Navigraph Survey Results 2021: X-Plane Still Holds User Base

December 30, 2021

Since launching their annual survey at the end of last month, Navigraph has been collating the results and has now shared the full set of responses to all. This year’s survey had a growth of users taking the survey, with 700 more responses than that of 2020. This continued growth of participants puts the survey at the largest general survey put out to all flight sim users, with a large reach of 24,200 respondents.

In this article, we will run over the most important questions and will highlight some of the trends you may have missed while reading through the results.

Growths in Respondents

Large growth was seen this year in terms of users who had not previously participated in the community survey. 55% of people who took the survey this year said that they had never taken the survey before. This also prompts the question of, out of the 45% who did participate last year, why did over half not return to complete this year’s survey?

If all 23,500 participants last year chose to participate again this year, and the 55% of new users this year still participated, this year’s response rate would have been close to 37,000 respondents.

Although the return rate is rather low this year, the sheer amount of new participants is extremely encouraging news for the continued growth of our shared passion.

The Large Expansion of MSFS

As mentioned above, the survey experienced a surge of new participants, this is undoubtedly driven by the number of users who have purchased Microsoft Flight Simulator. The release of MSFS brought an influx of new users who had never even touched a flight simulator before, these news users have completely changed results compared to data from before MSFS such as the 2019 survey.

Largely affected results included users choices of vendors to purchase their addon from, and the obvious questions such as what software respondents say they own.

It is interesting to note how many newly emerged stores have experienced large growth, mainly in the MSFS in-game marketplace. Whereas, some other stores such as Contrail, set up to install MSFS products from a selection of developers is yet to experience such a boom in user base.

A slightly strange statistic is the number of people who say they purchase items from Amazon, although this may be largely down to hardware purchases, rather than software add-ons.

From the below chart it appears many users are slowly turning away from older ESP platforms such as P3D and mainly FSX. X-Plane is still holding a strong game with a small expansion to its user base, up 2% from last year.

MSFS is still at the top of the charts by a large throw, with a massive growth of 15% upon last year’s figures.

X-Plane Userbase Changes

A largely explicit question within the survey was asking how likely the respondent was to purchase X-Plane 12 once it becomes available.

Although a large portion of respondents said that they would be interested, almost 50% said that they were “unlikely” or “very unlikely” to purchase. This amount should not be a massive concern but should certainly not be taken lightly. The percentage of people saying that they would not be unlikely to purchase it is around the same as the simulator’s current user platform. If we look at those who would be likely or very likely to purchase, these numbers don’t even match X-Plane current user base numbers. This means upon release, with limited add-ons, if the survey is accurate, it shows that there may be a struggle to get new users over to the platform. It certainly does not mean X-Plane will be going anywhere any time soon and it is here to stay.

It is also worth paying a large consideration of where a large focus within Laminar Research itself sits, with engineering future real-world aircraft with corporate customers like NASA and Boeing. It just appears that the consumer base appeal of X-Plane will slightly decrease intermediately with the next iteration of the platform.

Not only is professional licencing fees going to keep the platform alive, but a large income source comes from X-Plane Mobile, where users pay continuous licensing fees to access the mobile simulator’s MMO (massive mobile multiplayer).

All in all, although the X-Plane projected purchase rate is low at the moment, it is not a huge cause for concern. The platform will also be boosted when mod sharing platform opens up to mods for the new sim.

Virtual Reality Expanded

Virtual reality ownership is up 5% from 2021, bringing the current owners within the community to 25% of respondents. Although 25% said they do own a headset, only 15% say they use it within flight sim. The type of headsets used has broadened too, with the most popular types being offerings from Oculus including the Quest 2, Rift and Rift S as well as a large 33% using an HP Reverb G2 headset.

Usage for VR is mostly spread across the board, with most using their headsets for VFR, casual flying or combat simulation within DCS World.

An interesting statistic shared is the percentage of time spent in and out of VR while flying. Many rarely use their VR headset, while a large portion also only fly in VR. The other percentages in between the two are on the whole, very equally spread between the demographics.

MSFS on Xbox, For the Greater Good?

MSFS launching on Xbox has vastly expanded the potential reach of flight simulation on a whole. A decent rendition of an A320 no longer requires a NASA Super Computer, and you no longer need masses of hard drives to store a large amount of ground ortho imagery. All aircraft are accessible rapidly by simply booting up your Xbox and loading into your aircraft of choice.

I was extremely interested to see how survey respondents judged their usage of MSFS on Xbox consoles compared to users who say they have never used MSFS on the Xbox platform.

As such, like any normal person, I opened up the master data bank and threw together a quick pivot table and filtered the data. I was left with the following data. It is worth noting that from this data, the sample size of users who say they have not “never” used MSFS on Xbox (eg they had) is only 914, which is 5.7% of the number of people who answer the question.

The other 15,118 people who did answer the question produced extremely similar results to those who said they had.

Upon conducting this research into the data set, I was strongly suspecting to see a large number of people using Xbox to say that they use flight sims for “casual gaming” compared to those on non-Xbox platforms.

Some disclaimers into my small research:

These are my findings only, you are free to conduct your own using the data set and produce your findings, using different filters from the results may bring different results. It is also worth noting how small the data set of Xbox users is. The percentage of users who use Xbox and responded to the survey is minuscule compared to the actual user base and I suspect the more involved ones within the community were the ones to respond to the survey, clearly majorly affecting the results.

Device Usage in 2021 (Xbox Usage Increase)
Device Usage in 2020

And that’s it for this year’s Threshold wrap up of the Navigraph Survey results for 2021.

Find the full Navigraph breakdown on their Blog or watch the video breakdown on the video above.

If you notice any trends or think we missed something, make sure to leave it in the comments!

Threshold encourages informed discussion and debate - though this can only happen if all commenters remain civil when voicing their opinions.