
August 26, 2021
The fact that the release of MFS would have an effect on the product landscape came as a surprise to few, but I reckon quite a few of us nevertheless underestimated the magnitude of the effect. In this article, we’ll take a concise look at exactly what has happened, and some of the probable reasons behind those changes.
First and foremost, there have been massive price drops across all product categories. Even a cursory look reveals that, for example, Orbx scenery is on average up to 40% cheaper on MFS than FSX/P3D. Other on-point examples include the fact that a sub-100-dollar price is widely expected for the Fenix A320 product, and that, consequently, PMDG is considered potentially unable to price their NG3 at the previously announced $140, unless they are willing to risk pricing themselves out of the market. This is a scale effect: with simming somewhat out of its previously established niche, developers are able to dramatically lower prices without compromising margins. In fact, one might even be tempted to go so far as to predict that the days of 100-dollar addons are (or will shortly be) over. Win-win? Perhaps, but I’m interested in seeing what the net effect will be for developers for whom pricing is a key part of their image.
Perhaps as a corollary to the aforementioned, we are starting to see lots of new developers on the scene. Of course, these represent a wide range of product types, but returning to Fenix as an example, they have already shown examples of what it takes to challenge established study-level airliner products -- not easy to do, especially with your first release. The recent shenanigans of Captain Sim, on the other hand, stand in diametric opposition to what was just said. They fully deserve all the backlash, and I doubt they’ll last long. Speaking of newcomers, however, Bredok3D and their peculiar 737 Franken-MAX seem to have demonstrated that “lo-fi” addons as a whole may be experiencing a renaissance. Abacus, anyone?
It has also been interesting to note the recent rebirth of the freeware scene. Only this time around, given improvements in development tools available to the general public, freeware projects will be able to rival commercial releases in scope and fidelity more frequently than previously.
But it’s not all roses, as it never is. Firstly, let’s say this aloud: sales for older platforms are plummeting, which is causing significant practical problems for many developers small and large. At the same time, discussions on the fsdeveloper.com forums point at customer expectations being through the roof, and for considerably less money to boot. At the same time, one has to adopt a new workflow, or, alternatively, risk oblivion. Not an easy equation to balance, especially if you have mouths to feed:
There are also some factors inherent in the MFS product concept that potentially make it harder for new entrants to break through. For example, the built-in marketplace, a cornerstone of Flight Simulator’s second coming, is notoriously slow at accepting both new products and patches. This has already caused customer service issues for developers, as they necessarily make do with a clunky process that’s ultimately beyond their control.
In addition, the wider-than-ever appeal of MFS may also have unwanted side effects, not only for developers, but also for aircraft manufacturers and airport administrations whose assets are being represented in-sim: recently, a user on the PMDG community discord server had to be banned for posting content which hinted at using PMDG products to depict destruction of man-made structures. We have seen previous incidents which have featured the community under less-than-amicable circumstances, such as the Q400 “Sky King” incident of 2018. Such incidents are not the norm, of course, but we ought to ensure we stay on good terms with the wider community. This is particularly important for simulator-oriented content creators, who are a sort of public spearhead for the rest of us.
Still, the new simulator presents equally amazing promotional opportunities for the wider aviation field. For example, the latest Sim Update features a 3D virtual tour of Orbis’ “Flying Eye Hospital” MD10, an excellent example of the simulator furthering wider educational goals:
During its first year then, the road has not been entirely problem-free for MFS, especially with the latest updates, but hopefully it will eventually mature into a platform for all of us.
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